Wood Hicks and Bark Peelers

A Visual History of Pennsylvanias Railroad Lumbering Communities; The Photographic Legacy of William T. Clarke

Hardback or cased
Ronald E. Ostman, Harry Littell, Linda A. Ries
Published 12 Sep 2016
List Price £28.95



“A detailed look at a bygone world.”

—David Gonzalez, The New York Times Lens blog

“Valuable historical documents, the images fascinate, also, through their depiction of the environment devastated by logging activity and of the strange locomotives and heavy machinery, iron dinosaurs in the forest landscape. . . . This volume will be of equal interest to readers exploring nineteenth-century photography, Pennsylvania history, the logging industry, or environmentalism.”

—Michael Dashkin, Library Journal

“Gorgeous, detail-packed photographs.”

—Rebecca Onion, Slate Vault

“In this era of digital photos and selfie sticks, the art and technique behind Clarke’s photos is striking.”

—Darrin Youker, Susquehanna Life Magazine

“In addition to piecing together Clarke’s enigmatic life, the book builds on the story of the 131 found negatives, interspersing several other Clarke logging photographs preserved by the State Archives. Readers will come away with a solid understanding of the loggers’ lives, especially of those who resided near the communities of Galeton, Potter County, and Port Allegany, McKean County.”

—Sean Adkins, Pennsylvania Heritage

“It is the scope of these photographs—discovered, preserved, and now reprinted for the first time in over a century—that makes this more than just another coffee table book. . . . Wood Hicks and Bark Peelers is an important contribution to the environmental sector of public history in Pennsylvania.”

—Vagel Keller, H-Net

“What a glorious feast for the eye! William T. Clarke’s images remind us that nineteenth-century Pennsylvanians lived in a wooden world: the trees still standing, and those cut for homes, trestles, railroad ties, tools, and fuel, reveal how incredibly useful the state’s forests were, for those lives depended on them. Even better, Clarke makes this story human—the faces, poses, and clothing leap off the page, bringing a lost world back to life.”

—Char Miller, editor of Gifford Pinchot: Selected Writings

Wood Hicks and Bark Peelers is a brilliant photographic history that is not to be missed. The fabulous late nineteenth-century original photographs are rich with insight and context. Augmented with great storytelling, the images and text come together to create a beautifully haunting history of Pennsylvania's railroad lumbering companies.”

—Bonnie Brennen, author of Picturing the Past: Media, History, and Photography

In Wood Hicks and Bark Peelers, Ronald E. Ostman and Harry Littell draw on the stunning documentary photography of William T. Clarke to tell the story of Pennsylvania’s lumber heyday, a time when loggers serving the needs of a rapidly growing and globalizing country forever altered the dense forests of the state’s northern tier.

Discovered in a shed in upstate New York and a barn in Pennsylvania after decades of obscurity, Clarke’s photographs offer an unprecedented view of the logging, lumbering, and wood industries during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They show the great forests in the process of coming down and the trains that hauled away the felled trees and trimmed logs. And they show the workers—cruisers, jobbers, skidders, teamsters, carpenters, swampers, wood hicks, and bark peelers—their camps and workplaces, their families, their communities. The work was demanding and dangerous; the work sites and housing were unsanitary and unsavory. The changes the newly industrialized logging business wrought were immensely important to the nation’s growth at the same time that they were fantastically—and tragically—transformative of the landscape.

An extraordinary look at a little-known photographer’s work and the people and industry he documented, this book reveals, in sharp detail, the history of the third phase of lumber in America.



Prologue: Discovery and Procedures

Introduction: The Salvation of William T. Clarke

Linda A. Ries

1 The Black Forest

2 The Machine in the Garden

3 Wood Hicks, Bark Peelers, and Other Woods Workers

4 Camp Life

5 Community Life

6 The Pennsylvania Desert

7 A Mighty Transformation

Appendix: Notes on the Photographs




Ronald E. Ostman and Harry Littell have collaborated on a number of books, most recently (with Mary Jordan and Joyce Hatch) Dear Friend Amelia: The Civil War Letters of Private John Tidd and Great Possibilities: 150 Photographs by Verne Morton. Ostman is Graduate Professor of Communication Emeritus, Cornell University. Littell is Associate Professor and Chair of Photography, Tompkins Cortland Community College, Dryden, New York.

Through the photography of William T. Clarke, explores the impact of the logging industry on late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century north-central Pennsylvania.