Sitnews - Stories In The News - Ketchikan, Alaska - News, Features, Opinions...


Fish Or Cut Bait

The log train
by Bob Ciminel


July 07, 2004

It is uncanny how a minor topic of discussion in Ketchikan can segue so nicely into the article I planned for this week. I am speaking, of course, about the debate over the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show. Now, being as I am a descendant of Pennsylvania coal miners, I am not the least bit qualified to offer an opinion on the credibility of the people who participate in the lumberjack show, or how they would stack up against "real" lumberjacks (no pun intended). One only has to watch the Discovery Channel or TLC to realize that today's lumberjacks no longer use many of the skills displayed at the lumberjack shows.

Some letters and comments in Sitnews discuss the demise of the logging industry and the onerous restrictions the Federal government places on the national forests in Alaska, and some plead for less logging and fewer roads in an effort to preserve the forests. When 50% of the complaints support one side of an issue and 50% support the other, the best thing to do is nothing. Personally, I can support either position. I believe that trees are natural resources placed on Earth by God for man's enjoyment and use. Why can't we harvest trees using carefully managed methods that protect the forest and its wildlife, while at the same time opening the forests for recreational purposes? Forbidding roads in a forest or wilderness area is a crock. Some of us are not rugged outdoorsmen or campers, and we can't take a month off from work to go hike in the boonies. We only have two weeks of vacation; let us drive our damn cars in there! It makes no sense to close off ten million acres of forest so a small population of tree-huggers can assuage their consumer-driven consciences and experience oneness with nature. That is not democracy; it is elitism. The no-access proponents have a saying, "Close the forests to the public, but wait until I've finished building my cabin."

photo log train

Bob's day off working the log train...

In a way, I am involved with forestry because I occasionally work as a conductor on the Georgia Northeastern Railroad, owner of my usual railroading outlet, the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway tourist line. I spend the day (usually 12 hours) as a crewmember on the weekly log train out of Blue Ridge, Georgia. It is a short train, only five or six cars long, but we carry enough logs to keep two dozen semis off the highways. The logs are mostly pine, cut in the Cherokee National Forest. Yes, you read that correctly, they harvest the trees from a "NATIONAL FOREST!" In fact, it is a booming business in the North Georgia, East Tennessee, and Western North Carolina Mountains.

The U.S. Forest Service contracts with local loggers to clear-cut 40-acre sections, which are then reseeded. As dastardly as the arrangement sounds, we rarely have forest fires in our mountains, even during periods of extreme drought such as weve experienced the past five years.

On Mondays, after the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway has closed down for the week, we use its locomotives to pull the loads out of the wood yard and take them south to Whitestone, Georgia. From there, the logs cars eventually make there way south to Marietta, Georgia for interchange with the CSX Railroad. It's anybody's guess where the logs go from there, but I suspect they become either plywood or particleboard.

We take any empty log cars in the siding back to Blue Ridge for delivery to the wood yard. On a good day, the round trip takes about seven hours, but, frequently, wet rails, kudzu leaves, and the steep grades often force us to back down the hills (or slide, in some cases) and try again.

Our route takes us across through Ellijay, the only town of any size along the route, and the point where the Ellijay and Cartecay rivers join to form the Coosawattee. We follow the Coosawattee southwest for a short distance, and then turn south to begin the long climb up to Ella Gap. Ella Gap skirts the western end of Talona Mountain and brings us into the Talona Valley where we follow Talona Creek to our destination at Whitestone, site of a huge marble quarry. We drop off one natural resource, trees, at a place where they mine another natural resource, marble.

On the return trip, I finally have a chance to eat the peanut butter and jelly sandwich the engineers wife often packs for me. What a great day; riding through the woods, with sunshine filtering through the trees, listening to the sound of steel wheels on steel rails, munching on a PB&J sandwich, and swapping stories with the engineer.

I take vacation from my regular job to work the log train. It is a difficult decision: Spend the day sitting in the office at my computer or spend the day riding a train in the North Georgia Mountains. It is always a no-brainer.


Bob Ciminel ©2004
All Rights Reserved

Post a Comment
        View Comments
Submit an Opinion - Letter

Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska