Saturday, January 29, 2022

Sunken Treasure! Recovering the Lost Timber of Bygone Centuries

You probably recall the old photos of the massive rafts of logs—the old-growth timber—that were a common sight stored in floating booms on the Great Lakes or herded down America’s river highways all throughout the 1800s and early 1900s. Lumberjacks who bore the nickname “river hogs” guided those rafts from the forests to the mills, snaking them through narrows, unhooking logs with long peavies or cant hooks when they jammed. Sometimes they spent hours a day in icy water up to their waists. Other times they rode the spinning, bucking logs like bronc riders on their feet. Those men were strong, agile, and willing to face the danger of being thrown or crushed at every bend.

Many of the giant trees that were felled and released by these routes, however, never made it to the mills. While millions upon millions of board feet were sent by waterway every year, it’s been estimated that anywhere from 10-30% of those harvested logs sunk before reaching their destination!

But did you know that many of those logs still survive today, resting on deep river bottoms, or in the icy cold depths of the Great Lakes? Especially in places like frigid Lake Superior where the oxygen content is so low that preservation is guaranteed, those logs—worth thousands of dollars a piece on today’s market—are being rescued.


As I already mentioned, these trees were from old growth forests no longer in existence, logs with a much finer grain (based on the number of rings per growth year) than most logs grown for harvest today. According to an article by William Souder in August 1996, “A good-sized red oak log cut from today's forest might be worth as much as $400. Milled into raw lumber, it could sell for more than $1,000. Shaved into veneer, the value climbs to four times that or even more depending on the quality of the wood.” (I would imagine it would be worth quite a bit more today than that $1000 in 1996.)

But now think about an oak cut 100 years ago, still preserved, that was already 250 years old when it was cut. As Souder pointed out, some of those trees were seedlings when Columbus came to the Americas. Imagine the veneer and what it might be worth to artisans, craftsman, not to mention historians. Wouldn’t you and I love a side table or even a candlestick made of this precious, salvaged wood? A single one of those old-growth oak logs might bring many thousands of dollars, especially since it's unlikely to simply be sawn as lumber.

In the early 1990s, treasure hunters with skill and know-how began devising environmentally friendly ways to bring these trees back from their watery graves, and why not? There might be millions of these logs on the bottom of Lake Superior alone?


At first divers floated the logs to the surface with giant balloons. Since then, specialized cranes have also been employed. The logs have to be kiln dried in a unique fashion kept “industry secret”, and are cut by a fine-toothed customized bandsaw to prevent waste.

A company called “Timeless Timber” out of Ashland Wisconsin has produced a short and extremely interesting film about the project, and it incorporates some amazing historical film footage. Do watch it, and hang through the section about the Ford Motor Company’s use of some of the wood, as the film goes on to explain more about the process and extent of these ancient resources.

Nowadays, there’s a huge view toward ecology in using the once-lost logs. Unlike those times more than a hundred years ago, when the vast forests seemed endless—until they were finally razed—we understand the limits of such treasured resources. I’m thankful that there are people God has given insight and ingenuity to who’ll find ways to use them with such great appreciation.


until the release of
 Four Historical Stories of Romance Beneath the Pines

Lumberjacks and Ladies Work Together to Build America
Struggling to remain independent in the 1800s, four women reluctantly open up to help from lumberjacks—and love.

All That Glitters by Candice Sue Patterson
Winifred finds herself running the family lobstering business when her father and brothers join the California gold rush. Will she stubbornly reject help from a local lumberjack?

Winter Roses by Pegg Thomas
Elizabeth cooks for a logging crew, spurning the men’s advances, until reoccurring gifts capture her attention. Will she heed her mother’s warning about “shanty boys”?

Not for Love by Naomi Musch
Widowed, Maggie seeks a husband—in name only—from the logging camps, but the man who answers

Undercover Logger by Jennifer Lamont Leo
Carrie will not sell her timberland and allows the banker’s nephew to sign onto her logging crew to ferret out the reason she is losing money at an alarming rate. Will truth be revealed to her forlorn heart?


  1. Thanks for your post! I hadn't realized that people were resurrecting these treasures. What a wonderful idea. I bet it'll take a "minute or two" to get all that water out of them!

    1. Crazily, I think they only have to dry for a couple/few months. They have a "secret process" with their specialized kiln.

  2. Great post! Thanks for posting the video, too. The wood is beautiful.I would enjoy a table, lamp, and chest made from it.

    1. Wouldn't that be a great piece of history to own? I'd like that too.