FLUMES, CHUTES & SPLASH DAMS
The demand for white pine lumber on the east coast between 1860 and 1900 caused a depletion of the evergreen along the east coast and into the Midwest. The soft wood pine was a premium building material and the rush was on to find more. Several timber men from the Midwest learned of the vast forests of white pine in North Idaho and took action buying land and timber rights from the Northern Pacific Railroad and the state of Idaho. They started lumber companies and mills at several locations in North Idaho. Coeur d’ Alene became a focal point for many of the companies.
The easiest timber to reach was along the banks of the lakes and rivers. The logs were dumped into the water and a steamer or tug was used to move them to a mill site. Logs were stamped with a mark indicating what mill they were destined for or what timber sale area they were from. It did not take long to deplete these areas and the operations moved to the harder to access timber. A new way to transport the logs from the harvest area to the mill was needed. The solution was flumes, chutes and splash dams.
Flumes and chutes were similar in design and use. Both were a “V” shape wood structure that led from the logging area to the loading area. The “V” shape took less wood and maintenance than the traditional box shape. The loading platform was either at the head of a railroad spur built up the valleys or a major waterway where steamers and tugs could move the logs to the mill. Flumes contained a water source and chutes relied on gravity and friction. Now and then the chutes would be greased to aid the log’s movement.
Splash Dams were another source to move logs down the mountains especially during low water seasons. A wooden dam was built across a creek so a reservoir would form. Logs were dumped in the water above the dam. The gates of the dam were opened a wall of water and logs crashed down the stream bed to the loading area. Many logs were damaged in this process and in later years the splash dams created an environmental problem by stopping the migration of local fish to breeding areas so they were removed or blown up.
During the early 1900’s there were more than 150 flumes and chutes in the Coeur d’ Alene National Forest and St Joe area. The combination of the crash of the lumber industry in the 1930’s, depletion of large stands of white fir and modernization of logging practices brought an end to the flume, chute and splash dam systems. But their history has been preserved in old photographs and even in the log flume amusement rides in our theme parks.