Long Leaf Revisited -- Southern Forest Museum & Research Center, Long Leaf, LA

- text and photos © by James D. Hefner unless otherwise indicated.-

Long Leaf is located about 20 miles southwest of Alexandria, LA. This museum is a 57-acre complex, consisting of a sawmill, the company town of Long Leaf, and the remaining elements of the Red River & Gulf Railroad. The complex was donated by the Crowell family after the mill was closed in 1969, and was opened to the public in May, 1996.

When I visited the mill in June of 1995, it was still in basically the same shape it had been in for past 30 years. It was hard to describe the emotions I felt when drove through storage sheds still full of lumber to view a complex covered with vines and trees (1995 photograph).

In March of 2002 I decided to return to Long Leaf to photograph the remainder of sawmill and to see what progress has been made. I was amazed at how much had been done. (NOTE: I visited Long Leaf again on a glorious spring day in April of 2003; I have replaced some of the photographs with pictures from the 2003 trip.)The commissary or company store shown here now has exhibits, a gift shop, a small theater, restrooms, and a snack bar. (The above picture courtesy of the museum website.) It is open seven days a week; no appointment is necessary to visit Long Leaf. Railfans will also enjoy watching the trains as they pass within mere feet of the commissary on the mainline. In addition, a mile of track on the museum grounds has been restored, and rides are offered behind a track speeder for a small fee. (Since it was just my sons and I during our visit, I paid the full price of $8.00 for us to ride it. It was worth it, as it is a fun way to tour the grounds.)

Trees have been removed from much of the museum grounds, as shown in the above map. The machine shop and planer mill have new roofs, and the sawmill has been rewired. The planer mill, whose boiler house you see here, also has a new floor; work will now begin on bracing and replacing rotten beams. The heavy logging equipment, most of which was in the machine shop and roundhouse (1995 photograph), and dates back to the 1940s, has been moved to the storage shed you see in the background.

The boiler room off the planer mill in the above photograph contains three locomotive boilers, all in derelict condition. They burned sawdust and wood waste from the planer mill; wood not used was blown to the Fuel House next to the sawmill through a blow pipe. The cyclones on the roof separated the wood and feed it to the three boilers. A portion of the blow pipe is still standing, and a fourth boiler lies derelict next to the planer mill. (NOTE: the complex took a direct hit from Hurricane Lili in 2002; the only damage was the wall that used to be here fell down.)

The boiler room also contains this Allis Chamlers horizontal Corliss valve engine. This engine was used to drive the equipment in the planner mill until the mill was electrified in 1957. It was originally thought that this engine was built in the 1930s; but experts who have studied it say it dates back much later than that.

Also in the boiler room was a direct-acting duplex pump of unknown make. It may have been used as a boiler feedpump for the boilers. Outside is a very derelict tank car complete with arch bar trucks. It may have held oil for use when no sawdust was available.

Just beyond the tank car and siding is a pumphouse. It contains the largest duplex pump found on the mill grounds and a vertical boiler. However, it is derelict and not accessible by visitors; you do ride close to it on your speeder ride.

As predicted by the weatherman, yet another cold front was blowing in at the time of our visit. However, the clouds parted just long enough for me to take my outdoor pictures, including this one of Long Leaf Lumber 4-6-0 number 400 (Baldwin/51175/1919). The grounds all around this locomotive have been cleared, and several of the tracks are used by the speeder. (Compare this photograph to the one I took in 1995.)

When I visited in 1995, Meridian Lumber 2-6-0 number 202 (Baldwin/40862/1913) was parked on the edge of the undergrowth next to the roundhouse (1995 photograph). It has since been moved inside the machine shop; the electric motor, belts and pulleys, and the tools in the machine shop itself are now working as well. The machine shop is being used to restore the rest of the museum, and demonstrations are routinely conducted of the forge and other machines in the shop.

Further down the track on the right side of the above photograph you can see a tender. You may assume that it belongs to tenderless Meridian Lumber #202. In fact, it belongs to a fourth "rod" (or conventional) steam locomotive that used to be at Long Leaf as well. I photographed the above cylinder/saddle assembly during my visit in 1995, but did not include it on my original webpage. This assembly probably belongs to the fourth locomotive, along with other parts in the graveyard.

Clyde Skidding Machine #321 is still next to Long Leaf Lumber #400. However, it is much easier to view it now than it was in 1995. From the side, you can see that a Clyde skidder is essentially a donkey engine mounted on a railcar. A portion of the wire rope used by the skidder to drag in logs is just visible in the left bottom corner of the picture. Only one other Clyde Skidding Machine may still exist; it was recently discovered upside down in a lake in British Columbia.

