By Sterling McGinn

You can’t miss a set of logging wheels, more commonly known as “Big Wheels.” They are huge, and were a familiar sight in the old logging days. Big Wheels were essential to logging from the late 1800s into the 1930s, when they were used to skid logs out of the woods.

Newberry’s Tahquamenon Logging Museum is now in possession of a set, which were just installed on museum grounds.

The Logging Museum, however, did not have set of the iconic wheels until this spring. But thanks to the efforts of Frank Zarzycky, a retired wood shop teacher from Romulus, Mich., along other interested individuals, a set was designed and built for the museum.

Many residents will remember the set of wheels on display on West Truman Boulevard along with a white pine log under a canopy. For years, the artifacts served as a monument of the rich lumbering history of the area.

The wheels were removed by the Village of Newberry long ago and are on display at Hartwick Pines near Grayling.

Big Wheels were created by Silas C. Overpack, a blacksmith and wagon builder in Manistee, Michigan. The piece of equipment was actually an idea of one of Overpack’s farming customers, though Overpack was credited with the invention. Overpack capitalized on the creation and soon logging wheels were shipped to lumber companies across the country.

Big Wheels revolutionized lumbering in Michigan, because prior to their invention, logging could only be performed in the winter months. Horses and sleds were used to haul logs out of the woods operations to be delivered to the riverbanks. The wheels allowed for logs to be skid from the woods when snow was not present.

The wheels were built in three sizes—9, 9 ½ and 10 feet in diameter. The logs were chained to the axel and pulled by teams of horses.

By the 1930s and 40s, Big Wheels became obsolete. Logging trucks and other equipment replaced the wheels. Some wheels were repurposed as roadside attractions which were commonly referred to on souvenir postcards as “Paul Bunyan’s Wheels.” On at least one occasion, a set was driven by a team of horses in a 1930s Newberry Independence Day parade by resident Jack Mahar, who often portrayed Paul Bunyan.

Big Wheels have fascinated Zarzycky since he was a child.

“When I was 9 to 12 years old, the next-door neighbor’s grandfather talked about the wheels,” he said. “When I was 16, I wrote an essay called Rudy’s Red Wheels.”

Later in life, Zarzycky wanted to make his own set, which he started about 16 years ago.

“I didn’t know Newberry had a logging museum…I visited, and I saw that they didn’t have a set of wheels,” Zarzycky said. “So I found a home for the wheels I was building.”

The Tahquamenon Logging Museum did possess some original parts which Zarzycky used while building the set. He indicated that the existing hardware owned by the museum was different from Overpack’s original design work.

Much of the construction took place at Zarzycky’s home in Tipton, Michigan, though some of the work was performed in Pete Anderson’s shop here in Newberry.

“I had a lot of help—I wasn’t just all me,’ he explained. “Marty Harju did some welding and Bill Paine put the bolts through the tires.”

Much of the construction was transported back in forth from lower Michigan.

The wheels are now located in center of the museum complex with plans to paint them red, which was used on genuine Overpack wheels.

“I have always appreciated the north and the hard work that the lumbermen did,” Zarzycky said. “It is a legacy.”