Tie Flume Focus of 'Conversations'

Helen Laumann talks about tie flume in Wednesday's "Conversations in History." (Photo by Pat Blair)

In 1891, according to Helen Laumann, two men – John Thurston and Dan Starbird – charged with harvesting timber for the railroad went up into the Big Horn Mountains looking for suitable timber to harvest.

That was the start of what Laumann called “20 Years of Timbermen” in her “Conversations in History” presentation at The Hub on Smith Street Wednesday.

The operation involved construction of tie flumes to carry cut logs from the mountains to the sawmills in Dayton and, later, Ranchester where they would be cut into the ties used in railroad construction.

Laumann said Starbird and Hall acquired a contract in 1892 to supply the railroad with 1.6 million railroad ties, and the first tie was sent down the flume to the river on Sept. 20, 1893. She said the distance covered was just over 4 miles, and it took 14 minutes for the tie to travel from Sheep Creek to the Tongue River.

Laumann said financial issues resulted in sale of the operation to J.H. McShane and Jerry Donnelly in 1893. Over the next several years, timbering led to construction of Rockwood, which became a permanent community by 1895, with a post office, store, blacksmith shop and a school.

Laumann said around that time, 150 to 200 men were employed in timbering on the mountain.

Rockwood was later replaced by a town called Woodrock. Laumann said timbering continued in the Big Horns into the early 1900s, but by the end of 1913, she said any hope of reviving the logging business was abandoned.

Laumann said logs that were cut in 1912 and 1913 were never taken off the mountain. She said Woodrock was abandoned in 1940.

One of several slides Laumann showed during her presentation.
Slide showing one of many trestles that supported the flume through the Big Horn Mountains.