The rest of the locomotive graveyard is now viewable from a restored stretch of track. In 1995, I photographed the integral cylinder/saddle assembly shown above, air reservoir, smokestack extension and the remains of a balloon stack. Here, you can see the remains of one or more Shay locomotives, include the engines and three trucks. This may be Meridian Lumber Three-Truck Shay #112; which is pictured in museum's First Quarter 1998 newsletter.

Also in the area is this Houston, Stanwood & Gamble steam engine, pulleys, shafts, and other parts that were removed from the machine shop and mill when it was mostly converted to electricity in 1957. (Still steam-powered were numerous steam cylinders, pumps, a couple engines, the hugh GE electric turbine, and the "shotgun feeds" for the two log carriages.) Lots of other "bits", some recognizable, some not, are scattered about. A row of freight car wheels, never used, are also nearby.

Still not accessible on the track going north from the mill are about 30 log cars (in shambles because the wood parts rotted away) and the frame of a wood caboose (1973 photograph by Dan Gray). A "brand new" 1955 log car, 4 flat cars (possibly tender frames), two tank cars, and numerous parts (trucks, wheels, etc.) are located on the mill site. Also visible along the side of this stretch of track are the incinerated remains of two Ford Coupé motorcars. They were victims of a fire that occurred in the 1980s.

Cleared of brush and sporting a new roof and fuel deck is the McGiffert Loader I photographed in 1995. With the brush cleared away, you can make out the details on this self-propelled log loader. The films in the Commissary theater includes a clip of one of these machines in action.

Just a short distance away from Long Leaf Lumber #400 was the second McGiffert Loader. It was only a short distance from where I took pictures during my first visit; however, the woods were so dense that I never saw it! Notice that it also has a new roof, as work continues to stabilize the entire complex. It is hoped that at least some of the machines you see here will be restored to operating condition one day. Just visible in the bottom right hand corner are the remains of the delivery truck used by the Commissary.

If you stand back a little ways, you can see Long Leaf Lumber #400, this McGiffert Loader, and Clyde Skidding Machine #321. What you are seeing cannot be seen anywhere else in the world. Only six McGiffert Loaders still exist; the others are at Chiloquine and Klamath Falls, OR; and El Salto, Durango, Mexico. The oldest one on the grounds was built 83 years earlier in 1919 by the Clyde Iron Works of Duluth, MN.

Next, we toured the machine shop, where we saw a demonstration of the belt-driven machinery. We then went back out in the Roundhouse, where the speeder, trailer, and this vertical single cylinder steam engine are now kept (1995 photograph). Built by the E.H. Wachs Co. of Chicago, IL in about 1905; this 12HP engine is thought to be from the saw filing shop of the sawmill in Alco, LA. It was brought here after that milled closed in 1944, and was found under a shed in 1999. It has since been restored, and Henry ran it for us on compressed air. Note the wooden whistle from the gift shop on top of the engine; it works great!

Henry then took us for a ride about the grounds on the speeder. All of the above was visible as we rode the mile of restored track, as were other pieces of equipment about the site. We rode from the roundhouse out past the locomotive graveyard to the end of the clearing. We then rode past the planer mill to the Commissary, as shown on the map above. We then rode back, and up the siding past the round house and machine shop to the tender.

As the temperature continued to drop, and clouds moved back in, we walked up to the carknocker's shed and Red River 4-6-0 #106 (Baldwin/57203/1923). This shed has helped this engine to remain in the best shape of the three engines, but is now endangering the engine as it slowly collaspes. (Compare this picture to one Dan Grey took in 1973.) The far end of the shed has fallen completely, and the beam above the engine has broken in two and is now resting on the engine.

Note that while the engine is a uniform shade of rust, the headlight reflector and pole pockets are still shiny, and the brake hose still looks brand new!

When logs were being brought to the mill on logging trains, there was a pond in front of the sawmill. The logs were dumped off the log cars into the pond, and then selected for dragging up the ramp into the mill for sawing. (This operation is shown on the film in the Commissary theater.)

When logs were brought in by truck instead; the pond was filled in, and a concrete log storage area was used instead. Since the logs were no longer being washed in the pond, this direct-acting duplex steam pump was used to wash the logs before they were dragged into the plant. Now derelict, you can just barely see the Youngs valve gear on top of the engine.

