Forestry Friday … Steam Donkey WIP

This huge steam engine has waited silently for years. Seasons passed, leaves turned, and its only visitors were the wild creatures paying it no attention.

steam donkey, Willamette steam donkey,Willamette Iron Works, logging, logging history

The Willamette Steam Donkey. Photo courtesy of Mark Lathrop.

Steam donkeys were the cutting edge technology for powering logging operations a hundred years ago. Serving as yarders, they brought logs to the landing. They were the loaders, too. These huge machines provided any heavy lifting that needed to be done. Steam donkeys replaced horses and oxen for moving logs.

Steam Donkey, pen and ink, drawing, pen, pen & ink, watercolor, watercolour, logging

Steam Donkey work in progress.

I’m doing a mixed media watercolor painting of this steam donkey for a forestry education fund-raising auction. The auction will be held at the Sierra Cascade Logging Conference coming up in February. You can follow the progress on this piece in my future blog posts. I’m using a Canson Bright White 90 lb hot press cotton paper. I sketched out my pencil guide and am inking. I’m inking with a brand new Lamy All-Star extra fine point pen.

steam donkey, Willamette steam donkey,Willamette Iron Works, logging, logging history

Mark at the historic site.

The pictures were taken by my friend, Mark, who has graciously given me permission to use them for this project. He had the awesome duty of leading a team of historians to the donkeys to record the site. Keep following for more on the story behind this steam donkey.

56 thoughts on “Forestry Friday … Steam Donkey WIP

  1. I look forward to watching the progress of your art. Some of use give little descriptions or further explanations of our poetry. It will be interesting to see how you develop your subject. 🙂
    But I already know the secret of your success. It is those magic glasses in the photo. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think it is an awesome find, but I love this kind of thing. I haven’t visited the site myself, which is why Mark let me use his photos. Hopefully, sometime I will. I’ve been around a lot of these old donkeys and have even found parts of them in the woods, but never a complete machine like this. Pretty cool.


  2. Great stuff Tim! Do you ever run across some of the logging pictures or text of what machines were used in clearing the standing dead American chestnut trees from Maine to Georgia from about the 1920’s to the 50’s. Would this unit have been used? I’m gathering information on that time period and how logs were moved to the sawmills. Thanks.


    • I’ve not researched your specific area or the salvage of the chestnuts. I mostly focus on the West. These steam donkeys were so popular here because the trees they were harvesting were huge, and the donkeys generated enormous pulling power. I would think they would have been in use back east, but I don’t know to what extent. The donkeys were in their heydays from about 1900 until the 1930’s, so it’s possible. If I come across any information regarding your area I’ll pass it on.


      • Thanks Tim, and it was about 1926 when the first main loggings of standing dead chestnut trees started, through, some say, the early 1950’s. I’ve never seen any pictures of these with the chestnut logs. Maybe it was just a ‘west’ thing. And yes, I’d love it if you could forward any info on this if possible. Thanks ahead.

        Liked by 1 person

    • So do I Catherine! I’ve had the opportunity to be around some that still run. It’s something to see. They are so big and industrial, but compared to our modern diesel engines they are so quiet.


  3. The historians on our Steam Donkey expedition had a schematic of this Donkey. The manufacturer (Portland Iron Works) listed the Capistan (an option used to guide the cables in and out) as weighing 2,200 lbs. This donkey and another smaller unit were used until the Depression when they were parked on the side of a hill. By the time the Depression was over, other methods to yard logs were discovered, so they sit in the same resting place today. The original steam donkey was invented by John Dolbeer in 1881 in Eureka, California.

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  4. Thank you for this! Steam donkeys are mentioned in “The Diary of Opal Whitely,” which was written in Oregon at the turn of the 20th century. I had made a mental note to look this up, but it has rested on the sea floor of my brain until now, when you have awakened my interest. I look forward to seeing more about steam donkeys! (BTW this all looks very dangerous. OSHA would disapprove ;-P )

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love coming across these ancient ruins during my hikes 😉 Many times they area associated with Geocaches, a locating game.
    Aside from your magic glasses, are you a Southpaw? 👉 I am. I notice crazy thinks like the paperclips on the right side which would hinder a right hander.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Oooh this is so interesting. Thank you so much for sharing! I learn so much from reading your blog. Your drawing of the steam donkey looks great so far with the precision and care that you bring to all your art. If you don’t mind me asking, how did you manage to get the elliptical shapes and wheels so accurate?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: What is a steam donkey? « A Writer's Playground

  8. How cool! It is very kind of you to draw the steam Donkey for the auction. I hope it earns bunches of money for forestry education! Thanks for sharing your endeavors with us.

    Celebrate you
    Never Give Up

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Very interesting and good sketches, Tim. Is the final piece going to be in watercolor, pastel or some other medium? I look forward to watching your process.
    BTW, have you watched any of the “Hell on Wheels” series on HBO about building the transcontinental railroad. The main character designs and builds a steam shovel to cut through the mountains. Good luck with the auction. And thanks to Linda Andersen for telling us about your blog. Sarah


    • Thank you Sarah. The final will have watercolor also. In fact I’ve started it, and you can see it in the latest updates. I’ll have to check out the show. I love that kind of thing, it sounds very interesting.


  10. Pingback: “A Ghost in the Forest” | THE FORESTER ARTIST

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