Jimi Hendrix Clara McCarty Captain Robert Gray Anna Louise StrongAnna Louise Strong Bailey Gatzert Home WWII Women Pilots
Search Encyclopedia
Advanced Search
Featured Essay
Home About Us Contact Us Education Bookstore Tourism Advanced Search
7100 HistoryLink.org essays now available      
Donation system not supported by Safari     Donate Subscribe


Cyberpedias Cyberpedias
Timeline Essays Timeline Essays
People's Histories People's Histories

Selected Collections
Cities & Towns Cities & Towns
County Thumbnails Counties
Biographies Biographies
Interactive Cybertours Interactive Cybertours
Slide Shows Slideshows
Public Ports Public Ports
Audio & Video Audio & Video

Research Shortcuts

Map Searches
Alphabetical Search
Timeline Date Search
Topic Search


Book of the Fortnight
Audio/Video Enhanced
History Bookshelf
Klondike Gold Rush Database
Duvall Newspaper Index
Wellington Scrapbook

More History

Washington FAQs
Washington Milestones
Honor Rolls
Columbia Basin
Walla Walla
Roads & Rails

Timeline Library

< Browse to Previous Essay | Browse to Next Essay >

John Dolbeer invents the donkey engine and revolutionizes logging in August 1881.

HistoryLink.org Essay 5331 : Printer-Friendly Format

In 1881, John Dolbeer (1827-1902) of Crescent City, California, invents the donkey engine and revolutionizes logging. A single-cylinder steam engine is connected to a horizontal capstan and they are mounted together on several log skids. By wrapping cables around the capstan, the engine can pull huge loads that would otherwise require animal power. The skid road and the ox team are rendered obsolete and the era of ground-lead logging begins. The donkey engine will appear at the Blanchard Lumber Company's operation on Bellingham Bay in 1887.

For many years, logging operations were limited to areas close to water where the logs could be floated to mills or to flat ground where animal power could be used. Horses and oxen dragged logs along roads paved with greased wood ties. The process was slow and expensive and the animals could not negotiate steep terrain.

On Dolbeer's first model, he wrapped a 150-foot, 4½ inch manila rope several times around a gypsy head (horizontally mounted spool) and attached the other end to a log. The donkey pulled the log toward the engine. The engine was moved by attaching the line to tree and pulling it along on its log skids. Similar pieces of machinery appear with names such as Humboldt, Tacoma, Willamette, Seattle, Crackerjack, Duplex, and Halfbreed.

In 1881, Ephraim Shay (1839-1916) of Michigan patented a geared locomotive, which made possible the rail transportation of heavy loads of logs up and down steep grades in all weather conditions. The Shay was basically a flatcar with a steam boiler mounted in the middle. Fuel and water were stored on opposite ends. Two vertical cylinders drove a crankshaft, which in turn drove a pair of geared trucks through a system of universal joints and sliding shafts (jackshafts). On most Shays, the boiler is offset to the left of center, to balance the cylinders on the right.

Northwest loggers proceeded to push inland from the coasts and rivers to supply the growing demand for lumber.

Richard L. Williams, The Loggers, (New York: Time-Life Books, 1976), 112-113; Carol J. Lind, Big Timber, Big Men (Seattle: Hancock House Publishing, 1978), 39-40; Lancaster Pollard, A History of the State of Washington (New York: The American Historical Society, Inc., 1937), 334.
Note: This essay was updated on July 2, 2008.

Travel through time (chronological order):
< Browse to Previous Essay | Browse to Next Essay >

Special Suite: Washington Forests |

Related Topics: Industry | Technology |

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both HistoryLink.org and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Major Support for HistoryLink.org Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You

This essay made possible by:
Washington Forest Protection Association

Dolbeer donkey engine, n.d.
Photo by Darius Kinsey, Courtesy UW Special Collections

Home About Us Contact Us Education Bookstore Tourism Advanced Search

HistoryLink.org is the first online encyclopedia of local and state history created expressly for the Internet. (SM)
HistoryLink.org is a free public and educational resource produced by History Ink, a 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt corporation.
Contact us by phone at 206.447.8140, by mail at Historylink, 1411 4th Ave. Suite 803, Seattle WA 98101 or email admin@historylink.org