The Story of the Davis Raft

by Garry Holland 2017

Big Logs

Big Logs (Photo courtesy of British Columbia Forest Service (circa 1950s).)

From the turn of the century until the 1950s, on the British Columbia coast, log towing was a large and lucrative business conducted mostly with tugboats towing some form of flat boom. As this practice evolved the tugs became larger and more powerful; the log booms also became larger and of course, much more expensive if lost to weather or breakup. The industry, to stem losses and to increase fundamental economies of scale demanded better.

Spruce Stump

Spruce Stump (Photo courtesy of British Columbia Forest Service (circa 1950s).)

Logs coming from the west coast of Vancouver Island were exposed to periods of violent weather that made flat booms often unsuitable. Loggers got the logs to tidewater where they were made into Davis rafts up to 250 feet long, 60 feet wide, and 30 feet deep, each raft containing nearly a million feet of timber. The rafts were then towed by tug to the mills.

A farsighted logger, Gilbert Gerry Davis, was the Logging Superintendent for the British Canadian Lumber Corporation. In 1917 with his brother Otis they formed the Davis Logging and Trading Ltd. and assumed control of the liquidated B.C. Iowa Lumber Co. He developed the Davis Raft as a method of safely towing logs on the west coast. In 1918 he formed the Century Logging Co. Ltd. with Robert Gellety at Port Renfrew BC. He took out Patent US 1142239 A June 8, 1915 on a log raft bearin his name. In 1927 he sued Cathels and Sorenson for patent infingement for building Davis Rafts without paying a royalty to the Davis Log Rafts Patent Co. By this time Davis was resident in Portland Oregon. The ‘Davis Raft’ was born, patented June 8th, 1915

Patent Drawing

Patent Drawing for the Davis Raft (Photo from US Patent and Trademark Office Website. )

Other similar–use rafts were built on both coasts of the USA in the same era. There is also the suggestion they were used in Europe. All differed somewhat in design; but all were created for the same reasons of increased output; dire weather conditions; the need to stabilize profits. Those on the U.S. West Coast were termed ‘Benson Rafts’: cigar–shaped and girdled with very large logging chains. They were employed for the open Pacific, moving the logs South to California ports from the forests of Washington and Oregon States. (Source: the Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Kelly Raft

Kelley Raft - Hecate Strait 1940s) (Photo courtesy: Collection of the Powell River Heritage Museum.)

The Kelly Raft was a variant on the Davis Raft – there were apparently a number of similar designs in use. Thomas Arthur Kelley came to BC in 1907 and began logging in the Queen Charlotte Islands. He became President of the Kelley Logging Co. Ltd., which was later purchased by the Powell River Company. Kelley Spruce Ltd. supplied 55% of the Sitka Spruce used in the manufacture of aircraft in Canada during the Second World War. Kelley died in Vancouver in 1955.

Tom Kelley

Tom Kelley (from his obituary) (Photo courtesy: Collection of the Powell River Heritage Museum.)

Davis Rafts, as shown in the patent document, began with a single flat layer of side–by–side logs woven together with many cross strands of wire rope. Of those cross-strands some were left uncut and, as loose logs were placed onto interwoven flat layer, these loose strands were brought up under tension on both outside edges of the growing pile. Eventually as the pile grew higher and the base and outside logs continued to sink with the adding weight, those wires would be brought together across the top of the by–now pyramidal pile and clamped together with purpose-designed clamps.

The cross wires were under extreme tension and it wasn’t until all of them were secured and clamped together across the top, that the ‘raft’ was actually formed.

It was also at this time, the raft was actually safe for the boom crew to work on!

Davis Raft

Davis Raft assemblage (Photo courtesy of British Columbia Forest Service (circa 1950s).)

Davis Rafts were never ‘torpedo’ shaped, as were Benson Rafts, but they were often narrowed, or slightly pointed, at the forward end. Although they originated at Port Renfrew, most of their utility was found on the BC North Coast and Haida Gwaii (then known as the Queen Charlotte Islands). The often dreadful weather and sea conditions of Hecate Strait demanded above average and secure methodology. Davis rafts took weeks to assemble and days to disassemble. There were instances where they broke up in heavy seas resulting in massive loss of logs.

During and following the depression years three principal logging companies in these areas began to use Davis Rafts but their utilization growth was not remarkable. Usage slowly increased into the beginning of the 1930s. Then, one of the very significant reasons for these rafts was created by the Second World War, the logging of ‘Aircraft Spruce’ on Graham Island, Moresby Island and on the mainland North Coast. Large rafts were increasingly difficult to assemble and tow.

In 1926 the Lorne broke all records for the Queen Charlotte Islands log trade taking a Davis raft with 1,000,000 feet of logs 70 miles across Hecate Strait in 15 hours.

At the end of the Davis Raft era, in 1948, the tug boat Swiftsure II (Arthur MacFarlane) towed a Davis Raft of 25 million board feet, which at the time was said to have been the largest ever destined for the Fraser River.

The industry wanted an approach that was more dependable, faster to load and easier to unload. About 1950 experiments with sailing ships converted to log carrying barges were initiated. Cargoes were loaded by shore–side cranes. In 1961 the first on board cranes were added to self–dumping barges.

The Haida Monarch was the world’s first self–loading and self–unloading log carrier without the need to use tug boats and cables. In 1974 the 423-foot self-propelled, self-loading self-unloading log barge Haida Monarch, designed by Talbot-Jackson & Associates of North Vancouver and built by Yarrows Ltd. for Kingcome Navigation Co. This was the ultimate in changing the way the logs were transported from the logging show to the mill.

To quote from this article please cite:

Holland, Garry (2017) The Story of the Davis Raft. 2017.

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