Herb Crosby

Helping to Preserve Maine’s Logging History with the “Tuesday Crew

Photo by Jason Paige Smith

Herb Crosby exudes an air of happiness and enthusiasm, and he explains things clearly. Some people are just born to be extraordinary teachers, and Herb is one such teacher.

Now retired from the University of Maine—but still giving Zoom lectures to university engineering students—Herb is fully involved in the preservation of Maine’s logging history. He is president of the Maine Forest and Logging Museum, in Bradley. It’s also called Leonard’s Mills.

And there he’s part of a special group, “The Tuesday Crew,” which builds and restores antique sawmills. Their goal?  Preserving the history of what helped to build Maine over 150 years ago. Of the four mills they are restoring, one is a fully functioning waterpower sawmill.

Herb says fondly of the group, “It’s not formal. But they informally are called the Tuesday Crew. That’s what everybody calls them because they meet every Tuesday. They’re not organized at all. They’re just friends, people who love to get together and work. You can come in any Tuesday, and they will be there, working themselves silly. I think some of their families are in shock that people this old can be so active, and busy, and productive—and loving what they are doing. The crew members don’t recognize that they’re old—and they’ve got heart problems and everything, the usual ailments. But they don’t talk about it.”

The Tuesday Crew is made up mostly of seniors, who devote their skill and knowledge to these projects. As Herb says of the group, “We’ve got a lot of guys in their 80s. I can’t keep up with them. They can do anything, and they generous to a fault. I post a lot of movies [showing their restoration work] on YouTube—check them out!” There is always “open enrollment” to join this crew, for young people as well as seniors.

The Maine Forest and Logging Museum’s 1910 steam Lombard log hauler comes around bend. Courtesy Maine Forest and Logging Museum.

Herb originally got involved in rebuilding these sawmills through his efforts to restore a Lombard log hauler. These lumbering behemoths were first built in 1901 to replace horse drawn skids that would haul trees out of the forest and then transport them to the sawmills. Herb, his engineering students, and some volunteers painstakingly rebuilt a Lombard log hauler, even making the parts from scratch that had long ago deteriorated and rusted away.

About his restoring work, Herb says, “I get so many comments about our water-powered sawmill from all over the world, from people who see the movies we’ve posted. There are not many mills of this type left, and this one runs. And we run these things for guests when they come in. And we bring in a lot of school students every spring and teach them about what life was like 100 years ago or 200 years. We’d normally have major events where we run all this stuff!”

I think some of their families are in shock that people this old can be so active, and busy, and productive–and loving what they are doing.

So how does one become so enthusiastically involved in . . . life? Herb credits his wonderful parents. They raised him in Hermon, Maine. Herb’s father was an electrical engineer who taught at the University of Maine for 35 years. When Herb reflects on his upbringing, it is with a sense of gratitude: “I was really lucky. It’s your parents who really got you to where you’re going to go, I think. And I had exceptional parents. And we had five children in the family. I was the oldest of the five children. Our parents encouraged us all to do anything we wanted to do. For example, we took the family car, my brother and I, and my dad encouraged us to just saw it to pieces and make it into a snowplow, which we did. Building that Buick snowplow really was kind of a high point of our youth. That’s the kind of thing. I wanted a cow. My parents made that happen. We had milk cow. They’d put up with anything and encourage it.”

He also is grateful for the sense of freedom and space they had as children: “We had 90 acres of land in Hermon. It was a beautiful piece of property. We would like to go walking in the woods. We built a log cabin, my brother and I. And we’d go hiking, and hunting, and take the dog out.”

Herb always had a talent for building and mechanics, making his career direction almost seem inevitable. “My parents had hoped I would become a dentist,” he recalls. “I had no interest at all in that. Maybe all of us have some drive, I guess. My brother and I love just taking things apart. Anything my dad owned, we would take it apart—and not necessarily put it together again. We loved anything mechanical. My dad had amazing workshop in the basement, simple tools, but big enough to build anything you wanted, and we did.”

Herb and all his siblings graduated from the University of Maine. Herb obtained a mechanical engineering degree, but in 1969 there were few jobs in Maine for a new engineer. After getting some job offers from around the country, Herb took a good position in Massachusetts, working for a firm where he successfully filed for some patents.

But after 10 years, he and his wife wanted to get back to Maine, their home state. It seemed friendlier and safer—”and the best place to raise kids.”

