Lumberjack Math Introduction


This lesson takes your students into the camp wanigan, or camp office. They will need to use their math skills to make decisions about what to buy, and where to buy it, and to track the expenses that will be deducted from their wages. They will also need to justify their decisions based on their calculations and other factors.

Essential Questions

  1. Which supplies should be purchased to do your job?
  2. Should the supplies be purchased in town or at camp?
  3. After deducting the costs of your purchases, how much take-home pay will you have at the end of the season?


Upon successful completion of this activity students will be able to:

  1. Calculate the cost of items purchased on credit at the camp store.
  2. Determine if it is more cost effective to purchase goods at the camp store or in town.
  3. Calculate earnings and expenses over the course of the logging season.

Time Needed

One class period


Camp Clerk videos

Helping the Clerk (optional lesson extension activities)

Time check and Hospital ticket (optional)


The clerk worked out of the camp office, or wanigan, and kept track of the camp’s finances, specifically camp expenses and incomes. It was important for the clerk to track expenses, such as payroll and cost of supplies, and balance them against the potential profit of the year’s cut. In addition to the clerk, the scaler, who kept a running total of the board feet cut, and the camp foreman stayed in the camp wanigan. This allowed the three men responsible for the financial success of the camp to discuss the daily operations, and help ensure it remained on track to reach the goals set by the company.

In addition to the workspace and sleeping quarters for the clerk, scaler, and foreman, the camp office included a store where lumberjacks could buy goods on credit. The camp store supplied lumberjacks with necessities, such as work clothes and blankets, along with other useful items such as stamps, paper, and medicine. The clerk tracked the cost of the goods purchased by each lumberjack throughout the season, and deducted those costs from the time checks at the end of the season. While the camp store offered convenience for the lumberjacks, who were often days away from a town that sold similar items, the prices were usually higher than in town, and some jacks took to calling the camp store the “swindle shack.”


Barn boss: The barn boss was in charge of caring for the logging camp’s horses. The barn boss earned $20 per month.

Can see to can’t see”: The time the lumberjacks worked each day. There were not a lot of clocks in the camp, so the lumberjacks worked from dawn to dusk, or from when they “can see” to when they “can’t see.” Short days in December meant less work, but longer days in March meant a longer workday.

Clerk: Sometimes known as the “inkslinger,” the clerk kept track of all the camp’s finances, including money paid for wages, supplies, and horses, money collected from the sale of necessities in the camp store, and the profit made from the logs sent to the mill at the end of the season. He made $35 per month.

Company time check: At the end of the season, lumberjacks received time checks indicating how much they were to be paid for their work. To receive the full amount of the time check, the jacks would have to wait until the camp’s logs reached the mill, and the company received payment. Some were unwilling to wait, and, for a 10% fee, or more, cashed their time check at a saloon.

Cookee: Sometimes known as a “slush cook,” a cookee was the camp cook’s helper. Cookees made $25 per month.

Foreman: Sometimes known as “the push,” a foreman was the camp boss. A foreman earned $70 per month.

Hospital ticket: Access to medical care sold by agents of a hospital. Hospital tickets were a lumberjack’s basic form of health insurance, and sold for $5 a ticket.

Make ‘er out: “Pay me, I’m quitting.”

Road apples: Horse droppings.

Road monkey: Sometimes known as “Hay man on the hill,” a road monkey was in charge of keeping the ice-roads clean so logs could be easily moved from the cut to the river bank. This included a lot of cleaning up after the horses. They made $15 per month.

Scale: Total board feet of log or load

Scaler: It was the scaler’s job to measure the amount of board feet cut by a camp each day to determine if the camp was on track to meet their contract. A scaler made $45 per month.

Swindle shack: Clerk’s office and camp store.

Tote road: A supply road to the camp


Before class, divide the students into six logging camps, and have the four jobs (clerk, barn boss, cookee, and road monkey) represented within each camp. Use the same camp names that were introduced in earlier lessons: North Woods, Pine Hill, Rocky Ridge, Rustic Valley, Sawyer Grove, and Timber Lodge. Multiple students may play the roles of cookees, road monkeys, and barn bosses within each camp to make sure each student has a job. We recommend providing each student with their own set of worksheets, so they can complete the calculations individually.

1. As a class, watch the first video, New Jack, which introduces the clerk and wanigan to your students. The video shows the clerk talking to a new road monkey. Students will also play the roles of cookees, barn bosses, and the clerk.

Transcript | Watch video New Jack on YouTube

2. Have students complete the first worksheet, Lumberjack Supplies, based on the job they have been assigned.

  • In the first worksheet, Lumberjack Supplies, students will decide which materials they need to purchase on credit, remembering that these costs will be deducted from their end-of-season time check. Make sure they understand that the slash marks in the list of prices mean “per,” or “for one.” For example, $0.65/pair means $0.65 for one pair. (Slash marks are sometimes used as a fraction bar, or to indicate division).
  • As stated in the worksheet instructions, have students write a paragraph justifying their decisions on the back of the worksheet.

3. Have students complete the second worksheet, Going to Town? based on the job they have been assigned.

  • Students need to consider the lower prices in town, as well as the time they will miss from work (time they’re not getting paid for) while traveling to and from town. Students will then need to decide if they should walk to town to purchase their goods, or purchase them on credit from the camp store, and have them deducted from their paycheck.
  • As stated in the worksheet instructions, have students write a paragraph justifying their decisions on the back of the worksheet. The decision to travel to town or not should include both mathematical factors, and other factors. Remind students that the push (foreman) would not look kindly on jacks who miss four days of work in a short season.

4. As a class, watch the second video, Other Supplies, which introduces other items that lumberjacks may want. Have students complete the third worksheet Two Weeks Later. Not only will students calculate additional expenses, they will also calculate their total pay and total expenses, and determine their final take-home pay for the season.

Transcript | Watch video Other Supplies on YouTube

5. As a class, watch the third video, Friendly Advice, in which the camp clerk explains how the lumberjacks will be paid at the end of the season, and suggests that they not waste all their earnings in a single trip to town.

Transcript | Watch video Friendly Advice on YouTube

Lesson Extensions

(see student worksheet, Helping the Clerk):

Students who finish early can pick one of the activities on the Helping the Clerk worksheet.

Choices include:

  • Write a letter home explaining your financial decisions throughout the season.
  • Calculate the 10% fee charged by saloons in town that cash checks early for lumberjacks; also calculate fees of 7.5%, 12.5%, and 15%.
  • Find a shortcut way to calculate a 10% fee, such as moving the decimal point one place to the left in the check amount, or dividing the check amount by 10. Once you know the 10% fee and the 7.5% fee, find shortcuts for calculating the 12.5% and 15% fees.
  • Decide if it is fair for a saloon to charge a fee for cashing a check early, and explain your reasoning.