Appalachia Appalachian Dialect Logging

Logging Vocabulary

Unique words used in logging

I often come across words related to logging in my Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English. Most of the time its a word I’ve never heard before.

Logging words from appalachia

See if you’re familiar with the words and their meanings.

  • Ballhoot: to roll or slide logs down a mountain slope to a point where they can be loaded onto a train or truck.
  • Barker: a member of a logging crew who peels bark in gathering tanbark.
  • Buttcut: the first portion cut above the stump from a felled tree.
  • Chipper: a member of a logging crew. “It was the responsibility of the chipper to decide the most desirable direction in which to fall the tree.” Mason Memoir.
  • Go devil: a heavy maul used for splitting wood, usually has a hammer on one side of the head and a dull wedge on the other. (Back several years ago I used go devil in one of my Appalachian Vocabulary test. I was surprised that not many people knew the word.)
  • Jack loader: part of a skidder that picks up logs and loads them.
  • Jay hole: a level side path cut into a hillside along a skid road, into which a logger and team can safely step to avoid logs being skidded down a mountainside.
  • Jayho: a warning yell to give alert that logs are about to be released down the mountain.
  • Jimmy car house: in logging a small portable house that can be placed on a railroad car (or jimmy) and moved to a new site.
  • Molly Hogan: a loop of cable wire functioning as a temporary link. “They’d take a steel rail. They take a strand out of one of these big cables, just one strand. They’d roll it back in itself and they call it a Molly Hogan. This single strand would make a rope, as big as the original cable was.” McCracken Logging.
  • Night-growing hemlock: “[A night growing hemlock] is one that just got about two logs in it and that s.o.b., before you can get a saw buried in it, hit’s a-bindin’. You can drive four wedges in it and hit’ll bind all the way through. It’s what we’d call a scrub tree, and I don’t know what they is about them, but them old timber cutters, I don’t know where they ever got the name of night growing hemlock, but that’s what they called’em and every once in a while, you’d hit one, it’d take a half day to cut it in two.” McCracken Logging. (The Deer Hunter and Scott ran into one of these night growing-hemlock devils. They practically wrestled that tree to the ground. By the time they finished it was dark-thirty and they were so tired neither of them could eat one bite of the supper I cooked.)
  • Pea Vine Railroad: a short winding logging railroad, especially the one that formerly followed the Pigeon River from Newport TN to the Big Creek logging-camp near Mt. Sterling NC, used especially for hauling logs, but also having an open air car for passengers.
  • Road monkey: a member of a logging crew whose job is to keep roads free of debris, brush, and obstructions. Also called a Chickadee.
  • Sarah Parker: a small car that runs on a railroad track to pick up logs and put them inside. It was used by the Little River Timber Company in Blunt Co TN in the early 20th century. “The rig was called a “Sary Parker,” says Jim. To get the Sary Parker up and across that incline bridge from the main railroad, the engineer, who was Lewis Rhea, would let the drum unwind while a crew of men took hold of the end of the big steel rope and dragged it up the bridge to a large stump on the top of the hill.” Weals Sary Parker.
  • Skid: to drag, slide, or haul logs from the place they are cut to a a landing for them to be transported or to a mill to be sawed.
  • Skidder: a powered machine used to drag logs. (When I was in elementary school, my cousin who is a year younger than I am, was logging with Papaw and my uncles. He got too close to the skidder and his britches leg was grabbed by the cable. Before anyone could stop it his leg was pulled in and broken in several places. Thank goodness he healed completely. The itchy full leg cast almost drove him crazy.)
  • Swamper: a member of a logging crew who clears out undergrowth so that the rest of the crew can have better access to the trees.

The only words I recognize are go devil and skidder. How about you?


*Source: Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


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  • Reply
    October 22, 2015 at 8:34 am

    I know very little about the real logging world but just one thing and I learned it from Johnny Cash many years ago. WHISTLEPUNK. That person uses whistle signals to direct active loggers in the timing and procedures as they practice their trade. It may not even be a real word but it sounded real when Johnny sang it.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    October 17, 2015 at 9:58 pm

    I’m not familiar with any of these but do remember hearing the term “go devil” used referring to someone having a really bad fit of temper. James had a “go devil fit” and broke all the dishes. I wonder if it’s related somehow.

  • Reply
    Pamela Danner
    October 17, 2015 at 9:17 pm

    Well, I had never heard of the words before but, I can just imagine new definitions for some LOL.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 17, 2015 at 7:58 pm

    I know a little about carbide lights. You put the carbide in the bottom tank and water in the top. When the water dripped down into the carbide there was a reaction that produced acetylene gas (That’s the stuff you use to cut metal with.) The light had a flint and a striker, like in a cigarette lighter, in the reflector. The gas would come up through the center of the reflector and put off a very bright light.
    I guess I know a little about a lot of things but not a lot about nothing!
    I have really enjoyed this series about logs and loggers!

