By Sterling McGinn
Many Newberry residents remember the big white wheels and the covered log that used to sit on West Truman Boulevard in Newberry. For years, the relics served as a monument to the rich lumbering history of our area.
At the time of the display’s creation in the 1930s, the boulevard extended to the first block of Truman Avenue. Located directly behind the wheels was a large white pine log given by the Newberry Lumber and Chemical Company, and was cut in the eastern part of the county. The log measured 16 feet in length and was just 2 inches shy of being four feet in diameter. A rustic canopy was built to protect the log. The canopy was constructed by Isaac Hakola, and painted by George Olsen.
For more than thirty years, the display attracted the attention of many tourists and was featured on several souvenir postcards. The wheels were removed at an unknown date and are currently displayed at the entrance of Hartwick Pines State Park near Grayling, Michigan.
“Big wheels” were first made in Manistee, Michigan in the 1870s. A blacksmith and wagon builder Silas C. Overpack is credited with the invention. Although the wheels were the idea of one his farming customers, Overpack capitalized on the new creation. The wheels became popular and were sent to logging companies across the country.
Prior to their invention, logging in Michigan could only be performed in the winter. Loggers used horses and sleighs to skid logs out of the forest, where they were delivered to riverbanks.
“Big wheels” later revolutionized the logging industry, making it possible for loggers to work all year. The wheels came in three sizes: 9, 9 ½ and 10 feet in diameter. Logs were chained to the axel and pulled by teams of horses.
Mechanized machinery eventually eliminated the need for “big wheels” and sleighs, but they continue to serve as reminders of early lumbering.