Photograph courtesy of the author
After I listened to one of historian Richard Nason’s lectures, I became obsessed with researching an aspect of his narrative. Nason, a retired Finch, Pruyn forester with a deep knowledge of the Adirondack logging industry, described a tree with a cross carved into its bark; the carving was thought to mark the death of a logger in the mid-20th century on the Upper Hudson River, near Newcomb.
Eager to discover the story behind this logger who perished, I set off with a friend on a September morning to locate the tree, with a map, compass, GPS unit and general directions from Nason. We spent unsuccessful hours bushwhacking through brush and stands of hardwoods, startling both birds and deer. Tired and dispirited, we began to think about ending a fruitless search. But as I exited a thicket of riparian saplings and mature hardwoods, the pale carving stared silently back at eye level.
A few days later, as I continued my research at the Newcomb Historical Museum, I discovered not a logger but a blacksmith named Eddie Quintal. On a rainy night in May 1945, at age 48, Quintal died unexpectedly on the northern shore of the Upper Hudson River, near the cross that marks his passing. He may have been one of the last Adirondack lumber-camp blacksmiths.
Quintal was born in Massachusetts in 1887, to French-Canadian parents, and lived for a time in Quebec. With dual citizenship, he was conscripted into the Canadian Armed Forces during World War I. He served with the First Quebec Regiment.
After the war, Quintal began his professional life in a Vermont lumber camp. In 1933, he joined Finch, Pruyn’s northern logging operations in Newcomb as a blacksmith. He remained there until his death.
Quintal and his wife, Charlotte, had a permanent residence in North River, though he spent the majority of each year in the lumber camp, shoeing horses and repairing wagon wheels, as well as the numerous metal parts of an ongoing logging operation.
Frank Reed, the author of Lumberjack Sky Pilot, first published in 1965, wrote that Adirondack lumbering reached its peak during World War I. “At that time, 7,000 woodsmen were at work in 150 lumber camps, getting out strategic materials to meet the needs of the country in a time of stress.… This era produced excellent teamsters—men who took great pride in their fine horses and treated them almost as friends.” The era also produced skilled blacksmiths to service those equine “friends.”
According to Reed, the surplus Caterpillar tractors that became widely available after World War I would spur a shift in the industry. “The great-grandsons of the early tractors are powerful machines which can haul [log] trains of 15 or 20 loads. One of these could do the work of at least 20 teams” of horses.
“In earlier years, prior to World War II, the horse was used entirely for both the skidding season and the winter haul. More than 100 teams were used the first winter on the long haul from North Lake to the landing on the [South Branch of the] Moose River.”
Reed noted that as WWII approached, the demand for pulpwood increased greatly. He observed several new industrialized developments at a Dolgeville logging operation, including the first chainsaw in use in the Adirondacks and the first bulldozer in operation on log-road construction and log-hauling trucks. Mechanical equipment was the logical move for efficient production and increased profitability. Men were now attracted to the woods by the new motorized methods.
During Quintal’s years as a lumber camp blacksmith, he observed traditional horsepower and physical brawn transition to near fully mechanized logging operations. Reed wrote that “the old-time lumberjack, his axe, saw, spud, peavy and the horse were gradually supplanted by inventions of the 20th century.” The impact of industrialized logging operations had an identical impact on lumber camp blacksmiths. Craftsmen like Quintal were fading from the scene. By the early 1940s only a few thousand loggers worked at 60 camps.
Quintal’s death foreshadowed the obsolescence of blacksmiths in Adirondack logging camps. After World War II, pent up demand from the Great Depression fueled exceptional economic growth in the post-war era; cost-efficient mechanized logging operations overtook manual labor in America’s forests. No longer were the massive forearms of anvil-hammering, forge-stoking blacksmiths in demand.
After Quintal’s death, the foreman at Finch, Pruyn Camp 3 chiseled the 15″-by-15″ cross into a massive eastern white pine. Quintal was a man of modest means and his family lacked the resources for a traditional burial. His final resting place is a potter’s field in North Creek’s Union Cemetery. A second cross on its mossy lawn memorializes Quintal and all those who, like him, rest beneath the shade of towering pines.