10 Foot "Big Wheel" Used in Logging, Late 19th Century
March 24, 2021
Logging has always been an important economic factor of the development of the West, creating the need for new innovations, offering a challenge to both working men and engineers: how do you cost-effectively transport enormous logs from one place to another?
One such solution was the "Michigan Big Wheel," so-called because it was originally invented in Michigan in 1875 when the blacksmith Silas C. Overpack invented the system as a way to extend the logging season into spring and summer, since icy paths were no longer needed to move larger logs. Built in a variety of sizes between nine and ten feet in diameter, the big wheels, or logging wheels as they were sometimes known, were fairly quickly adopted throughout the United States, including Montana.
We don't know for sure when or where the picture was taken, but we can speculate that it might have been near Missoula, where a significant amount of Montana's logging industry was centered and where the Northern Pacific built the first rail lines to support the logging industry.
Early on in their development, the logging wheels cost about $100 a diameter to logging camps, so they were a serious investment in infrastructure. But considering how much easier the process of moving large logs became after they were around, they more than paid for themselves.