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Logging Big Wheels

Restored wooden logging big wheels in Michigan

Restored wooden logging
big wheels in Michigan

Logging big wheels or as they were also called - high wheels, logging wheels, logger wheels, lumbering wheels, bummer carts, katydids or nibs were a specially designed large set of wooden wagon wheels that could carry logs that were up to 100 feet in length, several at a time.

Michigan logging wheels (big wheels) were invented by Silas C. Overpack in 1875. Overpack lived in Michigan which, at the time, was the nation's leading producer of lumber. His equipment could be identified as genuine as it was always painted red – see picture right.

How were they “invented”? Overpack was a wheeelright in Manistee , Michigan around 1875, when he was approached by a farmer to build a set of 8 feet wagon wheels. He built these unusually large wagon wheels and sold them to the local farmer. Time passed and later this same farmer returned asking Overpack for an even larger set of wagon wheels. Overpack was very curious by this time. He asked the farmer what he was doing with such large wagon wheels. The farmer replied he was using them to skid logs and, as they say, the rest was history.

1864 painting by Claude Monet

In a letter to the editor of Narrow Gauge and Shortline Gazette (the Gazette) by John Nicoles John pointed out that the invention of Logging Wheels may not have been in the USA at all ….. but possibly in France. Look at the 1864 painting by Claude Monet on left.

A pair of logging wheels right here in Fort Bragg

There still exist a pair of logging wheels right here in Fort Bragg at the back of the Guest House Museum – see photo right.

"Big Wheels" hauling logs on Big River - 1920's

There is no notice/information board by the wheels to indicate their origin. Clearly, they must have been used somewhere along the Mendocino Coast to be here …… but where? We have this picture on left in our “collection”.

Picture of a man standing by the Guest House wheels

If you compare the size of the wheels and the man in the above picture it seems unlikely that these big wheels are the Guest House Wheels. On right is a picture of a man standing by the Guest House wheels.

If anyone can give us some help on the source of the Guest House wheels it would be much appreciated.

Bigg logging wheels at Roots of Motive Power in Willits

The Fort Bragg wheels are original but over at Roots of Motive Power there is a set of “modern” ones - see photo left.

If you want to make a pair of logging wheels for your railroad consult the May/June 2012 edition of the Gazette. In there is a superb article by Dick Whitney entitled, “ 1:20.3 Scale Logging High Wheels” which shows you how, step by step.

Even better, if you want a pair of 11 foot high logging wheels you can still buy them – Check here.

Hayrack boom in operation The steam donkey providing the motive power can be seen in the background Shay loco positioning cars so that they can be loaded Loading logs onto disconnects – the log itself connects the tow bogies (sets of wheels) Hayrack boom loading flat car Feeding the mill at Fort Bragg