Giant Lumber Co. Lumber Flume
By Andrew Casey
Growing up, my father Bill Casey, would take me on walks along the Reddies River. During these walks he would talk to me about his growing up and riding ponies along the river. He also told about a flume that had run along the river that was destroyed in the 1916 flood. I hadn’t thought much more about the flume until recently during a chance conversation with John Kilby, when I learned that his grandfather, Andrew Kilby, had worked for the Giant Lumber Company that operated the flume . John loaned me a taped interview that Jay Anderson had done with his grandfather about the Giant Lumber Company. With the tape in hand and some prodding from Jule Hubbard I began to work on this article.
The Giant Lumber Company was incorporated in April 1907. Mr. E.P. Whorton from Greensboro, Mr. W.J. Palmer from Lenoir, Mr. J.M. Bernhardt from Lenoir, and Mr. F.G. Harper from Patterson were the founders of the company. As stated in the Certificate of Incorporation the purpose of the company was to:
“To buy, sell, lease, or otherwise acquire land; to improve same with the erection of dwelling houses or other buildings thereon; to rent, lease, or otherwise acquire, timber rights, easements and privileges connected therewith; to build, construct, establish, and maintain a flume, or flumes, timber roads and other means of transportation excepting railroads; to cut, saw, haul, and transport lumber, to build, construct and maintain, warehouses, depots, and platforms, for storage and preservation of lumber; to build construct and operate, mills, factories, and other plants; to manufacture all kinds, of articles composed of wood, and metals of any kind; to buy, sell, manufacture, and otherwise deal in furniture, spokes, handles, doors, and other articles and commodities made of wood, or other materials; to build construct and operate, stores for the sale of all kinds of commodities; to buy, sell, keep and deal in cattle of all kinds; to buy and sell lands and operate mines and to deal in all kinds of minerals, and mineral rights.”
On May 1, 1907 the newly formed Giant Lumber Company purchased 6,167.36 acres of land and timber and 2,505.37 acres of timber rights from Judge T.B. Finley for the sum of $65,045.47. They also purchased a four acre lot at the corner of 10th Street and D Street which is the current location of American Drew Furniture from A.A. Finley for $5,000. This lot is where the flume ended.
The process began with men using axes and crosscut saws to fell the trees and cut then into log lengths. Teams of steers were used to pull the logs to one of twelve portable steam powered sawmills that cut the logs into lumber. The lumber was then hauled to the head of the flume on horse drawn wagons. The flume carried the lumber from up on the Vannoy Road to North Wilkesboro.
Pres Wyatt, a life long resident of Vannoy Road, remembers riding the carriage on one of the sawmills as a boy, while his father, Thomas Wyatt, set the ratchets on the carriage. Thomas Wyatt worked for the Giant Lumber Company in a number of positions but his specialty was working on the circular saws that the sawmills used and the crosscut saws the loggers used to fell and buck up the trees. During our visit, Mr. Wyatt was kind enough to give me one of the oxen shoes that were used to shoe the oxen that pulled the logs to the mill. Oxen shoes are unusual in that an oxen is a split hooved animal and require 8 separate shoes instead of the 4 required for horses and mules.
The flume was somewhat of an engineering marvel at the time. It was basically a wooden trough that carried water and allowed lumber to be floated down it. Mr. Wyatt recalled that the trough of the flume was built of hemlock lumber and the supporting structure was made of locust. The flume began high on the North Fork of the Reddies River. According to Mr. Kilby’s interview the flume was V-shaped for the first 12 miles and flat bottomed for the remaining 12 miles. This was due to the fact that the first section of the flume did not have as much fall and the water would run faster in a v-shaped trough than in a flat bottomed trough. Additional water was put into the trough at intervals from smaller streams.
Men would begin putting lumber in the flume around midnight in order to have the lumber arrive in North Wilkesboro around 8 am. The ends of the lumber were lapped over and nailed together to keep the lumber from jamming up in the flume. Mr. Wyatt recalled the nails were specially made to allow the boards to pivot as they went through the curves in the flume. When the boards arrived in North Wilkesboro the nails were pulled and shipped back up to the beginning of the flume to be used again. Mr. Kilby stated that the record amount of lumber floated in one day was approximately 70,000 board feet in a 10 hour day. Kilby went on to discuss lumber prices which ran from $14 per thousand board feet for good grade lumber to $90 per thousand board feet for heart poplar lumber. Labor costs were 90 cents a day for a 10 hour day.
The flume had to be constantly patrolled to keep lumber from jamming up the trough. Rex Reeves, a longtime salesman at Yadkin Valley Motor Company, remembers his father, Ambrose Reeves, talking about working for the Giant Lumber Company. Mr. Reeves went to work at the age of 15 for the lumber company and his job was to patrol a section of the flume to ensure lumber was not jammed up and the flume was kept in good repair. A tricycle affair was also used to ride up and down the flume to make sure the lumber was floating without jamming up. The tricycle had flange wheels that rode along the edges of the trough with a man pedaling to go up and down the flume.
During my visit with Mr. Wyatt, he related how employees would set empty nail kegs on top of wide boards and ride the flume home in evenings after work.
The Giant Lumber Company had to provide for all of the needs of its’ employees. Andrew Kilby was hired to run their commissary in 1910. At that time the flume had been constructed and was delivering lumber to North Wilkesboro. The commissary was where the employees were paid and also served as a general store. Groceries were kept there for the men and feed was stored for the livestock. Mr. Wyatt has memories of riding a wagon with his father, Thomas Wyatt, hauling supplies from the commissary to the head of the flume. According to Mr. Wyatt the commissary was located near where the old Union Township School is located today. The old school now serves as the Blue Ridge Holiness Campground.
In 1915 the Giant Lumber Company was sold to Mr. W.J. Palmer, one of the founders, who continued to operate the flume until the 1916 flood that washed away most of the structure. Mr. Wyatt has memories of families that had lost their homes salvaging lumber from remnants of the flume to build temporary shelter after the flood. Mr. Harvey Chambers shared a letter with me that his grandfather, Will Reeves, wrote to his family after the flood. Will Reeves had worked for the Giant Lumber Company on one of the steam powered sawmills, but had moved to West Virgina to work in a coal mine before the flood. The letter expressed concern for his family and also concern that the corn crop and garden was washed away. He sent three dollars home in the letter to help out. Mr. Reeves was later killed in a mining accident.
Andrew Kilby left the Giant Lumber Company, joined the army and served in France during World War I. Returning to Wilkes after the war he ran into Gwyn Harper one of the founders of the Giant Lumber Company. Mr. Harper offered Andrew a job at Yadkin Valley Motor Company which he owned. Andrew went to work for him and he ended up owning the dealership. His son “Bud” Kilby, and grandson, John Kilby still run the dealership, which is the oldest Ford dealership in North Carolina. Ambrose Reeves, another former Giant Lumber Company employee, also ended up working with Yadkin Valley Motor as well as six of his sons. Rex Reeves continues to work there today.
If you have any additional information about the Giant Lumber Company please call Andrew Casey at 336-838-5766 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As additional information is available it will be posted at www.caseyandcompany.com.