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Station 6: Water as a Means of Transport – Log Drifting


What is log drifting and what was its function?

What is log drifting and what was its function?

The floating transportation of cords of wood with a length between a meter and 1.75 meters along streaming waterways is generally referred to as log drifting. In the 19th century, the Leinbach was reinforced between Waldleinigen and the mouth of the Hochspeyerbach to allow log drifting. Several woogs, also known as log drifting locks, stored and released water when there were times of low natural flow. In the lower part of the Leinbach there are a total of three such structures (the upper, middle and lower Biedenbacher Woog). Of these three, it is the lowest that still retains this name.

The cords of woods served as firewood that was sent from the woodlands mainly to distant settlements and production facilities. The main destination of the log-drifting were the cities on the eastern edge of the Palatinate Forest such as Bad Dürkheim, Neustadt, Landau, and several cities on the Rhine, such as Frankenthal, Speyer, and Mannheim.

An important point of distinction between log driving and log drifting is that the latter involved small cords of wood and small streams, instead of longer timber transported down larger waterways. In order to accommodate log drifting, these streams had to be engineered with embankments, and riverbeds were reinforced. When the natural flow of water was not sufficient, woogs, or log drifting locks, were set-up, from which extra water could be procured. Additionally there was the requirement for intermediate storage facilities, where the wood could be cast into the stream. So-called Triftknechte accompanied the floating wood and were tasked with removing possible obstacles.

In order to preserve the memory of log drifting in the Leinbachtal, there is an annual Triftfest or Log Drifting Festival that takes place in the lower Biedenbacher Woog.


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 [Jüpner 2010:18].