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Station 10: The Log Drifting System

General Information

Before there were trucks that could quickly and easily transport large amounts of timber, the transport of logs was laborious and time consuming. It was possible to take tree trunks, shorn of their branches, and float them downstream on flowing watercourses such as rivers and streams. It was exactly this that transpired on the Leinbach a couple of centuries ago. Here you can learn about how this actually worked and what difficulties could arise, and also get the chance to reenact this process!


More Informations:

A general Definition of Log Drifting

The History of LOG Drifting in the Leinbachtal

The Construction of the Log Drifting System in the Leinbachtal


A general Definition of Log Drifting

The floating transportation of logs with a length between 1 meter and 1.75 meters along a streaming course of water can be generally referred to as log drifting. These cords of woods served as firewood, and were sent from the woodland interior downstream to distant settlements and production facilities. The main destinations of these shipments were the cities of Bad Dürkheim, Neustadt and Landau, as well as cities located along the Rhine such as Frankenthal, Speyer and Mannheim.

Log drifting should not be confused with log driving, which involves the dangerous transportation of long timber down large waterways for the purposes of, for example, ship-building. Log drifting was in contrast, a more modest affair involving the sending of cords of wood down smaller streams. In order to do this, streams had to be straightened and freed of hindrances that could inhibit water flow. Moreover, the embankments along the streams had to be reinforced. Through the construction of riverbed ramps, the stream gradient could be decreased, consequently reducing the velocity of the flow, and increasing the depth of the water. If a stream couldn’t drive enough water to transport the wood, then reservoirs or splash dams could be employed to supplement water flow. The drifting business required several additional features. Above all, it was necessary to have intermediate storage facilities on the streams, where wood could be thrown into the drifting streams. In order to facilitate the transport of wood to these facilities, pathways were made on the bordering slopes and cords of wood were transported on sledges. So-called Triftknechte would accompany the floating wood along its way, and they would clear possible obstacles along the way   [Jüpner 2010:223].


The History of Log Drifting in the Leinbachtal

In 1816, the Palatinate was ceded to Bayern. From this point onwards, many streams in the Palatinate were developed to accommodate log drifting. As there was no shortage of money at the time, within a few years, 33 streams in the Palatinate were equipped to handle the drifting of logs. This process involved the building up of walls along the stream banks, the uniform widening of stretches of streams, and the grading of these waterways. The Leinbach was built up in this period and equipped with splash dams and locks. Carters from the surrounding area were instructed by the local forestry office to transport the wood to the Seewoog(Waldleinigen), where the waterway would begin. The log drift on the Leinbach would be overseen by the forestry office and the 'Triftamt', an office devoted to log drifting, located in Neustadt at the time. The latter was essential in ensuring that there were enough personnel on hand to accomplish the work. In order to prevent damage to meadows, and as the Leinbach reached its highest water level in early spring, drifting was undertaken solely in the months of March and April. In the early stages of the log drift, the locks to the woogs (a woog is a southwest German term for a still body of water) and splash dams were initially kept closed as to increase the water level. At the point where the water in the woog reached an acceptable level, the locks would be opened so that the pieces of wood would start to flow into the stream. The Triftknechte would then walk along the stream, and take care of any obstacles that prevented the flow of the wood downstream. This timber would be floated all the way down to the Rhine, where with the help of timber grills, it would be pulled out of the water, and brought to the ovens of Neustadt, Haßloch, Schifferstadt and Speyer [Neumer 1994:139].


The Construction of the Log Drifting System in the Leinbachtal

The Leinbach is located southeast of Kaiserslautern, and is the right arm tributary of the Hochspeyerbach. The 19th century saw the development of the stream from Waldleinigen to the mouth of the Hochspeyerbach, so that it could be used for log drifting. So-called woogs, which were also referred to as Triftklausen, or locks for log floating, stored, and provided extra water when the stream water level was too low. In the lower section of the Leinbachtal one can find the Biedenbacher woog, a well-preserved drifting facility. The Biedenbacher woog is another name for the Finsterthaler woog. Several years ago, water was allowed to flow freely between both log floating locks so that sometimes there is no water flow. Above the woogs there is a sandstone wall construction with an additional drifting lock, which is known as the Felsenthaler lock. Not far from this structure one can find the Ungerthaler lock tucked in a side valley. As to ensure that log drifting is not completely forgotten, every year there is a Triftfest, or drifting festival, held at the Biedenbacher woog, where among other offerings, there is always a demonstration of how log drifting functioned [Jüpner 2010:212].

Figure Biedenbacherwoog [Jüpner 2010:214]