Laumann Presents Tie Flume History

Sheridan historian Helen Laumann. (Photo by Pat Blair)

The tie flume era in Sheridan County lasted about 20 years.

Sheridan County historian Helen Laumann talked about the timbering operation, when trees were cut down to make ties for the railroad, during this month's Conversations in History Wednesday at the Sheridan Senior Center. Laumann said in the 1890s, northern Wyoming was having a tremendous growth spurt.

She said in 1891, two men came to the area looking for timber suitable for railroad ties.

She said they secured a contract with the railroad for 1.6 million railroad ties, and launched operations. The first tie was sent down a flume of a little more than four miles on Sept. 20, 1893. Laumann said all the people of Dayton were waiting at the bottom to greet that first tie. She said the operation was later taken over by J.H. McShane, whose rebuilt the flume with a V-shaped bottom instead of a flat bottom and extended the flume to the end of Tongue River Canyon.

In summer 1894, Laumann said, so many ties had been cut that the timber in the area of the sawmill at Sheep Creek was exhausted. The operation at Sheep Creek was dismantled and rebuilt in the Tongue River Canyon at a town that was named Rockwood. Laumann said Rockwood was a genuine town, with a post office, store and other businesses and even a school. As many as 200 men were employed on the mountain, working all day for wages of $30 to $35 a month. The cook, Laumann said, was given $50 a month.

The town was relocated twice more, to Rockwood 2, then in 1905 to a site named Woodrock. Laumann said that was really the heyday of the tie flume. In that year too, the federal government created the National Forest Service, which took over management of the Big Horn Mountains. In 1908, the Forest Service let a bid for a timber sale, and McShane lost to the Big Horn Timber Company. McShane sold out to Big Horn Timber.

Big Horn Timber received a contract for ties for the railroad in 1911. But in September 1913, fire swept through and destroyed the company sawmill in Ranchester, and the company lost both its contract with the railroad and a lawsuit with Sheridan County. Laumann said in 1913/14, equipment and supplies were hauled off the mountain, and Woodrock was abandoned.

View more photos below.

Laumann sets up equipment for a power point presentation. (Photo by Pat Blair)
A slide of one of the trestles that supported the tie flume. (Photo by Pat Blair)
A slide showing a section of the flume. (Photo by Pat Blair)
A slide showing Woodrock, built in 1905. (Photo by Pat Blair)