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Washington Iron Works Skidder
Swifts Creek, Victoria, Australia

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SkidderPortrait01_Comp.jpg (204448 bytes)

Photo by Professor Klyzlr

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Field Report 29/10/01
Professor Klyzlr
Washington Iron Works Skidder
Swifts Creek, Victoria, Australia

ENGINE Panel Text (facing Skidder, left hand side)

The Washington Winch is the only steam powered engine of it's kind in Australia with engine, spars and cables still rigged for work. Built by the Washington Iron Works Company in Seattle, U.S.A., it was able to haul big logs up steep slopes. On this site it was used to lift logs off the ground, carrying them to the road and loading onto trucks.

Some of it's features are unique to Washington Iron Works engines. The 11 inch ( 25cm ) bore cylinders with a 14 inch ( 36cm ) stroke are on either side of the boiler, powering three cable drums mounted at one end of the wooden frame. The squat upright boiler design was more commonly used for smaller, portable engines, and the firebox was unusually large. Mounted on a heavy, log skid frame, it could be towed to new sites after dismantling the shed over the engine.

These winches revolutionised steam logging, reaching their heyday in the 1920s and 1930s. Unlike self-propelling steam engines such as trains, few steam powered winches survive.

To preserve the winches historic value, the stream which fed the boiler has been diverted to reduce corrosion, and the shed has been reconstructed using original fixtures such as hinges wherever possible.

(Bottom Quote) "... with its extended firebox, you could get a very big fire into it ... which gave the winch plenty of steam." Max Elliot

HISTORY Panel Text (facing Skidder, right hand side)

The Washington Winch was one of two steam winches imported in the 1920s, and used by the Kauri Timber Company in Western Australia. Both were later bought by the Forests Commission of Victoria for salvaging timber after the 1939 'Black Friday' fires. In 1959, this winch was bought by Jack Ezard on the recommendation of his bush boss George O'Byrne who had helped set it up in Western Australia, and restored it to working order for it's last season here in 1960/61.

The Ezards were innovative sawmillers who introduced high lead logging into Victoria. They had owned and operated sawmills in the Warburton area from 1907, before shifting to Gippsland in 1932.In 1950 they moved to Swifts Creek, where they worked until selling their mill and timber licences in 1990.

The winch is a unique part of Victoria's cultural heritage and logging history, originally rigged by men who had used this technology through the peak years of steam logging, and left intact in a readily accessible site surrounded by the bush it was used to work. It is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register, and managed by the Department of Natural Resources and Environment.

(Bottom Quote) "As a logger ... I was privileged to see so much of God's beauty, such as the dawn of day, the heavenly artists at work, the freshness of the mountain after a shower of rain ..." Laurie Boucher from his book 'Whispers from the Mountain'

RIGGING Panel (back to Skidder, left hand side)

The Washington Winch operated an high lead and a skyline system. Rigging the spars for these was a spectacular and physically demanding job. Riggers had to climb 60 metres with spurs and a climbing belt, strip and head the trunk which would sway violently as the crown fell, rig guy cables to anchor the spar, and attach the tackle. This could take a full day, with lunch sent up on a rope.

High lead systems used winches with a single spar tree to lift logs partly off the ground, leaving snig tracks which deepened with time. The logs caught between rocks, so the winch could no longer be used unless it was converted to the skyline system. For the skyline, a second spar was rigged, and logs were lifted over rough ground using a 'flying fox' arrangement on a cable between the spars.

The original spars decayed and have been replaced with Alpine Ash cut nearby. The cables used for both skyline and high lead winching can easily be recognised. Bracing cables were anchored to large tree stumps which can still be seen, but have been reattached to more permanent anchor points.

(Bottom Quote) "I asked Jack what he bought the out of date winch for as tractors was doing all the work now ... " Max Elliot

OPERATION Panel (back to Skidder, right hand side)

The Washington was a two speed winch, operated manually at a relatively slow speed, or much faster using a steam jamb. Rigged for high lead logging, it winched timber in from most directions, but with a skyline system could only harvest up to a hundred metres on either side of the skyline cable.

Two strong men managed the heavy mainline, a steel cable 800 metres long with a wire rope "choker" for attaching the log. The tail line used for pulling the main line back into the bush was over 1500 metres long, and a "straw line" pulled the other cables into position. A steam whistle on the winch (controlled with a cord from the bush) signalled instructions to the winch operator.

By it's last season, the winch was obsolete as crawler tractors didn't need a team of six to operate them, and caused much less erosion.

The timber cut on this site was mainly Alpine Ash ( Eucalyptus delegatensis) with some Messmate ( E. obliqua ). This was air-dried then kiln-dried, and used for high-value products including furniture, flooring and architraves.

(Bottom Quote) "The whistle stops were 1 to stop, 1 to go, 2 to come back on the tail line, 3 to go ahead on main slowly, 4 to slack main line ... 5 to end logging for the day, 6 if there had been an accident." Max Elliot


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