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Logs were suspended

from wheel axle
Genuine Overpack logging wheels are always painted red
11 foot logging wheels

compare 6 foot person
Michigan logging wheels, also known as big wheels, high wheels, logging wheels, logger wheels, lumbering wheels, bummer carts, and katydids, are a type of skidder. It extended the season in which the logging industry could extract timber from the North Woods of Michiganmarker, by removing the need for icy ground to travel over. The logging wheels were a specially designed large set of wooden wagon wheels that could carry logs that were up to 100 feet in length, several at a time.

Michigan logging wheels (big wheels) were invented by Silas C. Overpack in 1875. At the time Michigan was the nation's leading producer of lumber. His equipment could be identified as genuine as it was always painted red.


Overpack's logging wheels could haul logs without the need for icy ground. They didn't sink into mud in the wet terrain of the northern woods where ordinary wagon wheels would get mired in the springtime after the winter thaw. The wheels also enabled a team of horses to pull several logs at a time. The logs were held by a chain that suspended the logs' weight from the wheel axle, creating a stabilizing, low center of gravity.


Overpack sold three sizes of big wheels: high, high and high; they cost $100 per diameter foot, a quite considerable investment for the time. Unlike a wagon, which carries a load above its axle, these huge wheels carried logs chained beneath the axle. The wheels could carry logs from to in length and enough logs to total 1,000 to 2,000 board feet of lumber in a single load. The axles were manufactured from hard maple and the 16-foot tongues were made of ironwood. The wheels were clad with iron rims to protect them from stumps, fallen trees, and rocky terrain. Interior iron rings reinforced the wooden spokes of the wheels. They were pulled by horses, oxen, or tractors.


History has it that when Overpack was a wheelwright in Manistee, Michiganmarker around 1875 one day he was approached by a farmer to build a set of wagon wheels. He built these unusually large wagon wheels and sold them to the local farmer. Time passed and later this same farmer returned asking Overpack for an even larger set of wagon wheels. Overpack was very curious by this time. He asked the farmer what he was doing with such large wagon wheels. The farmer replied he was using them to skid logs.

From then on Overpack's big wheels were part of Michigan logging history. Many northern states used them and Michigan alone had at least 65 different lumber companies that had them. Michigan's rough and wet forest terrain made logging strictly a winter industry in the nineteenth century. The loggers used frozen ground to skid the logs from the woods to the railheads of rails or to river banks for further transporting. In the spring they would slide the logs from the banking grounds into the rivers for the log drive to the saw mills. Overpack made logging possible in all four seasons when he began manufacturing Michigan logging wheels at his Manistee wagon business.

When Overpack exhibited his Michigan logging wheels at the 1893 World's Columbian Expositionmarker in Chicago, they were a sensation and quickly caught on in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. Overpack solicited the support of the Reddingmarker Iron Works Company to aid in supplying his product to the western United States. He needed their aid to help overcome shipping issues, which they were able to do with their proximity to the West Coast timber industry. They became then another builder of Overpack's Michigan logging wheels. He then began manufacturing on a large scale and ultimately made thousands of his logging wheels. He sold them worldwide and shipped via railroad to other states and Canada. The U.S. Army Forestry Department even took several pairs to France during World War I. They were discontinued by 1930.

Locations containing logging wheels



  1. The backtracks of high wheel logging by Lorraine Platz
  2. Out of the woods - Big Wheels history
  3. Powers, Perry Francis, A History of Northern Michigan and Its People, 1912, p. 707, Lewis Publishing Company, An original at University of Michigan.
  4. Moving wood in Michigan by Arvind Badrinarayanan
  5. Lumbering in Michigan
  6. Background reading - Lumbering in Michigan by Maria Quinlan
  7. The Big Wheels
  8. Kids' education on logging industry
  9. Dickmann, Donald, The Forests of Michigan, pp 132-133, University of Michigan Press (2003), ISBN 0472068164
  10. Traverse City in Vintage Postcards By C. S. Wright, page 11
  11. Timeline of Wood
  12. Big Wheels Resort
  13. Hartwick Pines Logging Museum

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