RANGELEY – The Rangeley Lakes Region Logging Museum inducted Robert “Bobby” Wilbur of Rangeley into the Loggers’ Hall of Fame. Begun in 1985, the museum’s Loggers’ Hall of Fame honors people who have worked in the woods for a significant part of their lives and who have made valuable contributions to lumbering in the western Maine mountains.
“It’s one of the most important things we do,” said Rodney Richard, Sr., the museum’s president emeritus and retired logger. Bobby Wilbur joins a distinguished list of local woodsmen that includes William Coolong, Cary Keep, Stan Bartash, Raymond Vallee, Edwin Lowell, Lewis Abbott, Clem Field, and Bud Field.
“I’ve been in the woods all my life, and I love it,” Wilbur said. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.” Of his 32 years and counting with Seven Islands, he said, “It’s an interesting industry, and it’s never the same thing every day. I can be laying out a road for half a day or a few hours. The next thing, I’m running over and checking a job, I’ll have a harvesting job, and then the end of the day I could be going and checking the gravel crew on the road.” Recently he built a “beaver deceiver” so beaver could build their dam without plugging up a culvert and washing out a woods road.
“We at Seven Islands manage the Pingree land,” Wilbur explained, “and the Pingrees have had their land for about 160 years. They have almost a million acres in the state, and we have about 160,000 here in Rangeley. That’s nine townships. I can’t imagine working on anything else. I suppose it’s like a farmer: you become part of the land. I treat this land just like it’s my own because I’ve been there so long and I take a lot of pride in what we do and in what it does. It’s beautiful. And I was so lucky to be born here, brought up here, and be able to get a job here.”
Wilbur learned about the woods early. “We always had an old camp at Kemankeag. And my Dad always had an old Model A Ford tractor that we used to travel up there and back in. We used to leave from Steep Bank Pool, and it was about a 3-mile ride up through to Kemankeag Pond, up through Ephraim’s Ridge. I grew up hunting and fishing, from as early as I could hold a fish pole. My Dad, Watson, was an avid fly fisherman. He and my Mom, Eleanor, loved the outdoors. She probably fished and hunted as much as my dad did.
In August 1978, just after he graduated from Rangeley High School, Russ Hughes hired Wilbur as a scaler for Seven Islands. He learned from Hughes as well as men such as Jim Turner, Phil Richard, and Morris Henderson.
After he had worked at Seven Islands for several years, the foresters sought Wilbur out. “It became like an apprenticeship,” he explained. “They asked me, ‘You want to go mark some wood? You want to go lay out a property line? Do you want to go lay out a road with me?’ And they started taking me with them.”
As his interest in forestry grew, Wilbur attended the Maritime Forest Rangers School in Fredrickton, New Brunswick, from 1982 to 1984 and graduated with his Professional Foresters License.
Back with Seven Islands, the first thing he did was supervise the skidder crews. “I had 80 skidders,” Wilbur said, “and every day I would try to walk as many skidders on the job as I could, physically, with a foreman and make sure that they were doing what they were supposed to be doing.”
He works through summer heat and winter cold. “If you strap a pair of snowshoes on and it’s not good going,” Wilbur said with a chuckle, “you’re going to stay warm. Believe me, you can stay warm on the coldest day snowshoeing. But if you’re not moving, you want to dress warm for sure. Scaling was the worst job for cold weather because you’re just standing a lot in one spot.”
The handiwork of the women in his and Leeanna’s family, though, helped keep him warm. His mother, Eleanor, knit most of his mittens with brown or green wool yarn. “There was nothing like homemade knit mittens with buckskin gloves over them for staying warm,” he remembers, “because you got that double layer. The deerskin kept the snow and the water off you, and those mittens kept the warmth in. You put the two together, and you’d never have a warmer pair of gloves.” He still has wool socks that his wife’s mother, Ethelin Lowell, and his sister Laurel knit for him. “They knit me more wool socks! You never knew what color they’d be,” he laughed.
He has witnessed many changes during his years at Seven Islands. “The biggest thing is the new laws they’re putting in place,” he said. Whether it be Land Use Regulation Commission or the state Forest Practices Act, Bobby has kept up with the new regulations about harvesting limits, bald eagle nests, and much more. Other changes have come when the ownership shifts on the land that abuts Seven Islands’ holdings: from Brown Company to Boise Cascade to James River to Mead to NewPage. “As owners change, philosophies change,” Wilbur noted. “Even dealing with them on crossing rights because we share roads, there’s a lot of negotiation.”
Technology has brought major changes, too. The computer world has changed forestry with the new GIS systems. And the mapping systems we have now, GPS, you can tell where you are all the time, he said. “You can always map everything that you’re doing—layout, cuts. I GPS my roads. I GPS all my water crossings. Bridges, anything I’m doing like that I put it on the GPS, and I put a waypoint where I want to know where that is. And I’ll write a note on what it is. Then, you go back and you download that, and it puts it on the computer for you. You can print out a map and see exactly what you did all day long. GPS is great, but when they first gave it to me, I said, ‘Right! Where’s my compass?'”
Reflecting on his years in the Maine forest so far, Wilbur said, “What’s amazing, after being in the woods as long as I have now, when you harvest an area, you think, ‘I probably won’t be here the next time somebody comes back to cut this.’ In some areas, though, I’ve had to go back, and I’m cutting wood in stands that I cut in 20 years ago.”
Museum hours are Saturdays and Sundays through Labor Day, 11am to 2pm, or by appointment, 864-5551.