At the beginning of the 16th century, the exhaustion of forests in the Paris region forced the capital to turn to the Morvan to buy firewood. The wood, cut in winter, was sold the following year to traders whose mark was hammered at both ends of the cut logs.
The logs were then thrown into the streams and carried down to the River Yonne where they were removed and temporarily stacked to be put back in the river the following spring: it was known as the “big wave” when the logs floated down the river to Clamecy.
You see the waters of the Yonne, calm and peaceful? It was like that this 15 March 1817. Should you have seen Little Log you would have said “Why is he waiting impatiently at the waters edge like that – there’s nothing to see”. And then you would have seen him suddenly stand up, become excited, shout and bustle about. But why? You would cast a glance up stream … and there .. what a sight! An immense float, a sea of timber surges down on Clamecy. The gentle lapping of the water on the banks a distant memory – now you can hear cracking, creaking and groaning of timbers. No time for daydreaming! Now it’s time to get to work, Little Log!
Arriving at the edge of Clamecy, the wood was drawn from the water, sorted by the traders’ marks and piled up in the ports by the floaters.
The log driver’s job was a family affair. In the height of the season Little Log is on the riverbank at 5 o clock in the morning. Thousands of logs surge down the river and for ten hours at a time Little log will stack hundreds of pieces of wood according to their owners’ marks.
The logs were then tied together to form “trains”, wooden rafts up to 75 meters long by 4 metres long – 200 cubic metres of wood – it took 6 people a week to construct.
Paris will be warm this winter! Goodbye daddy, goodbye brother, take care of yourselves! Little Log is only eight but he knows all about the dangers. A timber raft is a fragile thing – a moment’s carelessness and the raft can slip sideways and smash into a bridge. Open the sluices and an artificial wave is created. Fifty to one hundred timber rafts will leave at the same time!
If all goes well my brother will be back in four days Little Log calculates. Three days on the timber raft then when the river allows two rafts will be coupled together Daddy will continue on his way with his mate. He will not need my brother anymore. Back to Clamecy he will hike 30 miles on foot and be back in just a day. But he cannot dawdle as another raft will be waiting. At an average speed of 12 miles a day daddy will be in Paris in eleven days. He will then walk back to Clamecy in four days – only to embark on another raft!