Skid Roads

Oxen on a skid road

Before steam came to the woods the only means of getting the logs to the mill was by oxen or horse teams. These pictures show "skid roads" over which the logs were dragged. A skid roadThe "skids" were made of logs laid across the path. This kept the path from becoming too muddy and made the logs slide more easily. Oxen were preferred to horses as they were easier to keep. The man in charge of the ox team was the “bull puncher” and he was typically the highest paid man on the logging crew. Pulling the huge logs downhill was extremely dangerous for man and beast.

In the picture below right, the man at the front of the picture is called the "grease monkey". It was his job to spread grease on the skids to make the logs glide more smoothly along the "skid road".

Oxen dragging logs over a skid road A log coming down a skid road Grease monkey

Hank Simonson was kind enough to give to our club a very interesting booklet entitled, "Logging with Ox Teams – an Epoch in Ingenuity". The booklet was typed using an old manual typewriter with typos and spelling mistakes. Flo, Hank's widow, told us (in 2010) that she believed that Hank was given the booklet around 1960 and she thinks it was published by the Mendocino County Historical Society. It appears to have been written by Thomas 0. Moungovan who had intimate knowledge of bull teams based on the fourth section of the booklet. We have scanned the booklet, annotated it and broken it into sections to fit it into the schema of our website. You can read it here. You can also download pdf copies - click adobe pdf here for a scanned copy of the original (1.9Mb), or adobe pdf here for a smaller version (350Kb). So, if you think there may be an emergency where you need an ox team keep the text close by.

Shoeing an Oxen

The inside of the hoof was cleaned with a sharp knife to remove any rocks. As is commonly known, cattle have cloven feet. Therefore a bull shoe came in two halves, right and left to match the right and left halves of the cloven foot. The blacksmith heated the iron shoe at the forge and pounded it in shape upon the anvil to fit the hoof. The shoes came flat and the blacksmith shaped it and made the toe and heel cast to fit each ox. The shoe covered the entire half of the cloven hoof, not just the outer rim as a horse's shoe. It should never extend beyond the outer rim of the hoof, but was generally about a sixteenth of an inch smaller than the hoof. This gave the blacksmith a chance to nail the shoe to the half shell of the hoof on the outside only, from the center to the back of the heel of the foot. The nail holes were pre-cut in the shoes, the nails were cut off and crimped and the shell was rasped down to fit the shoe.

Because the ox shoe could only be nailed on the outside of the hoof it required many nails (which were smaller than horse shoe nails. Halves were frequently lost, which required a substitute ox while the shoe was replaced.