Then in the late 1880s, forestry operations were revolutionized because two Canadian inventors, John West and James Peachy, devised and patented a better way with their steam warping tug, an amphibious contraption that moved logs like nothing had before. Nicknamed "the alligator," it transformed the effectiveness and economics of Ontario's pine-logging industry.
This just released book tells the story of an invention few Canadians know about. Though heavy on technical detail, Alligators of the North portrays, with the help of excellent period photographs, a triumphant era of inventive progress when steam engines were replacing earlier methods in everything from sailing ships to manufacturing operations.
Ontario forester Clarence Coon spent years digging up the lost history of the Alligator – interviewing, cataloguing, and writing its history. When he died in 2006, history writer Harry Barrett took over to "emotionalize" Coon's technical archive and craft a book more accessible for general readers. The result is an engaging addition to our recorded heritage, and richer knowledge of how parts of Muskoka's virgin stands of pine became fine forest products that reached world markets.
As the Alligator catapulted forestry into the steam age, it became part of the grand Canadian romance, our engagement with nature in all its elements.
Once the initial cuts had been made of easily accessible stands of white and red pine adjacent to fast-flowing rivers emptying into Georgian Bay and the Ottawa River (where logs were boomed and towed to mills), logging moved deeper into the hinterlands. Now logs had to be driven through sequences of smaller lakes and ferocious tumbling rivers – a process that was tedious, costly, and hard on human life and limb.
Steam-powered and rugged, the Alligator pioneered the mechanization of Ontario's forestry industry because it could tow a log boom across a lake and then move itself over land to the next body of water. With its mile-long retractable steel cable and other attributes, the tug introduced "high tech" to the late nineteenth century log drive, initiating a revolution in forestry the way the chain saw and skidder did after the Second World War, the way computers have since transformed scientific management of forests and enabled more economic milling, and the way satellites today monitor forest health from space.
From beginning to end, accompanied by scientific and technical advances, it is all about the trees.
— Review by J. Patrick Boyer