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When Alligators Roamed the Waters of the Kawarthas

November 15, 2023

The Alligator 'Hamilton H.' winching itself over land at Norland

By Jenni Moffett

Originally Published in the Summer Times, July 1, 1986

The Alligator tug boat was introduced to the Kawartha Lakes for the first time in 1894. The Howry firm purchased the tug to aid in the driving of logs through the Kawartha Lakes. The Alligator became a necessity for the logging industry and it was not long before [many] lumber companies throughout the Kawarthas had one. The Gull River Lumber Company began using its Alligator around 1918. Originally it was made entirely of oak planks, and run by a steam engine. An upright boiler was also used and this allowed more space on the boat for workers and equipment than if the boiler was lying down as it did on some Alligator tugs.

A protective wooden cover was set over the wooden double-wheel paddles. In case a worker should slip and fall he would be protected from the turning wheel. This amphibious craft was steered by an oar located at the back of the boat. The Alligator was able to carry anywhere from 2 to about 15 workers while “sweeping” the logs across the pond. Large log booms connected by a chain and fastened to a cable on the boat surrounded the logs in the water, and as the cable was brought in, the logs were guided closer to their destination.

The name “Alligator” was given to the boat because of its ability to travel both on land and water. In the water, the Alligator floated like a regular boat, but when it came upon logs it needed to cross, two large wheels on either side of the boat forced the logs down under the water allowing the tug to travel safely over them.

If rough water was reached through which the tug could not travel, a cable was put out to the land and wound around a tree or pole. When the cable was winched in, the Alligator moved slowly up onto the land, supported by its steel wheels, avoiding the rough waters.

The Alligator also improved the efficiency of lumbering. First, it shortened the amount of time needed to drive the logs from one place to another, and only half the men were needed to complete the drive than were needed before the Alligator’s arrival. The Alligator proved to be a great benefit to the logging industry.

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