Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Back in Time - Tie Hacks

Tie Hack graves and memorial
Mountain View Cemetery
Riverton, WY
May 2016
Every headstone in a cemetery can tell a story, and the unassuming ones in a shady section of the local cemetery certainly could speak volumes about the history of the DuNoir area of the Wind River Range and the men who formed railroad ties with only a broadax. In the High Country, the area surrounding Dubois, WY and the Continental Divide was the realm of The Knights of the Broadax from the early 1900 - 1947.


A majority of the young tie hacks were Scandinavian - from Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland, and the ties they formed with the broadax were stockpiled near where the trees were felled until spring thaw and then floated down the Wind River to the tie yard in Riverton, Wyoming. The Wyoming Tie and Timber Company produced over ten million ties for the Chicago and Northwestern Railroads from the early 1900s into the mid-1940s. The company was sold in 1947, and the reign of the Knights of the Broadax ended.

The only way to transport the ties was by water, and in 1928 elaborate flumes were built in the mountains to move the ties more efficiently from the high country to the streams and river below. Some sections of the flumes were suspended by steel cables because the canyon walls were so steep: the Canyon Creek flume, at one point, plunged down at a 45 percent grade. Only 2,200 feet long, it dropped 1,800 feet.

My parents took a road trip to view one of the last tie drives in 1946 or 1947, and they took the next two photos near Diversion Dam. Because of the dam, the tie hacks had to skillfully maneuver the ties through the dam's spillways.

tie hacks freeing ties along the bank
of the Wind River
circa 1946-47
Amazing photos of the ties' journey to Riverton can be seen in the book KNIGHTS of the BROADAX by Joan Trego Pinkerton. The book is a good read (most of the information for this post came from the book), and the photos in the book make the words come alive. I purchased my copy of the book from the Dubois Museum several years ago, and I'm sure they still have copies available. The contact information is at the bottom of this museum page.

small portion of the annual tie drive
on the Wind River
circa 1946-47
More information and photos on the history of the Tie Hacks can be found online: Wyoming Tales and Trails, and Wonders of Wyoming.

One evening in 1987, I took the following photo - it was the first time I had seen the mysterious section of the cemetery. Except for the large wooden tie in the middle, the area looked vacant. The grave stones were not visible, and the wooden tie had nothing that identified it. I assumed it was a tie hack plot, but nothing confirmed my thoughts.

Tie Hack section in Mountain View Cemetery
Riverton, WY
1987
I kept an eye on the area for several years and was pleased to see that an aspiring Eagle Scout, Nick Tolman took the area on as a project. Now, at the base of the hand-hewn tie is a plaque. (the first photo of this post shows what the area looks like today - quite an improvement)

The Wyoming Tie and Timber Boys
Knights of the Broadaxe
Their final resting place restored as an Eagle Scout Project of Nick Tolman
in cooperation with the Citizen of Riverton and as a Memorial to
Arnold O. Warpness, one of the Tie Hacks
July 2004
several Knights of the Broadax are buried in the Mountain View Cemetery
Riverton, WY
May 2016
Today, a solitary, hand-hewn tie stands proud in the cemetery, surrounded by the unassuming graves and simple headstones of the men who made a lasting impression on the Wind River Valley. Their final resting place is in the town where the tie yard was located - nearly 100 miles where the trees were felled and the ties formed with a broadax, a tool of precision in the hands of a seasoned tie hack.

10 comments:

  1. An interesting history of your area. I like that your parents made a trip to see one of the last tie drives themselves. And, it's good that someone took over the job of restoring the cemetery plot.

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  2. This post is so interesting, I'm off to check out your links.

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  3. What a fascinating history lesson!

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  4. What a great piece of history! Thanks for sharing I found it very interesting! :)

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  5. Thank you for sharing such an interesting post and pictures! I remember my dad buying ties to make steps in an uneven part of our back yard. He valued those ties because he said they were created by a lot of very hard work. You have made that experience come alive for me.

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  6. What an interesting post! Thank you, Nancy.

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  7. So interesting! There are so many fascinating but often unknown stories of those people who helped build this country. I had no idea what a tie hack even was before reading this. Thanks for sharing

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  8. Nancy you teach me so much. I love to hear the history of your Wyoming pioneers. FLoating the logs for CHicago and NOrthwestern railroads is fascinating. I know where the rails are here in Evanston and up to Highland park. Cool Great eagle scout effort too!

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  9. That was a great Eagle Scout project!

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  10. I had no idea! Thank you for this post - it's so interesting. I'm glad the sites are being taken care of. Such a part of Wyoming history.

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