O’Hern offers Boonville writer’s childhood lumber camp story

"Life in a North Woods
Lumber Camp"

Fifty years after his death, Thomas C. O’Donnell has another book out, "Life in a North Woods Lumber Camp," thanks to the work of area author William J. O’Hern and The Forager Press.

With permission from O’Donnell’s grandson and support from pal Leigh Portner, who owns a local logging business, O’Hern edited the manuscript O’Donnell was working on at his death. O’Hern added biographical and historical commentary which Portner helped him gather from former loggers.

Thomas Clay O’Donnell (1881-1962) was an American magazine editor and author of books on upstate New York history and folklore, with his last five books written when he lived in Boonville where he became so much a part of the community he was erroneously regularly referred to as "a native of Boonville." However, he was born July 29, 1881, in a lumber camp in Michigan, which is the setting for his "autobiography that reads like a novel," the publisher said.

The publisher called it "a gem that would otherwise have never been available."

O’Hern said it reads "like a novel, but a funny novel, for O’Donnell is a master of understated humor — that went back to his childhood." He also noted O’Donnell’s manuscript included "inspring ingredients for a book dealing with the activities of a camp owner’s family situated in the midst of a camp of lumberjacks."

While there are other books about logging and loggers, this is about O’Donnell’s childhood growing up in the lumber camp and the makeshift community named for his mother that grew out of it, with "comical stories, all imparted in such detail that readers easily place themselves on the scene of school pranks, after-school squabbles and grade-school crushes," the publisher says.

Readers will find that there was also a before-school beatings by boys "violently fed up with their mother’s ecstatic reports on our handling of musical programs."

We learn of his brother’s handling the chore of watering horses. Instead of bringing pails of water to the horses, he road each one of the nine to the creek for them to drink.

Similar to other areas where there are a lot of streams, he tells about bridges washing out, being replaced and replaced again.

One oddity he notes is that the loggers’ bunkhouses had tarpaper roofs, while they were sending train loads of shingles out.

Readers meet many characters, including a fisherman who walked with a cane and limp who had difficulty carring a fishing pole through the woods, so he kept one at each fishing hole in a hollow log; a lumberjack who tries to teach our storyteller math so that he could play cards, but then switches to checkers, and of peddlers and others who came by.

O’Donnell had lived and worked in London, became editor of Good Health Magazine in Battle Creek, Mich., and also wrote books starting in 1912 and 1916. He moved to Cincinnati (1922) to work for The Writer’s Digest, then to New York (1927) to work on The Masonic Outlook, which was published in Boonville. His visits to Boonville led after an illnes to him moving to the area in 1943. Along the way, loving simple language, he wrote a rendition of the Old Testament and othere writings for children, according to Thomas F. O’Donnell, who wrote an afterword for the book, "An Informal History of an Informal Historian." His books include, "Sapbush Run, Snubbing Posts, Birth of a River, Tip of the Hill and The River Rolls Out."

O’Hern has some logging background, working in the Crockets Saw Mill in the mid 1960s. He includes a glossary of basic terms for readers who "don’t know a pike pole from a peavey," the publisher said.

Some of the books O’Hern has written include:

Noah John Rondeau’s Adirondack Wilderness Days: A Year with the Hermit of Cold River Flow;

Adirondack Characters and Campfire Yarns: Early Settlers and Their Traditions;

and Adirondack Stories of the Black River Country

Plus, along with Roy Reehil, "Under An Adirondack Influence: The Life of A. L. Byron-Curtiss

1871­1959. Roy Reehil and O’Hern are finishing off their new book, " Adirondack Adventures: Bob Gillespie and Harvey Dunham on French Louie’s Trail," due out this summer.

On the net: adkwilds.com

Thomas C. O’Donnell’s "Life in a North Woods Lumber Camp," edited by William J. O’Hern, softcover, $24.95, 6" x 9", 254 pages, more than 75 vintage photos, The Forager Press, LLC, 23 Bridge St., Cleveland, NY 13042. www.TheForagerPress.com