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NORTH COUNTRY AT WORK: Life, love and logging in the woods of Harrisville

March 23, 2018
By AMY FEIEREISEL - NCPR Correspondent , Lake Placid News

HARRISVILLE - Logging is some of the oldest work around northern New York.

Many communities around the North Country were established around logging camps in the 18th and 19th centuries, and big money was made turning felled trees into products like chairs, paper, crates, and even matches.

Not too many people are around that worked logging before chain saws and trucks, but Ross Young is one of them. He started working in the woods at 16, with handsaws and horses.

Article Photos

Dam at paper mill in Harrisville. Men are repairing the dam, adding boards to the pre-existing crib. Pennstock, also known as the flume pipe, pictured on the left, diverted water through this for hydropower. There is a tannery on the right and dam boarding house on the left in the background. This was taken in 1905 by H.L. Locke. Photo courtesy of the town of Diana Historical Museum.


Going into the woods

Ross Young was born in Harrisville in 1934, the youngest of three sons. His father had moved to the area from Canada, and his mother from Ohio.

When describing his life, Ross glosses over his childhood and jumps to 1949. That's the year he met a young woman named Delores LaFave at school. Ross was 15 and Delores was 14. A year later, he says he turned of working age:

"Course when I got old enough to quit school, at 16, I had to quit and go to work, working in the woods, cutting pulp, logs. We didn't have any chain saws then, so we did it all by hand."

He started working with Delores's father, Oliver, and did so for the next two years. One of his favorite memories from that time period is riding logs as he skidded them out with the horses.

"Sometimes you'd have two logs together, instead of walkin' beside the logs you'd jump right on and ride 'em."


Marriage and a family business

Ross and Delores were married in June of 1952, when Ross was 18 and Delores was 17. They spent their first summer together living in an abandoned lumber camp, where Ross worked with his brother cutting trees and peeling the pulp off logs. Summer was the ideal time to cut and peel the bark off trees, because it's when the bark was loosest.

"You take what you call a spud and you'd spud all the bark off the trees. Well, you gotta get right under the bark, it's like a big chisel."

When the summer season ended, Ross went to work for the St. Regis Paper Company in Harrisville. He only stayed a few years before returning to the woods in 1955, where he ran a logging operation with his two brothers for the next 12 years.

It was just the three of them, and they started out with very little - three men, two horses, and hand tools. They got their hands on some chain saws, but Ross says:

"They didn't work so good. Sometimes they'd bind and just about kill you."

After a few years, they bought a farm tractor to help "skid," or move logs, and eventually they bought a John Deere bulldozer. They delivered the peeled pulp wood to the St. Regis Paper Company in Deferiet, and the Diamond Match Company in Ogdensburg.

The trio cut and peeled trees in the summer, skidded them into piles in the fall, and took them out in the winter. That was the best time for it - when the ground was frozen solid. Ross says the bitter cold was part of the job, and remembers many a day when they'd head into the woods with sandwiches for lunch, but by the time they were ready to eat, the sandwiches would be frozen solid, and they'd have to build a fire just to thaw them out.

During this time, Ross and Delores bought and lived in a small house about 3 miles out of Harrisville, which he describes as "really being in the boondocks." There was no electricity, but he says he and Delores didn't mind.

That's how they liked it. Even Ross's off-season work from logging kept him outside.

"During all these times, when it come up the spring of the year of course, you couldn't work in the woods so easy. So then I worked in sugaring for a number of years, for Frank Mannow on the Jerden Falls Road."


Work after the woods

By the mid-1960s, Ross says the demand for logs was petering out. In 1966, Delores got a job working for the local school system as a cook, where she stayed for the next 26 years. In 1967, Ross started worked at the Jones and Laughlin Steel Corporation in Benson Mines, and the couple bought a house in town and moved out of the woods.

Ross smelted ore for ten years at J&L, then worked for Viking Snowplow until retiring in 1996.

He says retirement is his best job yet. He and Delores will celebrate their 66th wedding anniversary this June.

(This story comes to you from North Country Public Radio's North Country at Work project, which explores the working lives and history of our region. To see all the stories, check out



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