Benson raft
The Benson raft was a huge sea-going log raft
Timber rafting
Timber rafting is a log transportation method in which logs are tied together into rafts and drifted or pulled across a water body or down a flatter river. It is arguably the second cheapest method of transportation of timber, next after log driving...

 designed to reliably transport millions of board feet of timber at one time through the open ocean. This practical transportation method was first used on the Pacific coast in 1906 by Simon Benson
Simon Benson
Simon Benson was a noted businessman and philanthropist from Portland, Oregon.-Background:Simon Benson was born Simon Iversen in Norway, one of seven children in the Berger Iversen family. His eldest brother Jon immigrated to the United States in 1861, followed by his sister Mathea in 1865...

, a lumber baron of Portland, Oregon
Portland, Oregon
Portland is a city located in the Pacific Northwest, near the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers in the U.S. state of Oregon. As of the 2010 Census, it had a population of 583,776, making it the 29th most populous city in the United States...

, in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

. They were not, however the first rafts of their type. They first appeared on the Atlantic coast about 1883 and were used there for several years thereafter until one very large raft broke up and became a hazard to navigation. They were sometimes referred to as Leary rafts or Joggins
Joggins, Nova Scotia
Joggins is a Canadian rural community located in western Cumberland County, Nova Scotia. On July 7, 2008 a 15 km length of the coast constituting the Joggins Fossil Cliffs was officially inscribed on the World Heritage List.- History :...

 rafts. They seem also to have been employed on the Rhine River in 1888, and their use on the Pacific was contemplated as early as 1888.

Benson rafts went from the outlet of the Columbia River
Columbia River
The Columbia River is the largest river in the Pacific Northwest region of North America. The river rises in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia, Canada, flows northwest and then south into the U.S. state of Washington, then turns west to form most of the border between Washington and the state...

 into the Pacific Ocean and south 1100 miles to San Diego, California
San Diego, California
San Diego is the eighth-largest city in the United States and second-largest city in California. The city is located on the coast of the Pacific Ocean in Southern California, immediately adjacent to the Mexican border. The birthplace of California, San Diego is known for its mild year-round...

. Once there the logs were sawn into lumber by the Benson Logging and Lumber Company for sale in Southern California.

Lower shipping costs

The log rafts could be towed in the open sea (specifically Pacific Ocean) and shipping costs were dramatically reduced using this method from the normal railroad or ocean barge transportation methods. Benson was the first to use practical transportation sea-going log rafts, which started in operation in July of 1906. The operation went on until 1941 with over 120 log rafts built and towed on the 15 day trip. Four of these sea-going log rafts were lost due to fire or storms. John A. Festabend was Benson's supervisor in construction of the cigar-shaped rafts near Clatskanie, Oregon
Clatskanie, Oregon
Clatskanie is a city in Columbia County, Oregon, United States. It was named for the Clatskanie River, which empties into the Columbia River within the city limits. The population was 1,528 at the 2000 census. The 2007 estimate is 1,710 residents.-History:...

. These were the first ever sea-going ocean worthy logging rafts to transport intact millions of board feet over a long distance at one time. They were held together by large logging chains. About half of these were "deck loaded" meaning they had on the top deck processed lumber – such as shingles, fence posts, and poles – which maximized profits in transportation of lumber goods.


A roughly cigar-shaped
"cradle" of wood resembling the frame of a large wooden sailing ship began the building of a Benson sea-going log raft. A derrick lifted logs and placed them into the cradle over a period of four to seven weeks. Many times tree-length logs were included in the raft to give the sea-going log raft extra strength and stability on its long ocean voyage. Large logging chains were used to tie the raft together.

When a sea-going log raft was complete one side of the temporary wooden cradle was removed and the raft was launched
Ship naming and launching
The ceremonies involved in naming and launching naval ships are based in traditions thousands of years old.-Methods of launch:There are three principal methods of conveying a new ship from building site to water, only two of which are called "launching." The oldest, most familiar, and most widely...

. Most of the Benson sea-going log rafts hauled approximately 4 to 6 million feet of logs and were typically about 700 feet (213.4 m) to 1000 feet (304.8 m) long, 55 feet (16.8 m) wide, and 35 feet (10.7 m) thick from top to bottom—usually drafting 26 feet (7.9 m) to 29 feet (8.8 m) deep. Assembly took anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks and involved 175 to 250 tons of chain. Most of these log rafts contained between 4000000 board feet (9,438.9 m³) and 8000000 board feet (18,877.9 m³) of lumber. Estimates were reported that between the first Benson rafts arriving into the San Diego port in 1906 that building in Southern California had doubled in just 4 years because of the cheaper lumber made available through this efficient transportation method.

A proposal was floated in 1905 to ship timber to China in this way; however there is no evidence this ever occurred.



  • Andrews, Ralph Warren, days of logging, Superior Publishing Co., 1956
  • American forests, Volume 43, Author American Forestry Association, Publisher: American Forestry Association, 1937
  • Brown, Nelson Courtland, Logging: the principles and methods of harvesting timber in the United States and Canada, Wiley, 1949
  • Davis, Richard C., Encyclopedia of American forest and conservation history, Volume 1, Macmillan Pub. Co., 1983, ISBN 0029077508
  • Lind, Carol J., Big timber, big men, Hancock House, 1978, ISBN 0888390203
  • Williams, Richard, The Loggers, Time-Life Books, 1976, ISBN 0809415275
  • Woodworkers review. The Woodworkers review company, 1909

Additional sources

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