So, when his father told him there was an opening at the University of Maine for a professor of mechanical engineering technology, Herb turned down a much better paying job at Maine Yankee Nuclear Power Plant and took the position at the university. Reflecting on this decision, he recalls, “My dad encouraged me that teaching was a wonderful profession. That life isn’t all about money. There’s more to life than making money. And he was so right. That’s an example of a dad giving you the right advice.”

From his vantage, how has Maine changed, say, for his students as they start out? Herb says, “I’ve encouraged my students to stay in Maine. . . and it’s fun to hear their success stories. We now can get jobs in Maine. That wasn’t so possible 40 or 50 years ago.  Now we have a lot more small companies. On my wall by my office, I kept track of where my students worked, and there were probably 300 small Maine companies that employed my students.”

Our lombard
The Maine Forest and Logging Museum’s circa 1910 steam Lombard log hauler. Photo Courtesy Maine Forest and Logging Museum.

Certainly, much has changed in the job market, he observes. Now, some of the employers are almost “invisible to the public. A lot of my people are employed in smaller or growing companies that we don’t see or think about much. For example, you’ve got a robotics company called Lanco Assembly in Westbrook, one of my favorite companies. They employ many engineers. Computers have made the profession a lot more high-tech than it was 50 years ago.”

The paper mills and logging industries have not fared so well, says Herb. All involved saw much of that business going away in the ’90s—Millinocket, Great Northern, Penobscot. “Here in Old Town, ND Paper is coming back, but they’re employing fewer people compared to what they used to do, and they’re just making pulp. It’s not the same operation we used to have, where they were making all kinds of paper products and things. The industry’s changed. Paper’s nowhere near what it used to be.”

Crooker Lombard
The 1914 Crooker Family steam Lombard log hauler that is on loan from owners Frank and Ted Crooker. This remarkable Lombard is full restored and operational and was used as a guide for restoring the MFLM Lombard (top). Photo Courtesy Maine Forest and Logging Museum

Herb is a fan of Maine’s logging industry and sawmills and knows all too well about their fate: “That [decline] is part of the story of Maine’s history,” he says, seeing parallels with the shoe and textile industries—”We were huge in textiles, huge in shoes, huge in sawmills. We had 1,400 sawmills in 1850 and just a handful today. Things change.” But Herb sees up close, through his students, how those many new small companies are making a difference in the state’s overall economic picture.

In Maine, Herb and his wife raised their family of two daughters, now grown. One is an artist and art teacher.  The other is a microbiologist, who has actually been involved in creating a vaccine for the COVID-19 virus.

And what of the 90 acres in Hermon, owned by Herb’s parents? Herb brings us up to date on that remarkable story: “When my father retired, and my mother was loving and pursuing gardening, he got involved with her work, and he liked planting trees. They started an Arboretum in a kind of a garden, just a beautiful place to visit, which they decided they would like to make permanent. So, they formed a land trust called Ecotat. Over the years, they made a nonprofit foundation, and there’s a board that runs it. Ecotat Gardens and Trails is open to public free of charge every day of the year, a peaceful place you can go and visit. There are beautiful gardens, all maintained by volunteers, and miles of hiking trails. And Hermon has grown. You won’t find too many 90-acre plots that you can go walking on.”

Aware of his parents’ legacy of giving back, Herb says, “I’d like to do the same thing. Time passes. You have to move quickly. In a way I’m doing it at Leonard’s Mills, through my active, full-time work with that place.” The COVID epidemic hasn’t slowed them, too much. As Herb puts it, “We still work at the museum. We socially distance, wear masks, and are very cautious. But it’s a big outdoor place, so it’s pretty easy. We’re spread over 400 acres. It’s easy to keep away from each other.”

Herb remains dedicated to preserving Maine’s history of forestry, logging, and sawmills—for people around the state, country, and world to enjoy and experience. Because of his work and that of the Tuesday Crew and many others, generations will be able to experience this important part of Maine’s industrial history.

You can view the rebuilding of the Lombard Log Hauler and the operating water-powered sawmill on the many videos that Herb Crosby has created and posted on YouTube.

For more information about visiting the Maine Forest and Logging Museum in Bradley, see http://www.maineforestandloggingmuseum.org 

For more information about visiting Ecotat Gardens and Trains in Hermon, see http://ecotat.org 

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