Appalachia Logging

Logging in the Mountains

The Woodhick and the Ridgerunner written by John Parris

The woodhick and the ridgerunner talked of ballhooters and chickadees, bullwhackers and cantdog men.

They remembered when the hills throbbed with the sound of the stem-winder and the misery whip.

Both were old-timers, the last of a vanishing breed waiting to cross over the Round River, who grew up with a pickaroon or a briar in their hands.

As they sat in the shade of the tall hemlocks, fast beside a lake of sky-blue water, they sprinkled their talk with strange words that have no meaning for most folks nowadays.

For they talked of the days when this was a great logging town, with its bandmill and logpond, its great white-water flume and neat little rows of houses.

The world they knew has vanished. The great forests they leveled have come back. The logging camps back in the hills are only memories on which to hang a tale. The old-time bunk-houses have disappeared.

But there are a few reminders. Like some of the tools of their trade that have been preserved and now hang on the porch wall of the cabin of hand-hewn logs at their back.

“That,” said the woodhick, “is a misery whip or a briar.” He pointed to a seven-foot crosscut saw hanging on the wall. “It was designed for sawin’ the huge logs of the virgin forest,” he explained. “It was found some time ago by Red Haney completely embedded in a large rhododendron where an old-time cutter had left it years ago.”

A woodhick, he explained, is the mountain term for lumber-jack or logger. And a ridgerunner is a farmer who logs now and then.

A ballhooter is a fellow who rolls or slides down a hillside and a chickadee is a man who looks after the logging roads.

A bullwhacker is a driver of oxen and a cantdog man is a fellow who uses a short-handled peavey.

The peavey is a stout lever from five to seven feet long, fitted at the larger end with a metal socket and spike and a curved steel hook which works on a bolt. It is used in handling logs.

The cant hook is similar to a peavey but has a toe ring and lip at the end instead of a spike.


I hope you enjoyed this old article written by John Parris. He wrote for the Asheville Citizen-Times for years and compiled many of his columns into book form. This piece is from the book Mountain Bred which was published in 1967. The book notes the area which he was writing of as the Sunburst area of Haywood County NC.

I worked at the site of the old logging operation of Sunburst when I worked for Champion International at their Lake Logan facility. Granny once told me that her mother and father worked as cooks at a logging camp named Sunburst. It had to surely be the same place.

As you can see from the photos, there are still signs of past logging operations in Western NC. Don Casada was gracious enough to share the photos of items he has stumbled across while wondering around the mountains.

Please leave a comment if you’re familiar with any of the old words Parris used-or if you knew them but with a different meaning. About the only one I’ve heard before is misery whip.



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  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    October 16, 2015 at 11:32 pm

    Cant hooks and peavys still in almost daily use around here-

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    October 15, 2015 at 1:06 am

    Tipper and
    Ed…I have so many Chickadee’s…There are the Black-Capped Chickadee’s and the Carolina Chickadee’s….They look so much alike you have to look twice to tell the difference. Their song is different too…
    They do favor pine seeds. On a good dry day when the pinecones are open you seed them hanging all which-a-ways picking out the pine nuts/seed! They seem to be hard-working little fellers, especially when confronted with a stubborn, harder than usual, sunflower seed from the feeder. There little claws act as a peavey, turning that seed around while pecking it open with his short pick! ha
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS…I wonder how the nickname of “Chickadee” got morphed into a man that looks after the logging road? A Chickadee although a small bird does love pine nuts, is a very hard working and courageous bird.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 14, 2015 at 9:04 pm

    You ballhoot logs that are on such a steep slope that a horse or steer can’t get them. Even if you can get the animal to the log, it can’t pull downhill. Ever try to ride a horse down a steep hill? It will sit down. If there is a log behind it, it will get run over. If you try to skid the log around the side of the mountain the log might roll and pull the animal down with it. Backward!
    You have to fall the tree straight down the mountain. When you buck the logs, you go around the downslope end and knock off the corners so that it don’t dig in to the ground. Then you use your peavey or prize pole to get it to run. If you are lucky it will slide all the way to the bottom. If not you have to foller it down and start it again ever time it stops.
    I have seen logs, ballhooting down the mountain, bust a stump wide open and keep on going. Or hit a big rock and set it off down the mountain, too. You have to yell “ballhoot” before you set things in motion so anybody down below can get out of the way. When a 16 foot long 2 foot diameter green log hits a human body its like a mouse under the wheels of a Mack truck. It wouldn’t even notice the bump.
    I’ve been known to ride the butt of a log down the mountain until it bucked me off. Then it was my own butt that I was on. Them guys that surf the ocean waves ain’t seen nothing. Let them try to ride a log down a rocky mountainside.
    If you are out for a stroll along a peaceful old logging road and hear someone yell “ballhoot,” look straight up the mountain. If you see dirt, rocks and limbs flying and feel the ground shaking, you had better evacuate the premises in short order. If you don’t see anything your best bet is to stand still til you do then make your move.

