'As easy as falling off...

On our Maine TV quiz show the question had to do with the Bangor Tigers. Perhaps supposing they were a basball team, the contestants hesitated, and then one of them said, "Lumbermen!" This was accepted as a correct answer, but . . . .

Well, during World War, which became World War I after World War II, aircraft were something of a novelty, and one day the Germans sent some planes over the British Isles. The propaganda that ensued from Berlin said, amongst other things, that Scottish peasants waved from their fields. This is the only time in the history of working semantics that anybody ever called a Scot a peasant,m and I surmise the Bangor Tigers would likewise feel uncomfortable at being lumped with lumbermen. The Bangor Tigers were specialists in driving the rivers , and looked down upon Tom-Dick-and-Harry regulars in the other departments of harvesting the timberlands. Now that the last log has been driven to mill and highway trucks are moving the trees, the skills of the Bangor Tiger are historical. A statue of the river-drivers stands in the heart of the city of Bangor, and the way the sculptor caught the motion of the job is worth close attention by all tourists.

When Maine began to "let daylight into the swamps," the crews that wintered in the woods and cut the trees would ussually bring the harvest down the spring-swollen rivers to the mills. But as lumbering grew, several camps, several owners, several companies, would be using the same river at the same time, and after a few disputes and lawsuits, and even pitched battles, over rights and privileges, reason prevailed and the combined drives were handled by one crew. Logs were stamped with the "mark" of each owner, and the drivers sorted them at the destination. The big drive company on the Penobscot River was the Penobscot Log Driving Corporation, and as Bangor was the "Queen City" of all Maine lumbering affairs, the men who became experts on the drives were recruited there and became the Bangor Tigers.

The prototype of the mythical Paul Bunyan may well have been any of numerous Mainers who hired, trained, organized, and bossed the rivermen, but certainly the likeliest candidate would be John Ross of the Tigers. Probably he was a Pea-Eye, from Prince Edward Island, but the lore calls him a Mainer. Anybody from the Canadian Maritimes working in the Maine woods was a Pea-Eye, even those from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. John Ross suggests Nova Scotia. He figures heroically in some lumbering ballads, but his honest feats were prodigious enough without the embellishment of jongleurs. John's original locale was the Penobscot, particularly the West Branch, and as springs broke up and drives came and went, his reputation grew. When he and his Tigers took charge, the logs moved. The expertise of the Tigers was incredible. In the 1920s when the Holman Day film company made "Rider of the King Log" on the Carrabasset, an elaborate arrangement of cables was made to hold the stunt man in safety while he ripped down the rapids at North Anson. Maine was then loaded with real river drivers who could have made that trip without any harnesses, and a good many of them came to watch the show. The Bangor Tigers could make such rides, and they were also famous for coming along with the logs in canoes and bateaux.

In 1876 John Ross and over a hundred of his best Tigers were hired to handle the drive on the Connecticut River. They herded millions of feet from the Connecticut Lakes down as far as Hartford, and ran some of the river's worst rips and falls in boats -- the only time rivermen did that.

There's a story about two Bangor Tigers who went "sporting" one time and got a job rolling logs in a tank at the sportsmen's shows. The old saying is that something is "as easy as falling off a log." Well, these two got on the theatrical log with their spiked boots and they twirled and twirled, and after a time they got off the log. The showmaster lit into them. "Whyn't-cha fall off!" he yelled. "What would we want to fall of for?" "Because I'm payin' you to fall off, the crowd wants it." So after that at each performance one of the Tigers would fall off, but as they said, "It warn't easy."

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