Steam pumps are a little-discussed topic in most steam engine texts. If you would like to learn more about them, and see the number of variations that they were built in, I suggest a visit to the McNeil Street Pumping Station in Shreveport, LA. There are at least eight steam pumps on the mill grounds; the rest are documented in my Steam Lizards Photo Gallery.

At the time of my visit, several large gray pieces of machinery were sitting on the concrete pad of the log storage area. They are a Houston, Stanwood & Gamble tandem steam engine and two steam-powered air compressors from the 1920s or 1930s. They are from the Roy O. Martin sawmill in Alexandria, LA, and were donated to the museum by Louisiana Pacific Corp. in 1998 and moved to Long Leaf by a crew from the Reader Railroad. It is planned to eventually reassemble them and possibly put them back into operation.

Also donated to the museum is a portable steam hoist; a unique example of a vertical boiler portable steam engine. It was used to build a hotel in Alexandria, and is now stored under cover in the Dry Chain/Take-Down Shed. (I took a picture of this engine for my Surviving World Steam Vehicle CD-ROM, but there was not enough light. I passed on photographing the other donated machinery because I was running out of film!)

We then walked up the ramp and into the sawmill itself. Henry pointed out to us the various pieces of equipment, including the steam "shotgun feeds" for the two log carriages. All of this equipment is shown at work in the film at the Commissary theater.

After touring the Sawmill and Green Chain shed, we headed out into the cold and wind of the approaching front. But rather than head back to the commissary, Henry took us to a part of the complex that is normally not open to visitors. We went inside the turbine room between the Boilerhouse and Sawmill. Here, we saw this GE steam turbo-generator, which replaced many of the steam engines around the plant in 1957. In front of the turbine you can see the governor and synchronizing motor; the throttle valves are on top and the generator is in back. It is thought that this steam turbine was bought second hand; it's exact age is unknown.

Also located in this room is a vertical steam engine-generator, which was used for backup service, along with a diesel generator. Unfortunately, the diesel generator was ran without oil in the final years of operation, and is now derelict.

We were all getting very cold as we left the sawmill for the warmth of the Commissary. On my way out of the turbine room, I photographed this Ingersoll-Rand steam air compressor in the doorway of the room next door. At the Commissary, there several drawings and maps of the mill and the lumber operation, which are also available on the Library of Congress website. Henry presented us with a replica of one of the tokens issued by the Crowell Sawmill for purchasing supplies in the Commissary. (Several of the local businesses also honored the tokens.) We picked up a whistle in the gift shop, said our goodbyes, and got in the car for the trip home. Our visit to Long Leaf was over, but we left with the same feeling of excitement as we did when we left seven years ago, and a renewed hope for the museum's future. Long Leaf is in good hands.

My heartfelt thanks to Henry Taves for treating me and my gang like royalty, and for putting up with all of our questions and activity. I also want to mention that the museum now has a website; it is http://www.forestheritagemuseum.org/. There, you will find membership information, hours, driving information, and other information. When you come, be sure to watch for the signs, and bring at least two rolls of film!

In closing, the Southern Forest Museum & Research Center is an accurate and genuine example of a company town, sawmill, and logging railroad. As such, it has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and used for several film shoots. It is also a rich part of Louisiana's heritage.

However, the Long Leaf complex is also the perfect steam engine classroom. Horizontal engines, vertical engines, locomotives, pumps, compressors, generators, and a portable steam hoist (15 steam engines altogether) are all included in the collection of the museum. But beyond that fact, it contains examples of the various steam technologies developed over the past 200 years. To illustrate this thought, consider the following hypothetical table of contents for a steam power textbook. Notice that examples from the table of contents can be illustrated in the museum collection; before clicking on them, see how many you can identify:

There is also an example of a walking beam engine and a uniflow engine that may be available in Louisiana as well, and a two story steam cotton compress in Texas. It is the author's hope that those pieces that are not part of the original Crowell Mill and the story of logging be assembled on the grounds into a daughter museum, a Gulf Coast Steam Museum, along with the donated pieces mentioned above and others. Such a museum would not be equaled for hundreds of miles in any direction. It would compliment the mission of the Southern Forest Museum & Research Center, and portions of the museum such as the machine shop.

If steam power interests you as it does me, a visit to the McNeill Street Pumping Station in Shreveport, LA is also a must. It has been designated a National Historic Landmark, and like Long Leaf, contains steam equipment that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. For more information on the McNeill Street Pumping station, check out their website.

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James D. Hefner (james@survivingworldsteam.comjames1@mail.pernet.net). "By a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us...Hebrews 10:20a.