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Wendell Steward inducted into Logger’s Hall of Fame

Wendell Steward, Rangeley, with family and friends as he is inducted into the Logger's Hall of Fame during the Rangeley Lakes Region Logging Museum Logging Festival, 27 July 2012. Front row: Marylyn and Wendell Steward. Second row: Wendelyn Steward, Kathy R. Steward, Brad Steward, Cheyenne Flagg, Rosie S. Brown, Dottie S. Flagg. Back row: Jim Hunter, Cody Steward, Stephanie Mercier, Corey Steward, Melissa Steward, Rex Brown, Carmen Steward, and Frank Savage (not pictured). (Photo by Peggy Yocom)

RANGELEY - On July 27, during the Friday Evening Program of the Logging Festival, the Rangeley Lakes Region Logging Museum inducted Wendell Steward of Rangeley into the Logger’s Hall of Fame.

Beginning in 1985, the Logger’s Hall of Fame has honored those who have worked in the woods for a significant part of their lives and who have made valuable contributions to lumbering in the western Maine mountains.

“It’s one of the most important things we do,” said Museum President Emeritus and retired logger Rodney Richard, Sr. Steward joins a distinguished list of local woodsmen that includes Raymond Vallee, Edwin Lowell, Lewis Abbott, Clem Field, Bud Field, Robert Wilbur, William Spiller and Elijah White, Jr.

Born in 1929, Steward began working in the woods as a nine-year-old, cutting white birch with his father, Richard, on their 80-acre Long Pond farm and selling it to the Brackley Wood Turning Mill in Strong.

Steward went on to hold many forest-related jobs. With Otis Oakes, he cut and hauled wood for residents and for camps around the area, including Pickford’s and Bald Mountain. When he was 13, he worked at the Kempton Lumber Company.

“They used to employ 30 to 40 men year round,” Steward said. “I went sawing lumber. They had an edging saw and slab saw, and I went there to saw edgings because they couldn’t find anybody. After I got in there, I went through pretty near the whole mill! Oh, I tried everything!” he laughed. “I was always like that. If wanted to learn something, I’d just go ahead and do it.”

With that same spirit, he began working for D.C. Morton in 1945 for 75 cents an hour and stayed for 24 years. He hauled white birch from Spotted Mountain to Foster Manufacturing in Strong. With Morton’s new 1948 Studebaker truck, he hauled wood all the way from Wilson’s Mills to Bingham. In 1951, he took the company’s big TD14 bulldozer and built the last runway at the Brunswick Navy Base.

From 1952 to 1954, he served in the U.S. Army in Germany, France, and the Netherlands. Putting his woods skills to work, he ran heavy equipment, including D7 and D8 bulldozers, and taught other men to do the same. When he returned to Rangeley and D.C. Morton’s, he started in on the same bulldozer he drove before he left. In 1958, he drove the first bulldozer up Saddleback Mountain, carrying supplies for the new forest tower roof and surprising those who said such a bulldozer trip couldn’t be done. Using a crane, he loaded trucks at Tim Pond, John’s Pond, Dodge Pond, Loon Lake, and many more places. One summer to winter season at Chain of Ponds, he loaded 19,000 cords. “I wish I’d kept track of how much wood I loaded over the years,” Steward remarked. “That’s a lot of wood!”

For 15 years, he operated a bulldozer on the Dead River drives, pushing piles of pulp wood into the water.

“Oh, I’d take my vacation and go down and run that bulldozer,” Steward said. “Every year. I had a lot of fun.”

For several years, he also went down the river picking up the rear: he pushed back into the water those logs that the river had pushed up onto the bank. His wife, Marylyn, packed his lunch—always sandwiches: “Lots of deer meat and fish,” Steward says. “The drives did the fishing good,” Steward added, “because there’s worms in those trees. Bud Field, Bill Ross, and I went down to the Big Eddy two weeks after the drive was down at Flagstaff, and we’d catch some of the best fish I ever caught. 10 to 11 inches, too. And I’ve caught salmon out of that river, this side of Fansanger Falls.”

Careful woods work also trained Steward to notice the animal life around him. Like a naturalist, he can point out the foot-wide steam hole a hibernating bear makes in the snow, and he knows how to care for wild animals that have needed his help, like the little deer that had caught its leg. “I was loading logs onto D.C. Morton’s trucks at Cloudman Pond,” Steward said. “It was first thing in the morning, and I see a little deer right down by the log pile. I was sitting up in the crane. I was loading Phil Haley, and I slowed the crane down, and I said, “Look at that little deer right there,” I said. “Something’s wrong with him.” “No,” he said. “He’s all right.” And I said, “No. There’s something wrong.”

“So I got out of the crane and stepped over to the log pile, and I see he was hung up. There was a big tree limb, and he’d stepped his hind leg right over and right in there, and couldn’t get out. And he’d been there a good part of the night, because it snowed about an inch or so that night and the snow around him was all tread up.

“I picked him up and lugged him out to the road. We held him out there and fooled with him a while. Then I let him go, and he went down the deer trail, but he couldn’t go very far. So I went down and got him and brought him back, and we fooled with him some more. And after awhile, he got so he could go a little.

“But that was really something. He never, never bothered about kicking us, or anything. You got to watch their feet, they’re so sharp. But I could just grab right a hold of him, pick him right up. I think he knew that we were helping him.”

In addition to woods work, Steward bought his own P&H crane and, with Ray Magno of Farmington, he tore down buildings all over the region. “I was over in Madison,” he remembered, “down on the Crash Road, in Jay. And, we did a lot down at the Barker. I worked everywhere. You never knew where you were going to be!” With his crane, he also put in water line in Phillips and did a lot of work on Saddleback.

Steward worked at the Redington Navy Base on nights and weekends for 23 years, and then full-time for two years. During the 1968-69 winter when a storm dumped 37.5 inches on the area and the Base’s FWD snowplow broke down, Steward worked with Bud Field on the Hudson Pulp and Paper Company’s D6 bulldozer to clear the roads. For twenty years until his retirement in 1994, he served as road foreman for the Town of Rangeley. “I’ve done everything” he laughed.

Steward’s handiwork is present in many well-known places in the Rangeley Lakes region. While working for S.A. Collins in 1943, Steward dug the foundation for Wilhelm Reich’s Orgonon. He helped bulldoze and load gravel onto the road from the Chalet to Saddleback Ski area. In 1959, he worked on the main building at the Redington Navy base, and he also swung the concrete into place for the foundation of the Church of the Good Shepherd and lifted the timbers for its floor and rafters. For the State Highway in the winter of 1960, he rebuilt the Coos Canyon bridge after a flood washed away the previous one. And in 1961, he helped build the bridge at Cupsuptic for the Chincette Brothers.

The Logging Museum congratulates Wendell Steward and his family: his seven living siblings; his wife, Marylyn; their children Brad, Wendelyn, Melissa, and Corey; and their grandson Cody. The public is invited to view the Logger’s Hall of Fame plaque at the Rangeley Lakes Region Logging Museum, 221 Stratton Road, 864-3939, open Wednesdays through Sundays, 11am to 5pm, through Labor Day, or by appointment (864-5551). FMI: www.rlrlm.org

by Peggy Yocom
Curator, Rangeley Lakes Region Logging Museum

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