newly formed entity to purchase delivered logs from landowners.
The new program wouldn’t buy stumpage – it would be up to
the landowner to arrange and pay for the cutting and delivery of
logs. The stored logs would serve as collateral for the loan. The
program would then sell the logs or, if it proved necessary, saw
logs into lumber and sell the lumber. Tinker’s team, the one being
created to handle the problem, could take care of the details. And
he offered to use the Boston office to get the program started and
then hand it over to the loan maker over time.
What the government was doing, he argued, was to “merely
establish a market for logs, and leave to the local people the
business of logging and milling.” Many owners of small woodlots would have preferred not to have to contract with the logger to cut and deliver the logs, but Tinker felt that it would be
too cumbersome to get in the logging and sawmilling business.
Four days later, on October 13, Silcox wrote a memo to Jesse
Jones, the powerful chairman of the Reconstruction Finance
Corporation. Following Tinker’s recommendations, he proposed establishing a government-owned nonprofit corporation
to handle the situation in New England. Management would
come from the Forest Service, with broad powers to set prices,
purchase logs, and sell logs and lumber.
The proposal was batted around, tweaked, and ultimately
approved in short order, a display of inventiveness and flexibility characteristic of the New Deal environment. Silcox and
Tinker created and funded a new program to handle the salvage by finessing relationships among three corporate entities
that were wholly owned by the federal government: the Federal
Surplus Commodities Corporation (FSCC), the Disaster Loan
Corporation, and the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. Out
of the fancy footwork came the Northeastern Timber Salvage
Administration (NETSA), staffed with Forest Service personnel
but operating within FSCC. The $15 million loan that established
NETSA was secured by mortgages on all the timber it would purchase from landowners. The loan would be repaid out of proceeds
from subsequent resale of the logs and wouldn’t come due until
January 1, 1942. Silcox quickly delegated his authority to Tinker
to run NETSA. The pragmatist and the idealist clearly worked
well together. By November 14, 1938, everything was in place.
The first item on Tinker’s to-do list was determining the price
to be paid for logs. NETSA studied price reports from the preceding five years and came up with a schedule of prices for the different species. The initial proposal had landowners receiving 80
percent of the price up front, with a supplemental payment coming after the government had recouped its money. Landowners
found this unacceptable, and few of them delivered logs on this
basis. NETSA responded by increasing the up-front percentage to
90 percent and increasing the prices paid for the lower grades, a
concession large enough to start the trucks rolling.
A more difficult sticking point was deciding how to measure
the logs. Given that a log is essentially a cylinder with a slight
taper, it seems that knowledgeable men could come up with a
reasonable method for measuring its volume. Over the years,
they have – dozens of them. Each state had its preferred log rule
or measuring system.
In New Hampshire, they used the Blodgett rule, and across the
river it was the Vermont or Humphrey rule. Maine had the largest
selection to choose from, the Holland, the Bangor, the Saco River,
and the Square of Three-Fourths. Massachusetts had its Mill Tally
Log Rule for White Pine, and the foresters working on the Green
Mountain National Forest used the Scribner Decimal C. The scaling systems are called log rules because the volumes and the corresponding diameters and lengths are printed on a long wooden
ruler, more like a yardstick, used in the log yard.
The peculiarity about log rules, and this continues today, is
that the log is not scaled according to the volume of a tapered
cylinder but by how many board feet of lumber can be sawn
from it. The rule predicts the volume of the boards that will be
sawn from the cylinder. Each rule springs from a different formula that takes into consideration the unusable parts of the log:
slabs cut from the perimeter and the sawdust lost from the saw’s
kerf or thickness. Some rules favored larger logs with little taper;
others, the Blodgett, for instance, have a built-in advantage for
logs with smaller diameters.
Each state wanted to use its own rule because that’s how its
mills and loggers were accustomed to buying and selling timber.
As the primary buyer, NETSA wanted to simplify its program by
having a single log rule govern the whole region. After considerable study, it adopted the International Quarter-inch Rule as
the standard, having determined that it would closely and fairly
approximate the amount of square-edge lumber that could be
produced by an efficiently operated mill.
That solution satisfied nobody, and it absolutely enraged the
boxboard industry, because it sawed round-edge, not square-edge, lumber. In sawing round-edge (which today is usually known as live-edge), they sawed each log straight through,
never turning it on the carriage to find the best face. Straight-through sawing essentially does to a log what an egg slicer does
to a hard-boiled egg.
The boards’ edges were left curved and intact, the bark often
still attached. Because there was so little waste, the log volumes
in the Massachusetts mill tally ran 10-20 percent higher than
ordinary rules. Especially in Massachusetts, but also where
boxboard still ruled in New Hampshire, the NETSA log rule
became known as the “swindle stick.” The rest of the country
had moved on to square-edge sawing and had developed a complex system for grading both logs and lumber.
NETSA also imposed a grading system on the logs it purchased. This was tough love for log sellers, providing higher
prices for the best logs, though there were few. In hiring log
graders, NETSA favored young men out of forestry school to
do the scaling because they were new to it and didn’t have any
preconceptions. NETSA paid eighteen dollars per thousand
board feet for the highest-grade pine log, fourteen dollars for
the middle grade, and only twelve dollars for the common log.
Seventy percent of the logs were purchased at the lowest grade.
On top of that, logs that weren’t straight had their scale reduced.
Jim Colby, whose sawmilling career began with Thirty-Eight,
fumed about this way of doing business: “Good god, they were
screwing the people right and left. You’d have a log with just a little