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Home Transportation Hauling a one-ton sausage

Hauling a one-ton "sausage"
Rawhiding in the high Slocan

By a quirk of geological nature, most of the major producing mines in the Slocan are high in the mountains, at or above the 6,000 foot (1,828.8 metre) level. Because of this, transporting the ore down from the mines ...

By a quirk of geological nature, most of the major producing mines in the Slocan are high in the mountains, at or above the 6,000 foot (1,828.8 metre) level. Because of this, transporting the ore down from the mines was a serious challenge for the early mine operators. Some of the larger operations, such as the "Payne" or the "Noble Five", built large tramlines to accomplish this, but for many of the smaller operators such an investment wasn't economical, considering the returns. At the same time, trying to transport the sacked ore down narrow, treacherous trails by horseback in summer was dangerous and slow.

A unique solution was devised, known as "rawhiding". Miners would work at their claims all summer, sorting, grading and sacking the higher-grade ores that were worth shipping. These sacks were stored at the mine site all summer, awaiting the deep blanket of snow that would descend on the Slocan mountains in the winter.

Once the snows were judged deep enough the shipping would begin for the season. The "rawhiding" process consisted of taking the hide of an animal that had been slaughtered- usually a bull or a steer- and placing it, hair side down, onto the snow. The sacked ore would then be loaded onto the hide, usually up to a ton (1.016 tonnes) at a time. The sides of the hide were then drawn up around the stacked ore and laced up through eyelets that had been made along the edges of the hide earlier. In this way, a large "pouch" of sacked ore was created, similar to a sausage. This load was then pulled by a horse along the "rawhide trails" that led down the mountainside to the rail lines at Sandon.

 

rawhiding

 

At the beginning of winter, while the trails were still covered by deep snow, the horses had to work harder to pull their loads; but by mid-winter there had been so many tons of ore pulled over these trails that they resembled bobsled runs. By then, the hardest task was not to get the load moving, but rather to keep it from running out of control. A rough-lock chain, specially built for use with the rawhides, was designed to act as a brake on the steep grades, and usually worked. It was not all that unusual, however, to see a horse coming into town on the dead run, trying to stay ahead of a run-away rawhide load.

There are even stories of some of the smarter horses who supposedly learned to lean back on the rawhide when it began sliding, thereby "tobogganing" down the slope, sitting on the load of ore. While this is not impossible, it is more likely that the accelerating rawhide would catch the horse by surprise, hitting him on the back of the legs and putting him back on his haunches in a manner resembling a "toboggan-slide" ride.

Rawhiding became so popular that the local slaughterhouse was soon unable to meet the demand, and whole rail car shipments of hides were brought in. As with packing and freighting, however, the modern world caught up with the Slocan, and technology gradually took over from the horses. Today, only a handful of early residents remember the practice, and the only trace of the old rawhide trails are in a few surviving photographs, such as those displayed here.

 
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