Michigan logging wheels

Michigan logging wheels,[1] also known as big wheels, high wheels, logging wheels, logger wheels, lumbering wheels, bummer carts, katydids or nibs,[2] are a type of skidder.[3] They extended the timber extraction season for the logging industry in the North Woods of Michigan, by removing the need for icy ground to traverse. The logging wheels were a specially designed large set of wooden wagon wheels that could carry logs up to 100 feet (30.48 m) long, several at a time.

Silas C. Overpack first built Michigan logging wheels in 1875, at the request of a farmer who had found they were useful for logging over softer terrain.[4][5] At the time Michigan was the nation's leading producer of lumber.[6][7] He painted his high wheels red.[8]


Overpack's logging wheels could haul logs without the need for icy ground. They did not sink into mud in the wet terrain of the northern woods where ordinary wagon wheels would get mired in the spring thaw. The wheels also enabled a team of horses to pull several logs at once.


Overpack sold three sizes of big wheels: 9 feet (2.74 m), 9 feet 6 inches (2.90 m), and 10 feet (3.05 m) in diameter; they cost $100 per diameter foot, a quite considerable investment for the time.[9] Unlike a wagon which carries a load above its axle, these huge wheels carried logs suspended by chains beneath the axle, creating a stabilizing, low center of gravity.[10] The wheels could carry logs from 12 to 100 feet (3.7 to 30.5 m) long and enough logs to total 1,000 to 2,000 board feet (2.4 to 4.7 m3) of lumber in a single load.[11] The axles were made of hard maple, and the 16-foot (4.88 m) tongues were ironwood. The wheels were clad with outer iron rims to protect them from stumps, fallen trees, and rocks, while interior iron rings reinforced the wooden spokes. Horses, oxen, or tractors pulled them.


Overpack was a wheelwright in Manistee, Michigan around 1875, when he built and sold a set of unusually large 8 feet (2.44 m) wagon wheels to a local farmer. This same farmer later returned asking Overpack for a larger set of wheels. When Overpack asked the farmer the purpose of such large wheels, he replied he was using them to skid logs.[3]

From then on Overpack's big wheels were part of Michigan logging history. Many northern states used them, and at least 65 different lumber companies in Michigan alone had them.[5] In the nineteenth century, Michigan's rough and wet forest terrain restricted logging to the winter. Loggers used frozen ground to skid the logs from the woods to the railheads of railways or to river banks for further transport. In the spring they would slide the logs from the banking grounds into the rivers for the log drive to the sawmills. Overpack's production of Michigan logging wheels at his Manistee wagon business made logging possible year round.[12]

When Overpack exhibited his Michigan logging wheels at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, they were a sensation and quickly caught on in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. They "received first premium and medal" at this World's Fair.[13] Overpack solicited the support of the Redding Iron Works Company to help overcome shipping issues and aid in supplying his product to the western United States. The company's proximity to the West Coast timber industry was crucial in this endeavour. It later became a builder of Overpack's Michigan logging wheels.[3][14] Overpack began manufacturing on a large scale and ultimately made thousands of logging wheels, selling them worldwide and shipping them via railroad to other states and Canada.[10] The U.S. Army Forestry Department even took several to France during World War I.[5] They were discontinued by 1930.

Locations containing logging wheels

See also


  1. "Timber West Journal Sept Oct 2003". www.forestnet.com.
  2. Percy W Blandford (1976). Old Farm Tools and Machinery. David & Charles. pp. 153–154. ISBN 0-7153-7151-7.
  3. ""Wheels That Won The West® Featured Vehicle Out of the Woods". www.wheelsthatwonthewest.com.
  4. Powers, Perry Francis, A History of Northern Michigan and Its People, 1912, p. 707, Lewis Publishing Company, An original at University of Michigan.
  5. "Moving wood in Michigan by Arvind Badrinarayanan".
  6. Lumbering in Michigan Archived 2001-12-15 at the Wayback Machine
  7. "Background reading - Lumbering in Michigan by Maria Quinlan".
  8. "Log Booms for loading the redwood lumber". www.mendorailhistory.org.
  9. Dickmann, Donald, The Forests of Michigan, pp 132-133, University of Michigan Press (2003), ISBN 0-472-06816-4
  10. "Kids' education on logging industry" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-10-29.
  11. Wright, C. S. (31 May 2017). "Traverse City: In Vintage Postcards". Arcadia Publishing via Google Books.
  12. "Timeline of Wood".
  13. Cabot, James L., Images of America - Ludington 1830 - 1930, 2005, ISBN 0-7385-3951-1, P. 21
  14. "Big Wheels Resort". Archived from the original on 2008-07-05.
  15. "Hartwick Pines Logging Museum".
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