Fueled by wood or oil the donkeys turned drums around which 8,000 to 12,000 feet of cable fed. That meant that the donkey puncher (the guy who operated the machine) was usually out of sight of the choker (the man up the mountain rigging the cable around downed trees). To facilitate communication between the donkey puncher and the choker—who might be a mile and-a-half apart—they would run a line all the way back to the steam engine’s whistle. The line was typically in the hands of youngster yet too small for felling trees. He was called the whistle punk. He’d yank on the line a certain number of times when the choker would signal he was ready, or not ready, for the donkey puncher to start rolling in the cable and skidding the logs downhill.
A couple of these old donkeys are still around. The St. Joe Ranger District has built a short hiking trail to one at Marble Creek, called the Hobo Historical Trail, not far from St. Maries. They can give you information how to see it. If you don’t feel like hiking, you can also see one in St. Maries, a town very proud of its logging history. In 1958 they rescued one and brought it to a new home on Main in a city park dedicated to that history. You’ll see a statue of John Mullan in the same park, and learn a bit about that famous first road the captain built.