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, PhD
    October 14, 2015 at 7:33 pm

    Well Tipper, the fellows certainly gave us some good lessons today regarding logging. The ‘lady’s touch was also great. I surely had some experience in the CROSS TIE HOLLER which I shall never forget. We got a $1.00 for each cross tie we sold! You already know WE DID NOT GET RICH!
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    Chuck Howell
    October 14, 2015 at 6:00 pm

    Insert before “So they left N. C.
    Don’t marry that Wood Hick Helen
    Don’t let into your life
    Leave him on the job with the workin men
    He don’t need a good wife
    So they left North Carolina
    The year was twenty nine
    Found a home in West Virginia
    Up at the timber line
    There by the Slaty Fork river
    They loved livin close to the land
    In another one room cabin
    Built by my Daddys hand
    Come Springtime Buds were swellin
    As days grew long and warm
    A Baby grew in Helen
    That Fall the baby was born
    So there you have my story
    Of spirits wild and free
    The High Sheriff and the Wood Hick
    The Righteous School teacher and me
    You got yourself a Wood Hick Helen
    You let him into your life
    Ya shoulda left him in the Woods with the working men
    He didn’t need a good wife
    Sorry about the mixed up verses. I sing this for friends in the key of D. I call my poems & songs “Sketches,” as they never seem complete. They can take the boy out of Appalachia, but they can’t take Appalachia out of the boyI guess

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    October 14, 2015 at 5:53 pm

    I am familiar with many of the words and have used many of them. Usually instead of ballhooting logs we used a horse to skid them.I got the scare of my life one day while skiding some large pine logs when a grab pulled out and the horse stepped on it embedding it in the frog of her foot, I knew that if I crippled the horse it would not have a happy outcome for either of us. Fortunately the grab didn’t penetrate deeply enough to hurt the horse and I was able to leverage it out with my peavy. One of the hardest jobs was rolling logs up two poles onto a truck with peavies on level ground. John Parris was an entertaining writer but used a lot of Poetic License and would never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 14, 2015 at 2:17 pm

    My father grew up on Sawmill Creek in Swain County. Just up the hill from the creek is the tiny community of Sawmill Hill. I am fairly sure there was a sawmill nearby although I don’t know the exact location. Sawmill Hill Freewill Baptist Church has it’s sign painted on a big circular saw blade. My father in law and brother in law, both named Clyde, pastored there.
    Another brother in law Max has a 6′ crosscut saw with a panorama of his property painted on it. The artist used a photo taken from an airplane to go by.

  • Reply
    Chuck Howell
    October 14, 2015 at 2:14 pm

    My Great Grandmothers name was Sarah Parris. She is buried in the Bradley Cemetery in the Smoky Mt. National Park. Her granddaughter Lona Helen married the “Wood Hick” George Howell. The assistant Cook in the Logging Camp was called “Cookee.” Catheads were biscuits. Fatback was Salt Pork. The “Streak of Lean” was valued tremendously.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 14, 2015 at 12:11 pm

    Not too awful long ago I think I asked you if you knew what a swamper was. Today I find out that he has the same job as a chickadee. You can call him a chickadee if you want to but I’ll stick with swamper. I value my life too much!
    I though chickadees were clothing designers or judges on “Dancing with the Stars.”

