Tie Flume Story Discussion Topic – Sheridan Media


Helen Laumann and Carrie Edinger

Helen Laumann has spent many years and many miles researching and documenting the Tie Flume in the Bighorn Mountains. She presented a program on the Tie Flume at the Sheridan County Land Trust/Hub Explore History Program on Tuesday, March 8 at WYO. Laumann presented a slideshow with old and new photos to illustrate his presentation.

Carrie Edinger, SCLT, introduced Laumann, saying Laumann became interested in the canal when she and her family were hiking in the mountains and saw the remains of the canal.

Laumann opened her speech with a timeline of the canal, she said that just after the Battle of Custer, in 1876, the area opened up for settlement. In 1882, John Loucks stood on Courthouse Hill and decided to make it a town. In 1888 Sheridan County separated from Johnson County, and in 1890 Wyoming became the 44th state. In 1890 there were eight post offices in the area, including Sheridan, Beckton, Big Horn, Banner, and Dayton, and there were also many settlers.

The coming of the railroad was very important to the Sheridan area. In 1890, Edward Gillette surveyed a route for the Burlington-Missouri River Railroad from Omaha, Neb. It passed through South Dakota, into Wyoming and north to Huntley, Montana to join the North Pacific to connect the middle of the United States. States with the west coast. But to build the railway, sleepers were needed to hold the rails.

The two men spent a few days riding in the Bighorn Mountains. They chose an area near Sheep Creek, there were plenty of trees for the sleepers, there was also the Tongue River nearby which was a good waterway to float the sleepers up the mountain. Starbird has formed a partnership with Thomas Hall, the postmaster of Omaha. Hall was the financial end of the partnership. In 1892 the company acquired a contract to cut 1,600,000 sleepers for the new railroad.

The first link was sent into the newly constructed channel on September 20, 1893, and at first the links were sent into a flat-bottomed channel, but the links sometimes caught on the flat bottom, creating a traffic jam. Later, a V-shaped channel was built. The first passenger train arrived at Sheridan in 1892, but the track was discontinued because permission from the Indian Department in Washington was required to run the tracks through the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana.

As there were no further ties to be made for the railway until permission was granted, in 1893 Starbird and Hall sold itself to McShane and Company. The company’s logging operation paid employees to continue making sleepers until the railroad restarted. They brought crews with them, including an engineer, a doctor, an accountant, a team leader and an experienced crew. McShane and company redesigned the channel, turning it into a V-shape so the clips wouldn’t snag on the bottom. They also built a promenade along the canal and a telephone line along the canal. They extended the channel to the bottom of the canyon. Previously, ties floated in the Sheep Creek channel and dumped into the Tongue River, but the ties snagged on rocks and created a traffic jam.

One of the old cabins (Laumann collection, used with permission)

In 1894 the railway obtained permission to cross the reservation, and McShane and Company returned to building the railway and did the land work from Ranchester to Huntley in six months.

By 1894 the timber around Sheep Creek had been exhausted and the company began to search for a new area. They chose the area around the head of the box canyon on the Tongue River. Some people said it was impossible, but Malcolm Swan, engineer, said it could be done. He looked around and inspected the area and said it was possible to build the canal there. In the summer of 1894 the camp was moved from Sheep Creek and a settlement called Rockwood was started. They had to build many sections of the channel along the canyon walls. In 1894, three men were killed when they blasted rock to build this section of the canal. This area became known as Deadman’s Turn. It was 96 feet above the canyon floor. Trestles were built to traverse canyons and around rock ledges. Many were 60-70 feet above the canyon.

View from inside the canal, (photo Laumann, used with permission)

When they built the new canal, they established the town of Rockwood. In 1895 there was a post office, a store, a forge, a kitchen, dormitories and a school. Several families have built cabins around the town.

They had a sailing pond and a large boiler which they moved to the city. They built canal shacks along the canal for the tenders. In some areas there was a bell attached to a rope, suspended in the canal. If the bell rang as the logs passed, all was well. If the bidder didn’t hear the bell, he knew there was a traffic jam somewhere.

The company employed 150 men, the Tie Hacks, the men who fashioned the logs into ties, the cooks, the log walkers, the pipemen and other workers. A Tie Hack could earn $30 a month, and the cook, being the most important part of the crew, could expect to earn $50 a month. All supplies had to be carried up the mountain, hay for the horses and groceries; beef, eggs, milk and other stables were purchased from local farmers.

In 1899, a fire swept through the canyon and burned much of the town, as well as much of the wood. Residents had to evacuate. The company moved its operations to the Black Mountains base and named the new town Rockwood 2, so it did not have to reapply for a new post office. In 1900 the railroad was completed so the company continued to cut and shape logs for the construction of cabins, fence posts, telephone poles, lumber and lumber used to shore up the underground coal mining tunnels around the area.

An old shack made with hewn ties such as those made by the Tie-Hacks

In 1905, when the government took over the forests, it changed the timber trade. The company moved the location again and called it Woodrock, which was located near the current Dead Swede Campground. The company employed 175 men and 5,000 sleepers and 8,500 mine props were cut.

In 1908 McShane outbid the timber and McShane sold to the Big Horn Timber Company. He then became a partner in Diamond Lumber Company in Sheridan. In 1909, the Big Horn Timber Company installed new equipment, as well as a sawmill and blacksmith shop. They built nine auxiliary camps and many small huts were built by laborers throughout the region. Many of these huts are still visible today. It was a big operation, over 400 men were employed on the mountain and 103 at Ranchester.

Although the railway was completed, the company continued to obtain contracts for sleepers and mine props. They cut and shaped logs during the winter, and piled them up to wait for spring when they could float them downriver. Piles of these logs are still visible today.

In 1913, a fire destroyed the Ranchester sawmill.

Today, portions of the canal can still be seen on Bighorn Mountain, a reminder of the brave men who helped bring the railroads to northeast Wyoming.

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