Log Gym construction a remarkable feat

Editor’s note: A ribbon cutting celebrating the renovation of the Cowley Log Gym will be held this Saturday, July 27, at 1:30 p.m. as the culmination of a project that began last September to convert the historic structure into a functioning community center including a new floor, newly insulated roof, interior remodeling and sealing and re-chinking the logs.

This story of the construction of the Log Gym in the 1930s is printed in this week’s Pioneer Day Book, along with many memories of the structure. The article was written by Dee Lewis in 1995.

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Soon after Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected President of the United States, he instituted the WPA (Works Progress Administration) and the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp). The WPA project was a job-creating program that was funded by the U.S. government in 1932. There was a worldwide depression during this period. A great many outstanding and enduring works resulted from this program like the Cowley Log Gym and also the log buildings in Greybull and Powell.

Workmen crawl on the Cowley Log Gym during the gym’s construction in 1935-36. The newly renovated facility will be dedicated at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday at 1:30 p.m.
Workmen crawl on the Cowley Log Gym during the gym’s construction in 1935-36. The newly renovated facility will be dedicated at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday at 1:30 p.m.

The excavation for the stone footings were dug by hand with picks and shovels. All footings were dug to a uniform depth. This was the result of the quarried stone being of a very uniform thickness. The rock quarry for the footings was several miles west up the Blue Wash and near the bottom of so-called Red Cedar Hill. This quarry of sandstone consisted of a very good quality and uniform thickness.

The stone was covered by several feet of dirt overburden that was removed by teams of horses with plows and scrapers to expose the stone deposit that was 15 feet wide and at least 150 feet long with no visible fracture. Ed Eyre and John Stevens were the stone cutters, and John Meeks was the blacksmith. He had a forge and anvil there to sharpen the stone cutting tools. There was a team of horses kept there at all times to pull the cut stone to the loading device.

The procedure to produce the footing stone was to measure the proper width on the top of the stone deposit, then mark a straight line the width of the stone deposit. On this line at measured intervals a narrow hole about 3/8 inch wide and six inches deep was cut shaped like a V. This was cut by a narrow chisel made by the blacksmith. After all the holes were cut on the marked line, a small tapered metal wedge was placed in each cut. These wedges were about one inch wide, five inches long and tapered by l/8 inch to 5/8 inch. These wedges were driven into the cuts until a uniform tension was made. You could tell by the sound when they were hit by the hammer.

All the wedges were struck by a hammer so that all were creating a great force. On the cutline, in a short while, the stone made a very audible crack and there was a very distinctive separation, directly beneath the wedges.

After the stone had separated from the body of the quarry it was cut into the proper length by the same method. The length of the stone was governed by the amount that could be loaded on the truck. The lifting device was similar to a hay stacker.

Vern Simmons was hauling the cut stone from the quarry to the building site on an International truck.

Pete and Chris Schow moved a sawmill into the Pryors soon after the Sidon Canal was completed and the people began to build their homes. The Schow sawmill had a cabin for their workers to eat and sleep in at the Wyoming campground. This was used by those who cut the logs and later by the log haulers.

The crew that hauled the logs from where they were stacked to Cowley during the winter used the Schow cabin as a base camp. Lorum Willis was the cook. Jim Smith, Bowen George and Len Benson were teamsters. The logs were loaded on bobsleighs and hauled to where the snow in the road ended. There they were loaded on to wagons to be taken to the job site. The teamsters would return to the mountains with provisions and hay and grain.

Ern, Frank and Melbourne Dalton and Herman Smith selected and cut the large logs for the trusses for the gym in the forest near Pahaska Teepee and moved them to the road where they could be loaded. Jim Frost and his father, Orson Frost, hauled these large logs with a pole trailer for trucks.

All the logs were peeled with drawknives at the work site. Several persons were employed doing this. There was also a great deal of donated labor involved in the construction.

Adolf Anderson from Deaver was chosen to be the building superintendent. He had more experience in this type of building than any local person. His encouragement was: “You must hurry up. This is not a Sunday school picnic.” Adolph Anderson was taken to Old Faithful in Yellowstone Park to see and study the log trusses in the Old Faithful Inn. After this, Adolph designed the trusses for the gym. Several people worked at different intersections of the building, such as corners or other projections, with hammer and chisel and caliper, making fitted joint connections with the logs.

There was a large stiff leg hoist built in the center of the building used to lift and place the logs on the walls. It was also used to erect the trusses. This hoist had a hand-cranked winch on it.

Des Wilson was to put the chinking between the logs for his pay, but he substituted his son, Ted, to do the work, but Des received the pay.

After the shingles were on, the hardwood maple floor had to be laid. This was done mostly on one’s knees. To some of the older people, that was very painful.

(The cornerstone of the Log Gym was laid Feb. 25, 1935, and the grand opening was held June 12, 1936. A grand ball was held with couples dancing to the Ralph Erickson Orchestra. – Editor)

The first official opening for the public use was a dance. The tickets were $2 per person. After this official opening the tickets were reduced to $2 per couple. Sometime later the tickets were $1 for males, females free.

The class of 1938 was the first to decorate the gym for their junior prom. The gym was designed as a grape yard with purple balloons in clusters with green leaves of crepe paper.

The log gym was called the community building more often than gym the first few years after completion. Community gatherings, dinners, weekly dances, basketball games and graduation ceremonies were held there. It was a huge asset for the community.