This section on logging in northern New Hampshire is from the book, New England and its Neighbors, by Clifton White in 1902. The chapter is "WHEN THE WHITE MOUNTAINS ARE WHITE".
In this part (1) he describes his trip to the area, his stay in a boarding house, and leaving on a train to a logging camp.
The southern half of New England was bare and brown; but as I went northward I began to see remnants of drifts, and there were upper hillslopes with a northern exposure that were quite white. By the time I reached the mountains snow was omnipresent, the roads were deep-buried, and travelling was done on runners. My train carried me many miles up the tortuous valleys, and the aspect of the region became less and less inviting the longer the journey continued. The little farms appeared unthrifty, and the frequent, great vacant hotels only accented the desolation.
I stopped at a village I will call Maple Glen. Like most of the hamlets of the district it consisted of a small group of houses around the railway station, with scattered farmhouses on the roads leading away from this nucleus. It looked lost or misplaced in the white world of frost with which it was enveloped. One doubted if it would thaw out in all summer. Many of the dwellings were meagre little affairs with a few pinched sheds about them. These were the homes of the unenergetic or shiftless. Their dreariness was not due to the poverty of the region and its remoteness from markets, for signs were not lacking that some degree of prosperity was within the reach of all. A portion of the inhabitants grasped it, as was evidenced by buildings repaired and modernized and made pleasing to the owner's eyes by the application of paint in the striking colors that are at present fashionable. The hotels furnish excellent markets during the summer for eggs, poultry, milk, and early vegetables, and considerable work is to be had at the sawmills which abound along all the streams, while in winter good wages can be earned chopping and teaming on the mountains.
I looked about the village and then went into the station to warm up by the fire. Several men were lounging about there, and two or three others entered soon afterward. One of the latter was an old-fashioned Yankee. He shook hands cordially with an elderly man who seemed to be a particular friend, and said, "Haow dew yeow pan aout tewday ?"
His pronunciation was not a fair sample, however, of the conversation I heard in the mountains. On the whole the people used surprisingly good English, and the nasal twang supposed to be characteristic of rustic New Englanders was seldom very marked.
In a corner of the station waiting-room stood a crate of oranges. It had come by express for the local storekeeper. One of the men in the room presently called attention to it and told how fond he was of oranges and named just the length of time it would take him to devour a dozen of them. Another man said there wasn't enough taste to oranges to suit him, but he could eat lemons right down. This led a third man to relate that while he didn't have any great hankering for either oranges or lemons, he could despatch sixteen bananas without stopping to breathe. Then a fourth epicure declared nothing suited him as well as peanuts. "I golly!" he exclaimed, "I c'n walk from here to Littleton, and that's ten miles, and eat peanuts all the way.
What other gastronomic revelations might have been made I cannot say, for just then we were all attracted to the windows by a commotion outside. Two drunken .fellows were walking along the road, jarring against each other and gesticulating and shouting. The older of the two, who looked to be about twenty-five, was Joe Button, so the men in the station said, and added that he had married, some months before, Eliza Hicks, a girl of thirteen; yet the match was on the whole perhaps a good thing for her, it was argued, as her parents were dead and there was no one to take care of her. The couple were reported to get along well together in spite of her youth and his drunkenness. "But my daughter used to go to school with her," commented the man standing next me, "and she says Eliza puts on terrible airs over her and the other girls now, because she's married and they ain't. The girls pretend not to care, but I guess they feel it some."
Evening was approaching and I inquired where I could get lodging for the night. My only chance, I was told, was at a boarding-house a little way up the track. This boarding-house proved to be a small yellow dwelling neighboring a sawmill. It was kept by a stout, shrewd-looking Frenchwoman. She had only two or three boarders just then, for the mill was not running, and I was welcome to stay if I chose. The house was very plainly and rudely furnished, but was clean and orderly. I sat down in the kitchen. In a chair near me was a large framed portrait that had apparently just unwrapped. The woman said it was a crayon enlargement of her mother, and she thought it was very good, but she would never get another. "It is too much troubles. The man he comes here long time ago and he say he make portrait my mother flee if I buy the frame -- the portrait, it cost nothings. I say I will take the portrait for nothings and never mind the frame, but he say he not do business that way. So I pick a frame and he say he want cash. I say how I know you ever be here another time. I pay you when you the picture brings. But he tell it large expense for the very fine work he do and he must have moneys. I say then I will pay him two dollars and no more, and he say very well. So I have only but a ten-dollar bill and I ask him can he change it and he say he can. But when he get it he take out the full price and I cannot make him do different. He say it is the price only of the frame anyway and a great bargains. I pay four dollars eighty-five for that frame, but I have see just as big a frame at Lancaster in a store for dollar twenty-nine, and my sister's husband he get portrait like this made large thrown in with a suit clothes. It not so great bargain, I think.
