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Pine Island: A Race for Resources

Good chance all locals have heard of it, some have traveled through it and for others it’s kind of a nearby area they wanna see even if they’re not sure exactly where it is. At one time it was the scene of a Northern Minnesota make or break economic struggle between Twomey, Williams, and Lloyd who owned the only railroad that served the area, the Backus-Brooks Lumber operation of International Falls and The Crookston Lumber Company. Somehow seeing a railroad through Pine Island these days proves a stern test of the imagination though liberal remnants remain as a reminder.

Envisioning the Pine Island area a hundred years is challenging, it may be best viewed as it was a hundred years ago as an untapped treasure at the turn of the Century that was crowned by tremendous pines that we only see reminders of these days. To frame this event you have to think wet, really saturated wet as Pine Island is surrounded by what we now refer to as “the bog”. The area was owned by the Crookston guys and they made a deal with the Backus guys, the agreement allowed the harvest of timber but had a stipulation that the harvest had a drop dead date and if that didn’t happen by the contractual deadline the timber would revert back to the Crookston guys and could be sold to others. In this case Twomey, Williams and Lloyd thought there was a potential financial windfall in the timber on Pine Island and let the Crookston guys know they would have an interest should the deadline not contractually be met.

Mr. Backus found out during what turned out to be a rare early spring that the potential for a contract scuffle was growing. Mr. Backus was finally notified that the ditch roads across the bog were so soft that the horse teams sank into the muck clear up to their bellies and to cement the imminent kerfuffle Twomey and his pals told the Backus boys that they had an abiding interest in the timber and in an attempt to delay Backus they told them that they were out of luck and refused to move any timber by rail. Tough stuff.

Mr. Backus was cornered with his proverbial back against the wall, he ruminated at length and thought through his dwindling options. They were not favorable, denied rail access, soft snow with sleet falling, rivers threating to flow over their banks, not enough equipment and whispering naysayers. He did the unexpected and boldly struck back and regardless of what the odds appeared he sent all his men and horse teams into Pine Island. Time was crucial and the Twomey guys watched closely for any infractions of the contract and survey lines hoping to at least slow progress. They were not beyond leaning to shyster-ness, as reportedly some lumberjacks were pressured to quit and there were efforts to intimidate the foremen.

There was not enough inventory in the Backus storehouses in either Bemidji or International Falls to supply the men so his clerks went shopping and bought up all the axes and saws they could and rushed them to Pine Island. Meanwhile despite the continued weather more men and horses poured unprecedently into the area and four horse supply teams plodded and trudged continually day and night through the muck and mire bringing tools, food and clothing to the lumberjacks. Think there were any wetland violations?

This was a crucial time for Mr. Backus and his enterprises but you can read between the lines, yeah he met the deadlines in the contract. Mr. Backus and the Twomey guys were not necessarily pals, nor were they amenable to see eye to eye, but he met with what written history describes as their sheepish representatives and it led to the Twomey folks agreeing to haul the timber out at a price Backus was willing to pay. Pine Island had likely never seen the like and certainly won’t again.

How you would portray Mr. Backus today? Front page stuff? Think litigation would have attorneys cartwheeling? How about the scathing social media invasion, today it may very well be an event commented and castigated worldwide.

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