Loading and landing logs in Fifield

Fifield, Wisconsin, in northern Price County, traces its culture and history to the logging industry. In 1877, a reporter from the Phillips Times, wrote: "I fail to discover anything nice about the place ...five frame buildings, one log ditto, and a good depot." The Times had to eat those words a half year later, noting that "settlers are pouring in almost everyday." The town remains small, but it also remains a logging hub, presently a loading and landing site for Stora Enso. I watched this effort. It was fun and informative. Logging remains in Fifield's blood.

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By Ed Marek, editor

January 29, 2008

In one of our sections on the Northern Highland Geographic Province, "Looking for the rapids in Wisconsin Rapids," we were introduced to the Stora Enso Company which has a large complex there.

While traveling through upper Price County, through the town of Fifield along Hwy 13, I came across the company again, this time, an answer to every little boy's dreams --- logs, lots of logs, big trucks, railway cars, and heavy machinery. Oh boy, what fun.

Stora Enso is an integrated paper, packaging and forest products company producing newsprint, magazine paper, fine paper, consumer board, industrial packaging and wood products. The company, which calls itself a "Group," has more than 44,000 workers in more than 40 countries on five continents. The group can trace its history to 1288 in the mines of medieval Sweden and the forests of Finland. Stora Enso Oyj, one of the world´s leading forest industry companies, was formed in 1998 through the merger of the Finnish company, Enso Oyj, and the Swedish company, Stora Kopparbergs Bergslags Aktiebolag (STORA).

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The plant at Wisconsin Rapids, shown here, is one of the group's major operations in North America, commanding substantial recent investment, especially in coreboard products, and employing over 1,000 workers. The group likes Wisconsin Rapids for this business because it is close to customers, warehousing and printing plants, and offers large trucks good transportation access.

The Wisconsin Rapids operation is at the production end. The Fifield operation is a raw material "landing-loading" operation, all outside, a lot of fun to watch. I lucked out, because rail cars were lined up waiting to be loaded, loaded trucks were coming in and leaving empty, and a log loader was busy at work moving logs from trucks to rail cars. It was January in Price County, during a mega-cold spell, the sun was out, but the temperatures were below zero Fahrenheit.

Joyce and Doug Severt have a wonderful web site that talks to Fifield's history, and their own family history. We commend it to you. When you get to the page to which I have linked you, be alert at the close to the phrase, "Click here to view a brief history of Fifield," which will give you a more in depth history in pdf format, a most interesting read with some old photos.

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This is a Google Earth satellite zoomer of Fifield and the Stora Enso facility located there.

Settlers began "pouring" into Fifield in 1877 and the town continued to grow, largely because the South Fork of the Flambeau River flowed through rich pine forests, upstream the river from here. Apparently the town was a rather boisterous and rowdy place in its early days. Sawmills set up shop. The river was the main mode of moving the logs downstream from the pine forests to this area. Logging roads were then built, wagons and sleighs were also employed, and rail lines began popping up. The Wisconsin Central Railroad operated a major station at Coolidge, just to the south of Fifield. We understand Coolidge is no more.

On the Google Earth satellite image, you can see the South Fork of the Flambeau, the main rail track, and the Stora Enso landing and loading area between the two, in the shape of a triangle. You can see the logs stacked up on the day this image was taken. Being a little boy at heart, I've noted that the main rail line sprouts to three tracks when it gets to the landing area. If you look carefully at the bottom arrow of the three, you can see some rail cars parked, off to the side, closest to the landing area. Rails could keep going straight through, or swing out to the left if needed as well, without interrupting a landing and loading operation. This happened on our watch.

I drove into the area off Hwy 70, passed by the building you see as a white rectangle, and into the yard. I was amazed at how many logs were stacked so neatly. As a retired Air Force veteran, I like to see things stacked orderly like that! Please excuse my showing you several photos of the stacks. I do this mainly to convey the enormity of the operation in this small town, but also to emphasize that order is needed to achieve efficiency.

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I entered way up there between this line of logs and the white office building gto the right. I saw immediately this line of logs, and then others to my left as I drove in, to the right, directly in front of me, and all around as I drove through the yard. A massive amount of logs.

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As a final shot of stacked logs, I'll give you a close-up of one stack to admire how neatly they are all assembled. I realize this is common fare at most logging industries, but I never fail to admire it. Go into any good warehouse and you'll see the same thing, everything stacked neatly.

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I must confess to being a little nervous about trespassing here, but my curiosity forced me and my Jeep to press ahead and go around the end of a far stack of logs closest to the rail line to see what was going on. Boy oh boy, did I get a great show.

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On the left, on that track I pointed out was closest to the landing and loading area, was a lineup of rail cars specially designed for this job. These are called "Mega Log Haulers." Still a bit tense at being here, I drove in a little closer to get a better view. It turns out the workers were most kind and allowed me to take the photos I needed, so long as I stayed out of their way and at a safe distance. The next shots will get even closer to the operation.

