Timber’s Term of the Week: Skid Road

How did skid road morph into skid row?

Webster’s Online Dictionary defines a “skid road” as:

A road made of logs on which freshly cut timber can be hauled.


Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary defines a “skid road” as:

A road along which logs are skidded.

The California Board of Forestry defines skid roads (or tractor roads) as “constructed trails or established paths used by tractors or other vehicles for skidding logs.” (Source: Title 14, California Code of Regulations Chapters 4, 4.5 and 10)

To move logs from where the trees are cut, loggers attach cables to the logs then drag or “skid” the logs down to a landing where the loader arranges the logs by size into decks. Nowadays loggers use powerful skidding machines. The older or more traditional form of the term is the version given by the Webster’s Online Dictionary. When animals such as oxen, horses, or mules pulled the logs, the roads were constructed differently. The loggers placed peeled logs at right angles across the road. Loggers could grease the skids to make the hauling of the logs easier.

These corduroy roads led to the mill, often at the edge of town. Hence, the skid road led to skid row where establishments could help the “boomer” make his “pung” less bulky: a place with cheap boarding houses and saloons for male entertainment.

For more on “Skid Road” and “Skid Row,” see the Past Tense blog or Bill Casselman’s Word of the Day for how logging shaped the history of Vancouver, BC.  The late John Ciardi also talked about skid roads and skid row on NPR: On Words with John Ciardi; the episode is on “Siwash: Origin and Use of Tribe Name.

Leave me a note if you can add more or want to know what boomer or pung means.

Here’s a skidder demonstration. Note the grapple used to lift the log ends into the air.

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