"Well, that agent man, he get my money and it be long time until I think I never see him no more, but to-day he come, and he say they put some extra works on the picture and express, so I have to pay one ninety more. But I say I never order no extras, and they bring themselves the picture, so there be no express, and I have pay all I will. So we have some talks, and he goes away. Oh, we have many pedlers comin' along here all the times, and tramps too. Some of the tramps make me afraid. I always give them to eat; but if they looks bad or like they was drunk, I keeps shut the door and put somethings in paper, and opens the door only enough to hand it out. One Sunday, a big fat tramp came. All the mans was in the house -- my boarders -- fifteen mans and I was not scare that time. It was mos' dinner, .and I say, ' You have to wait. If there anythings left I give you, but I got only jus' 'bout 'nough to fill my boarders. He say he in considerable hurry, so he go on some other house.
"I was most scare once that I was cleaning the buttery and a tramp he came right into the buttery and say, ' I want some kind o' grub.'
"And I say, ' Why you not knock ?'
"And he say he see nothing of nobody and the door open, so he walk in. I been churning and I have six poun' butter and have just put it on the shelf, and he say he guess he have a little o' that butter; and I take a knife to cut, and he say he don't min' to have a whole cake -- two poun'. Then he say he will have some tea and some sugar, and he take two breads and other things; he look awful bad, and I so much fright I do all he say; and he see a dinner pail all new and shiny, and he say, 'I take that, too; that be kind o' handy for me.'But I tell him that belong to my boarder -- 'I can't give you that'; and he say he 'bliged to have it and he settle with the boarder when he come aroun' nex'. But I guess that be not very soon, and I not want to see him anyway; he too terrible huggly."
After supper when my landlady had finished doing the dishes and had sat down to sew, we heard a rat in the walls. That reminded her of a chopper who several years ago came to the house to board a few days after he got through the winter in the woods, "and he say he can make the rats go just where he please -- send them any place he want; and I say, ' You a nice man -- doin' such things!'
"But he say, ' That's all right. It come very handy kngwing to do that sometimes'; and I tell him I don't think much of man sending rats round. Well, he been long time in camp, and his clothes much dirty, and he want me to wash for him, and I say, 'No, you hire some other people what does washing here. But he was a Frenchman and didn't want to spend nothings -- these French, they come from Canada, you know, and they brings everything they will need and don't want to spen' one cent. They want to take they money all back to Canada. Then he ask will I let him do the wash, and so I did.
"When he ready to go home an' we settle, he don't want pay fifty cent a day, and he say, 'You wouldn't charge so much to a poor workingman,' and I say, ' I would. You heat enough for two mans together, and I got have the price what I always have.' He want to pay twenty-five cents, but I won't take only my reg'lar price.
"So he went away, and that same day a lot of railway mens come, and the house was full up; and in the night we could not none of us sleep, the rats made so much noise. It was like any one move a trunk and throw a table on the floor -- make jus' as much noise as that - and no one believe that was rats. The boarders, they want know the next morning if we hear that terrible noise -- that scratch and bang -- and they ask if we have ghosts. We never hear any rats before and we think that Frenchman, he go away mad and he mus' make the rats of all the peoples round here come down our place. We didn't have no cat. Every cat we use to have would get fits, and some day we find it turnin' round and grab on the wall and fall on the floor; and we think the cat might jump up on the cradle and scratch the baby, and we get frightened when the cat have fits, and we kill all the time. One of the boarder, he say he heard if you steal a cat, it keep well and never have that sickness same what all - the before cats had. So I say, ' If you to steal a cat have a chance, I wish you to goodness would.'
"He kind of keep lookout for cats that day and he found one on the sidewalk 'bout two mile from here; and the boarders say we fed those other cats too much meat, so we didn't any more, and we had that cat eight or nine years and we got it yet. Soon as we got it that cat begun catch rats. It catch mos' as fifteen a day and it wouldn't never eat that rats once. It catch them all night and it not through catching the next morning, but it so tired then it would not kill, but bring them to the kitchen and leave them run round, and we have to take the broom. That make the boarders laugh.
"The next fall that Frenchman come again. It mos' night, and he go to the barn, but I know him as he pass the window. My husband he milking and he not in the dark remember the man. If he have he take a stick and break his neck. The man he ask if he can get board, and my husband he say, ' My wife manage all that.' So the man come and ask me. He have a bag on his back and it been rain hard and he all wet. He say he can't go any farther; and I say, 'You the man what send the rats any place you want to. We got lots of rats that night you left. I guess you got you bag full of rats again. No, I not keep you .'
"He never sayed anythings, but jus' walk away down the road."
At the conclusion of this tale my landlady brought from the cellar some potatoes to pare for breakfast, and shortly her lodgers, who had been spending the evening at the village store, came in, and then it was bedtime for the household.
After an early meal the next morning I, returned to the station, where I found a log train preparing to make its daily journey back on a little branch road into the mountains. I decided to go with it and climbed into the rude caboose at its rear. There were about half a dozen other passengers. They visited and joked and added vigor and spice to their conversation by a good deal of casual swearing and some decidedly less excusable foulness.
Our journey was up a winding valley, all the way through the interminable and silent woods. Considerable snow had fallen during the night, but it lay light and undrifted and did not materially impede our progress, though the steepness of the grade made the engine pant heavily. The flakes were still flying, and I could only see a little strip of whitened woodland on either side, and nothing at all of the mountains between which we were passing.