  • Reply
    October 17, 2015 at 7:29 pm

    Pinnacle Creek response: My daddy
    got us a can of Carbide to shoot,
    for Christmas. He got a Cocoa Can, fastened it in the forks of a huge Winesap tree, put a few small stones of carbide in it, poured a tiny bit of water in it
    and snapped the lid on and went to the other side with a match. He had driven a
    nail in that end to make a small hole, put the light
    match near the hole and Ka-boom.
    Boy that made a lot of noise!
    That worked fine, so I tried it.
    Only trouble was it didn’t go off
    until ole dummy me went around in
    front. That thing shot me in the
    forehead and I was covered in
    blue smoke in an instant. I didn’t get hurt too bad tho…Ken

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    October 17, 2015 at 5:50 pm

    Well I recognized ballhoot, buttcutt, skid, skidder and still own three or four go devils and severel wedges. I knew what a Jayhole was but never heard it called that, we ballhooted quite a few logs and skidded even more (with horses) and on steep slopes always had an escape route cut off to the side to get away from a run away log I just never knew I’d been in a Jayhole.

  • Reply
    October 17, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    In that last picture, Chitter looks
    so fulfilled just to be close to
    her daddy…touching. It’s nice to
    have a daddy to take the time and
    listen. No wonder Miss Cindy and
    Tony are so proud of their “Deer
    Hunter.” …Ken

  • Reply
    October 17, 2015 at 12:54 pm

    Skid and Skidder I’m familiar with,, I have used a Go Devil, and actually still have one, it’s my Papaws but I didn’t know that’s what they were called, I just know it’ll whip you before you whip it..Papaw used it and we used when we were growing up and when my wife and I got married Daddy gave it to me, so it has lasted this long and still could be used today..

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 17, 2015 at 12:32 pm

    I knew ballhoot, buttcut, go devil(I have one) jay hole, jayho, skid, skidder and swamper. The terms that have to do with mechanized logging and crews of loggers, I am not so familiar with. A logging crew to me is two men and a horse. Maybe they have a log truck or maybe they hire someone.
    Daddy got a permit one time to cut some logs off of Forest Service land. They were to saw up into lumber to build our second house. He had spotted some good timber way back on top of the mountain behind Adam Sutton’s old place. One morning he took his crew (me), struck out up the side of that mountain and we started cutting timber. By dinner time he thought we had almost a load laying on the ground. There was one great big yellow pine standing all by its lonesome right on the top of the ridge. Daddy had saved it for last to finish out a load. It was a good 30 inches at the butt and 60 feet to the first limbs.
    Daddy sized up the tree and decided where he wanted to lay it down. He cut a good notch in it and went to the other side and started his backcut. It was slow cutting because the saw had a 20 inch bar and the tree was about 30. He would cut on first one side and then the other. Finally he cut deep enough to start driving wedges.Then more sawing and more wedging until the wedges were buried in the cut.
    The tree was still standing! With modern plastic wedges you can cut out a notch above them and continue to drive them. His were steel and would ruin a chain in a split second. He cut some wooden wedges and drove them alongside the steel ones until there was no more room for wedges. Daddy decided that maybe the hinge was too big and was holding the tree up so he began cutting again. That was a mistake. He cut all the way through and the tree sat down on the saw. I was a safe distance away. Daddy hurried over to where I stood. There was nothing else to do. That tree was balanced on the stump and there was no telling when or where it would fall. And it had his chainsaw. And everything we had brought was near the base of the tree.
    By then it was starting to get dark.”Let’s call it a day son. We’ll come back tomorrow.” So we went home empty handed. The next day we went back and the big pine was down. Laying right where Daddy had tried to put it. The saw wasn’t hurt and all our stuff was right where we left it.
    To this day I think about that big old tree and what it could have done to some bear or coon hunter who might have been wandering by when it decided to fall.

  • Reply
    October 17, 2015 at 12:08 pm

    I didn’t recognize most of these
    loggin’ words, but I really enjoyed this week’s loggin’ posts.
    When we were cutting firewood, we
    never had the equipment to bring
    the entire log, so we just cut it
    up on the mountain and ballhooted
    the cuts down. Sometimes they’d
    have so much speed, they’d jump
    the road below and land in the
    blooming creek or a laurel thicket. It was a lot of work but

  • Reply
    Bob Dalsemer
    October 17, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    I’m out here visiting the Columbia River Gorge in Washington State and I learned a local logging term: punk whistle. The punk whistle was the youngest member of a logging crew, often a teenager, whose job was to blow the whistle to warn loggers of an impending emergency, e.g. a broken cable, or an injured logger.

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    October 17, 2015 at 11:43 am

    Most were familiar because I lived in Oregon logging country for 20 years, but some must be strictly southern logging words. All are interesting and colorful!

  • Reply
    October 17, 2015 at 10:42 am

    I had never heard any of these words. I bet my Grampa used some of these words back in the day before progress changed the methods. He was mostly just chopping kindling for heating and cooking when I came into the picture. Their old cook stove made the best biscuits ever.
    It is with fondness I remember the end of a little logging community that folded after the logging was done. The houses were torn down and used to build other useful things–no waste back then. I don’t recall any crumbling buildings.
    Also, as I remember Grampa’s house was neat even with a kazillion kids around. I suppose they just couldn’t afford all the clutter we enjoy nowadays. Children played outside, as no television nor games to entice. No children in the living room as it was too uncomfortable to sit on those old plastic coverlets.
    Thanks for the walk back in time, Tipper, even though I surely missed out on the interesting loggin’ language.
    Off the subject, but I wonder if any of your readers have ever smelled the potent carbide. It is a smell that will never leave your nostrils. Carbide lamps were commonly used in the coal industry at one time. Guess I’m a wimp because I like to turn on a flashlight.

