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Remember the brails…

This time of year was a busy season for the loggers who cut the virgin timber in Wisconsin during the late 1800’s.  They spent the winter cutting the timber.  In the spring, the logs were floated down the rivers to the sawmills.  The Mississippi River was a major transporter of logs.  The logs drifted down the Chippewa River and then were assembled into rafts before being nudged into the current of the Mississippi.

The rafts were formed by grouping the logs into “brails.”  A brail was bound together by linking a chain of logs around the outside perimeter using wooden binder poles and iron links.  Boom chains and boom plugs made by the company’s blacksmith secured the logs to each other.   The logs were prevented from spreading with galvanized wire spaced at intervals across the deck of the raft.  When completed, a brail was at least five hundred feet long and forty-five feet wide. 

Six brails coupled together formed a “Mississippi raft.” Rafts were guided down the Mississippi by a steamboat at the stern and a bowboat tied crossways to the raft at the bow.  A small crew of river rafters rode the brails.  Their principal job was to gather any logs that might break loose.  All other boats on the river were required to get out of the way of these rafts.  This led to tension between residents along the river and the independent rafters.  Abusive exchanges from both sides were frequent. 

When you travel the Great River Road today, you may see a stray log or two in the river.  If you do, remember the era of the brails.

We’d love to see you again,
Stockholm Merchants