Drummond Island Life at Lumber Camp

Drummond Island in those days was a giant canopy; its soft, muffled ground hidden beneath a cloak of orange needles. The cedar trees were so tall that their tops became crowned with eagle nests. The birds emerged from a mass of sticks, gulping down salmon, filling up with protein and growing at a rate of speed that caused them to spread formidable wings and lift into the air, floating over northern Lake Huron after only weeks out of the egg.

Drummond was a place of trees; trees with trunks like silos. They climbed upward for a hundred years with their twisted limbs joining together, creating a primeval forest of cool, muted green. The woods flourished with ferns and mushrooms and lichens. Woodpeckers and owls roosted in clustering branches. Daylight never glimmered on that forest floor. It would only stream down in columns of light, before fading halfway to earth.

It was the trees that brought them. In the late 1800s, lumber was the gold of the northeast. An enterprising man could build a life for himself very quickly, if he was willing to work hard and hire the help. So the lumbermen came; slowly at first, but as word of Drummond spread, more and more showed up in the land of harsh winters and cool, bright summers.

The second white man to settle on Drummond, George Warren Bailey had lived there for 14 years when his son Frank was born in 1894. The boy was ruddy-faced and hearty, and he grew fast like a young eagle. When he was a teenager, his forearms were bulging like the trunks of the old cedars. He towered over six feet, even at that age. He had a gentleness about him and a quiet nature. But he wrestled nonstop with his younger brother, Clifford, and teased his baby sisters, Nina and Nona, who were not twins, but may as well have been, with their blonde tresses and ribbons and identical cherub looks.

George Warren Bailey was ambitious and did not suffer fools. After his arrival on the island, traveling from Wisconsin with his wife Cornelia and their older children, he set up a lumber camp and started cutting trees. This camp was followed by another, then another, then another until there were seven camps altogether.  In the days before the chain saw, the giant cedars were felled with a cross cut saw, worked in cooperation by two men pushing and pulling, sweating and inching the toothy blade through the robust wood.

Once the giant was felled, then the limbs had to be lopped off and the tree cut up into sections that were short enough to fit on the wagon.

frank bailey photo.jpg

Frank Bailey driving team.

Frank did all this. He cut trees and lifted the heavy logs, helping roll and stack them in a pile on the wagon. He would tie them down and drive the wagon into camp, where he would unload the trees and prepare them for sawing into planks. Then, he would drive back up the lumber road, into the deep woods to cut more. Frank was big and strong and even then could out-lift and out-work men twice his age.

But he was a growing boy. The days were long at camp in summer, cutting wood until sundown which happened about 9 pm.

One night, at supper, sitting straight up at the table, Frank dozed off. He had only meant to close his eyes for a moment when his mother was setting out a bowl of potatoes. But he was awakened by a hard rapping sound. It was his father, knocking his fist on the table.

“What the hell’s the matter with you, boy? Stay awake and eat your supper! The idea!”

Sitting there, aching from the day’s labor, his father’s harsh criticism struck a chord. There had been so many hours of lifting and pulling. So many hours of wood splinters and sweat. There would be six hours of sleep and then to begin again. It was too much. Frank began to silently cry. Embarrassed, his siblings all watched in horror as the tears slid down his face. The room became very still for a moment.

“Now what the hell – “ George Warren began.

“No you don’t! I won’t have it!” Cornelia rose up and faced her husband. “Can’t you see what is wrong with him? He’s exhausted! He is not spending one more day in that lumber camp this summer! Not one more day! He will stay here on the farm and work with me!”

George Warren, the gruff owner and boss of seven lumber camps, was no match for an angry mother.

Frank looked up at that tough pioneering matriarch who stood firmly over them with her hands on her hips and her blue eyes crackling. He took a deep breath, and nodded to her. A look passed between them and she calmed and sat down. He lifted his fork and started to eat.

frank bailey photo2.jpg

Frank with his brothers. From left: (Future brother-in-law) Louis Fountain, Clifford Bailey, Frank Bailey, and (seated) older brother Blaine Bailey.


About Nancy J. Bailey

Artist, author, bad karaoke singer. Woodsy ragamuffin. Mom of a horse named Clifford who plays fetch and paints with watercolors. He visits libraries and schools with me, to promote literacy and making the world a better place. Yes, he is house trained, no, he doesn't live in my house! I have written three books about Clifford. But my newest book, THE NORTH SIDE OF DOWN, is co-written by my awesome sister Amanda, who has Down syndrome. Her unexpected one-liner wisecracks can always make me laugh. If you make me laugh, you've made my day!
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