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Log Hauling in East Texas

Murvel Lee “Roller” Hopson (deceased), stands in front of a log truck in Colmesneil, circa 1947.by Kelli Barnes

The history of log hauling in East Texas is more than just an interesting look at the past. The beginning of road systems and economic development for East Texas is wrapped in the history of the timber industry.

Fifteen-year-old Murvel Lee Hopson of Colmesneil began driving a log truck for Cecil Davis and Jack Minyard in 1942, after the death of his father. It was a way to help his family make ends meet. Hopson successfully avoided law enforcement until he was old enough to get his license. In those days, log trucks hauled small loads compared to today's standards. It was not unusual for the work animals used to drag the logs out of the woods, to have to tie on to the early style log trucks, and pull them out of the mud. Hopson remembered hauling logs from the Mt. Carmel area, down F.M. 255 north of Colmesneil, to the mill in Doucette that was owned by the railroad commissioner.

Hopson left log truck driving long enough to be drafted into the Navy during World War II. He served our country, spending his time near the Pacific Islands and Okinawa, Japan. His job was piloting a landing craft, which was a smaller boat that brought supplies and men from the ship directly onto the beach. Hopson was back in Colmesneil in 1946, driving a log truck another few years until relocating his family to the Houston area to work for Champion Paper Mill (now International Paper) until retirement. Although Hopson chose to leave the logging woods for better pay in the city, thousands of men supported their families doing hard labor in the woods of East Texas, and they still do today.

Prior to trucks, workhorses, mules and oxen were the sole haulers of logs out of the woods. As early as 1860, sawmills were located along the Gulf Coast at Houston, Galveston, Beaumont and Orange. Further inland, other mills were located in Bastrop, Cherokee, Nacogdoches, Rusk, and San Augustine counties. Logs would be loaded on a high-wheeled cart, then pulled by the animals to a flatcar for transport to the mill.

A lot of factors determined the exact method used to haul logs from the woods to the mills. Before railroads, logs were hauled by work animals to the nearest river. This process was slow, and if the river was low, the logs would have to stack up until the water level elevated. Logs were also stored in the water because it would stop the infestation of pine beetles. Another bonus: the water would clean the dirt off the logs and this helped to protect the saws from getting dull too soon. When the water level in the river elevated, workers would tie logs together to make log rafts and float them all the way down the river to mills located along the route or all the way to the coast. Even today in Louisiana, some swamp loggers still use the water ways for hauling logs, often finding old sunken logs from broken up rafts from days gone by.

From the late 1800s to the early 1900s, the Texas lumber industry began booming. The railroad network developed rapidly and provided transportation to every section of East Texas. Logs could be transferred much faster by train, if there were tracks close enough to the logging site. Entrepreneurs got in on the money-making by establishing lumber-manufacturing plants and often tram roads to carry the logs to the mills and transport the finished lumber to mainline railroads.

These trams were continued on into the East Texas piney woods, resulting in an intricate design of cleared routes that would eventually become the basis for a fully developed rural transportation system of farm to market and county roads. It is interesting to note that the same roads that automobiles and log trucks share today were originally developed for the express purpose of hauling logs... to increase revenues and provide more jobs for East Texans.

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