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This is a nice view because you see the log loader and a truck filled with incoming logs. Just out of the photo, directly underneath the Industrial Attachment "claw," is another truck loaded with logs. He's being unloaded. Once he's done, the truck you see moves into position. The "claw" is getting ready to dig into the truck below it to pick up a batch.

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By the time I got to this photo, the truck that had been getting unloaded was finished, and our guy moved into replace the empty truck. For the sake of discussion, pretend we're working with only one truck. First, the "Claw," more properly known as the "Industrial Attachment" or "Industrial-Type Straight Boom", hovers over the truck to the right, digs in to the logs below, scoops up a full load, then swings over to an empty Mega Log Hauler rail car to load her up.

Let's get in closer. This is fascinating.

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The "claw" is ready to dig in. Note the empty Mega Log Hauler on the other side.

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Here's a closer look at that claw. You aspiring engineers can figure out how it can dig so easily into that pile of logs. That's a real piece of hardware.

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Here, the "claw" starts digging in to the logs on the truck.

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Perhaps what was most amazing to me was how easily the "claw" could dig through that pile of logs and pick up a load to capacity. To me, that is remarkable technology. Just above and to the right of the filled claw, you can see the single operator running this action.

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Up she goes, preparing to swing around to the Mega Log Hauler for unloading.

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Now the Log Loader has swung over to a position above a Mega Log Hauler rail car. Note how far off the center of gravity the claw is while holding these logs, positioned to the rear of that center of gravity. This puts a lot of extra strain on the log loader, but that claw has a very tight grip.

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You can see very plainly how far behind the center of gravity of the logs the claw is holding them. At first, I thought this made it easier to set the logs down in formation inside the rail car, but on reflection, there is a risk those logs will simply fall out. The log loader is one powerful hunk of machinery.

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For this load, the claw is very close to the center of gravity. In both instances, the operator set them in quite easily, once again achieving order to his stacks on the rail cars. Those side rails are an interesting design as well. Once loaded, the logs put a lot of pressure on them, but they stand there straight as a Marine at attention.

So that's the cycle I observed.

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The log loader used here is the Liebherr A934C HD. This graphic of the loader is from the company's pdf pamphlet. She's got a water-cooled 4-stroke diesel engine with 204 horses. The Liebherr Group began as a family business in 1949, founded by Hans Liebherr, and it remains a family business, now in the hands of the second generation. Its holding company is located in Bulle, Switzerland. Its main business is focused on a variety of cranes. That's how the company started and it has remained close to its knitting. It has one production plant in the US, the Liebherr Mining Equipment Co. at Newport News, Virginia, specializing in large dumper trucks for mining.

I'll close with three more photos.

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The operation we just viewed is on the other side of this Illinois Central locomotive 6017, and that operation remained underway when I took this shot. Our 6017 skipper kept his train on the main track and shot right through, the advantage of having the multiple tracks through this area.

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These are the rail cars old 6017 was pulling, all empty Mega Log Haulers heading north to get loaded up.

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In the meantime, after 6017 passed, you can see the long line of Mega Log Haulers that our operation had already loaded. Our guess is some big locomotives will attach themselves to the southern end, at the right of the photo, and take this load to points south.

Finally, one more shot I just have to show.

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"Groceries-Tavern," do-eye-rectly across the street from where all that log loading was underway. I had done no work and was drawn to this place. I think it a wonderful building selling exactly the right stuff in the right place, on Balsam St. and West Central Ave in Fifield, Wisconsin. The store offers lunch, candy, brewskis and all kinds of stuff and, of course, proudly boasts a Green Packer emblem in the front window.

I'd like to conclude with some proud words from the Town of Fifield and urge you to visit, and spend some time and money in the area. These are good, hard-working people and we hope they can preserve their heritage and move forward:

"The Town of Fifield, Wisconsin is located at the intersections of Hwys 13 & 70 in Price County and is a gateway community via scenic State Highway 70 through the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. The Forest covers 100 square miles of the 152 square mile Township of Fifield. The public lands within the Township contain vast forest, scenic areas and numerous beautiful lakes where visitors and residents alike can enjoy hunting, fishing, camping, wildlife viewing, biking, hiking, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, horseback riding, water sports and ATV riding. By any measure, the Town of Fifield is a vacation and retirement paradise.

"Fifield has some exceptional tourist attractions. They include the 1894 Old Town Hall Museum; the reconstructed 1896 Round Lake Logging Dam that flushed millions of logs down the South Fork of the Flambeau River to mills in Fifield and beyond to the Chippewa and Mississippi Rivers; the Smith Rapids Covered Bridge, the first covered bridge built in Wisconsin in over 100 years; a historic post office; Hwy 13 Wayside Korean War Memorial; Hwy 70 WW II Memorial Grove and a WI State Historical Society Marker, Historic Fifield, in Movrich Community Park. The park is nestled along the banks of the beautiful South Fork of the Flambeau River that ties Fifield in the western part of the township with the Pike Lake Chain of Lakes in the eastern part of the township."