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 14, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    John Parris came from Sylva, just across a few ridges from where I grew up but his terminology in this article could be from halfway around the world. I grew up among men who cut logs for lumber, pulp wood for paper and poles for rough framing.They cut trees for cross ties, shakes, shingles and shuttles for looms. Sometimes they cut trees just for the bark.
    Of course I know what a pick, a peavey, a buck saw and a cross cut are. I know how to ballhoot a log. But, where I come from if you called a man a hick or any variation thereof you might expect to endure a good arse whupping. If you called him a chickadee, if you survived at all, you would find yourself in next week with your face on the back of your head.
    Mind you, I like reading John Parris’ work, while always keep poetic license in mind.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    October 14, 2015 at 12:04 pm

    I am familiar with all the terms today. Especially the misery whip.
    I have one of my Grandfathers misery whips…I am not sure if it was used when he ran a logging camp or if it was one of the ones from the farm. I do have many pictures of him and the railroad running along the tent camps in the mountains. The pictures shows stumps of trees in the background in many of the pictures. Actually it kind of makes me sick as I love trees! ha Someday maybe I can get around to sending you some copies of the pictures. To tell you the truth most of what I know about my Grandfathers work, other than the tobacco farm he built after he retired, was lost except the memories, pictures and some porch talk after he passed. He died when I was in 6th grade. He was in his 80’s at that time. After I was grown and working, visits and talk of our grandparents were few there on the farm. Most conversations were keyed to the work on the farm and what was left in the family tobacco allotments. Some of the boys still raised tobacco on the farm, on land left to them after he died…
    These old pictures of the logging camps/railroad camps sure are interesting and I hope soon to contact one or two living cousins to try and find out more about them. I loved this post today.
    Thanks Tipper and all who contributed to it…

  • Reply
    October 14, 2015 at 11:04 am

    My kinfolk, Myrtle Younce married
    Jesse Allen, and they both worked
    for a loggin’ mill up in Nantahala.
    She cooked for about 30 mountain
    men and that’s where she met Jesse. At almost 15 she cooked breakfast, and dinner for all the men and Jesse was just a little thing, but he could stack lumber till they made him quit.
    I took both of my daughters to see them while they were still alive. Like John Parris, there
    ain’t none of ’em around anymore,
    but I have those memories of long

  • Reply
    Chuck Howell
    October 14, 2015 at 10:50 am

    I as born in West Virginia
    My daddy was a loggin man
    A greasey ol steam skidder knew the touch of my daddy’s hand
    Momma was a righteous school teacher
    she loved that loggin man
    In a one room shack, by the railroad track
    Daddy won my Momma’s hand
    But her Father was a man of the law
    High Sheriff in North Caroline
    He said “No Two Bit Logger’s
    gonna get that daughter of mine
    So he sent her away to School
    To study at Ol Culowhie (sp)
    She didn’t stay long, she wrote back home
    It’s the “Loggin Man” for me
    He ain’t nuthin but a “Wood Hick” Helen
    He’ll never get anywhere
    He’d rather be on the job with the workin men
    Than home in an easy chair
    So they left North Carolina
    The year was twenty nine
    Found a home in West Virginia
    Up at the “Timber Line”
    More verses…….I love this stuff. Thanks so much

  • Reply
    Charles Fletcher
    October 14, 2015 at 10:02 am

    Up a little ways from where you worked at Lake Logan
    is where Sunburst Logging Camp was located before
    you began working there. This belonged to the paper
    mill at Canton. I knew Lot of the families that moved
    into and nearby the paper mill began operating.
    Paper making was A by product from Chestnut wood while extracting acid for tanning Leather.
    While growing up in the1930s. our favorite place
    For picking Blue Berries was on top of the mountains called,
    Charles Fletcher

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    October 14, 2015 at 9:38 am

    Tipper, I have heard all of the terms but only in the context of history. I live only a few miles from Sunburst and it is a favorite place to hike and picnic. My father’s aunt and uncle were also cooks at Sunburst, they may have worked with your folks! Aunt Charlotte and Uncle Truie lost their daughter in the flu epidemic when working there and she is buried at the top of the mountain in a tiny graveyard. There is only a steep trail and no road so I have just been a time or two. This is all very interesting to me.

  • Reply
    Bob Aufdemberge
    October 14, 2015 at 8:53 am

    When I was a kid we were cutting some fair-sized logs on our farm with the aid of a neighbor who had one of the new-fangled chainsaws, the first one I’d ever seen. We were moving some logs around with cant hooks (that’s what he called them though they might have actually been peaveys, according to the Parris article) and it wasn’t a very easy thing to do. “Now you know why they call them “‘cant’ hooks”, he said.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 14, 2015 at 8:03 am

    I know the Sunburst area, it’s a beautiful place as the name suggests. We used to camp there and trout fish in the river. You could see the logging trails crisscross the mountains. That was a thing of the past even when I was young.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    October 14, 2015 at 7:23 am

    I am not familiar with any of them, but the names call up a picture in my mind. What a colorful occupation.

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