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    October 17, 2015 at 10:36 am

    I always find it interesting how each profession has a language unique to its function that is usually incomprehensible to outsiders.

  • Reply
    George Pettie
    October 17, 2015 at 10:28 am

    Only scored three: go-devil, skid and skidder.

  • Reply
    Roy Pipes
    October 17, 2015 at 9:52 am

    Tipper: My father-in-law was a logger and he told me about the jay hole.
    It gave the horse a place to get out of the way when the log(s) were moving too fast.
    I think it also gave the logger protection.

  • Reply
    October 17, 2015 at 9:39 am

    I knew butt cut, chipper, go devil, skid and skidder. I’ve used a go devil to split firewood and used oxen and horses to skid logs. In my much younger days I followed loggers and cut pulp wood from the laps and smaller trees they damaged or broke. I used a bow saw, axe and horse drawn sled. The last I sold was $18.40 per cord. I could cut about two cords after school and Saturday. I paid a $4 ‘stumpage fee’ and usually $4-$5 per cord for hauling. My $9-$10 a week was good for a teenager’s part time work in the 1950’s
    I’ve encountered a few of the ‘night growers’. A bow saw with kerosene will almost cut a circle in the log. A crosscut or chain saw won’t even cut straight through. I can still hear Dad saying, “Get some roller skates if you’re going to drag your feet”. when we were using a crosscut saw.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    October 17, 2015 at 8:52 am

    7 out of 17. Worked with my Dad and uncle in the log woods as a kid.
    By the way, there is a ‘set off’ house at the Smoky Mt. Heritage Center in Townsend, TN. It is the only one I’m aware of anywhere.
    One of the Foxfire volumes has a lot of information about mountain logging, much of it the stories of those who did it.
    I was just at the Little River Railroad Museum in Townsend this past Wednesday. They had ‘The Ballad of Daddy Bryson’ on the wall. ‘Daddy’ was an engineer killed in a train wreck in 1909. Made me wonder if Pap and Paul or maybe the girls had ever sung it.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    October 17, 2015 at 8:29 am

    I believe you left out the word team in the definition of jay hole.
    Seymour Calhoun, who grew up on Hazel Creek (son of Granville and Lillie Hall Calhoun) didn’t think much of overhead skidders:
    “They just destroyed everything – them overhead skidders. They destroyed more timber than they got out with ‘em, cause they’d just knock the trees down and bushes and everything and just leave a destruction of it.”

  • Reply
    October 17, 2015 at 7:43 am

    I came up with skid and skidder, is all. Those piney-woods pulp-wooders would have me come out to where they were working to weld on their broken machinery; skidders, log loaders and the occasional trailer. They cut down the trees with a tree-shear or feller-buncher, a great ol’ set of scissors that grabbed the loblolly pine and held it while the scissors cut through the tree just above ground level. They would hold the first tree until they had cut 4 or 5 more, holding each one ’til they had a good ‘bunch, then drop them in a pile for the skidder (machime, not person) to pick up. The skidder dragged them to the loading stage and pushed them, top first into a grate-like thing made of 5″ square tubing to break the limbs off. They didn’t cut up the trees, just loaded them whole onto a semi-trailer and hauled them to the paper mill. It’s a far cry from where anybody with a saw and a straight truck could go into the woods and cut the trees down, trim ’em and cut them into 7′ lengths, but the mills stopped buying ‘shortwood’. What used to be an easy business to get into, financially, but a hard way to make a living now takes about a half-million $ to start up.
    Chain saw? usually just one, a Husky 55 or Stihl 290 with a 18-20″ bar at the loading site to trim the trees after they were loaded on the truck so they didn’t drag on the road. There wasn’t much in the way of ‘Log’ logging down where I lived as most of the trees went to the paper mill. The guys that were in that part of the business used more conventional equipment and sawed the trees down instead of using a feller-buncher. It’s a sight to see one of those machines, with its 3 huge swamp tires, going from tree to tree carrying pines upright on the front of it that were 70-80 feet tall; every time it stopped at a tree it would rare up in back with the lone caster-type wheel spinning while it cut another tree.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 17, 2015 at 7:34 am

    Wow, logging really does have it’s own vocabulary. I’ve never heard most of these words. I’ve heard of a go devil all my life. I don’t recall where I first heard the name for that tool but I’ve known it and could identify the tool for as long as I can remember. I’ve heard ballhoot but I do not remember where or what the reference was.
    I have heard skid as in skidding logs.
    That is all I remember hearing and knowing the meaning. I would wonder if the night growing hemlock got it’s name form the hemlock plant that will kill very quickly.
    This trip through logging has been very interesting.

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