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November 10, 2000

Jackladder, railway great investments for Booth

When J.R. Booth wanted to transport his logs from the Wasi River watershed to his mills in Ottawa in the 1880s, he had to get over the high ground between Lake Nipissing and the Mattawa-Ottawa River route. 

When booth considered that there were several other rivers and miles of shoreline of relatively unharvested logs, he realized that it was worth a major investment. 

Booth and his engineers decided to build a depot beside Wasi Falls that would include a 150-foot jackladder to lift the logs up the 75-foot escarpment onto the high land (see photo). He then built a standard gauge railway, approximately 8-km to Lake Nosbonsing. 
The J. R. Booth jackladder

Here the logs would be dumped north of Astorville and towed to Bonfield by his steam tug the Nosbonsing, and sent down the Kaiboskong River and through two lakes to the Mattawa-Ottawa route to his mills.

The logs were dumped into Lake Nosbonsing on an angled ramp on the shore. A long dock was built to allow the engine and flat cars to extend beyond the dump as the cars were unloaded. The rock base of this dock still projects above the water today.

One of the earliest Lake Nipissing communities, Wisa Wasa, was soon developed at the Wasi Falls. There were a dozen houses, a bunkhouse, a cookhouse, a blacksmith/machine shop, and a school, church, post office, and a water tank on high ground. There was also a farm to raise feed and a barn for the animals. 

The Cronkite Woolen Mill on the Wasi River near highway 634 drew additional people to the area and employed many women. 

Booth sent one of his bright young men, Tom Darling, to Wisa Wasa. The Darling family became well known in the area. I will profile the family in a future column.

The Wisa Wasa jackladder was powered by a 44-inch water wheel driven by a heavy head of water coming down a 6ft by 8ft flume from the river. A friction clutch was used to run water to a fire pump, if necessary, and to supply water to the railroad engine. A 30-foot by 50-ft building covered this area. The water wheel had a four-inch shaft with two grooved wheels on which the rope that drove the jackladder rotated. The jackladder had a 500-foot endless chain with hooks and was driven by a 500-foot rope to hook and pull the logs up to the train.

A log dam was built at the head of the Wasi Falls to control the water flow. The logs were sent down a long slide beside the falls. Several other control dams were built on the river to store water for those periods when the flow was weak.

A 220-ft by 45-ft wide building was built at the top of the jackladder. The jackladder end of the building was supported by a heavy framework, and the rear end met the railway, which ran into the building. Seventeen men handled the logs as they came off the jackladder and were pulled into the building. 

Once in the building the logs were rolled onto one of four flatcars. Loose bark from the logs dropped from the floor of the platform to a space underneath. Birch stakes on the far side of the cars held the logs in place. The flatcars were 18-ft long and were made of red oak with tamarack bunks. 

When the four cars were loaded, chains were then pulled across the loads and tightened by a ratchet wheel and dog. These four cars were pulled out and replaced by four empties. The railway had two miles of sidings and switches. When 22 cars were loaded, they were taken to Lake Nosbonsing and dumped. By the time the engine returned, four other cars had been loaded and empty cars were quickly loaded until 22 were ready for another trip. 

The logs were boomed by the screw tug Nosbonsing, which towed the logs to the Ottawa-Mattawa route, past Bonfield, to start their long and tortuous trip to Ottawa.

The railway, called the Nipissing and Nosbonsing, had 35 flat cars and one locomotive, affectionately known as "Betsy." 
Workers for J.R. Booth's railway

The locomotive was originally brought across Lake Nosbonsing from Bonfield on a large raft and was pulled on shore at the Astorville end of the railroad. The locomotive had an engineer, a fireman and four brakemen. The railbed was quite level and the train ran easily. The round-trip took about one-hour, and the logs were dumped in two or three minutes. Ten trips were made each day, six days a week.

Tom Darling, the Booth manager, kept a diary where trainloads and significant events were recorded. I have copies of three of these diaries, and they make fascinating reading. The usual schedule of ten trips a day was pushed to fourteen at one time, and the diary states that the men went on strike. 

Darling had to replace a man named Burke because the men would no longer work for him. The daily log loads ran from 2800 to 3200 logs. The diaries make reference to visits by Robert Booth, J.R.'s cousin, and A.W. Fleck, who was married to J.R.'s daughter Gertrude. 

There are other casual human comments like "the schoolchildren had a picnic today" and "went to council meeting this afternoon" (Darling was a councillor and later Reeve on the North Himsworth council).

The diaries also record numerous problems: "the jackladder chain broke today" and "Smith and Fishbourne's cattle on the track this afternoon." 

One of the biggest fights was with the Northern Junction Railway (later the Grand Trunk and the CNR) going to North Bay. The Booth railway was there first, but the Northern Junction Railway was bigger and did not want to stop to get approval to cross the Booth line. When the engine was up for repair on one occasion, A.W. Fleck insisted that it appear that the train was still running and that there be men at the crossing clearing snow and cutting firewood. 

One other reference provides a total of the number of logs shipped in four seasons-an incredible 1,115,302 logs.

Wisa Wasa was a fascinating little community from 1884 to 1912. 

Hartley Trussler visited Wisa Wasa several times and wrote about it in his "Reflections" column in the Nugget in the 1960s where he wrote about the "busy, thriving little village" and remembered "dozens of French river drivers running and bobbing over the logs in the lake like teeter-assed snipes." 

In a future column we will look at Booth's activities on Lake Nipissing, including the many Booth boats.

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