Men came from all over the country each fall to work in lumber camps near Aitkin.
Wooing of the Lumberjack trade
A common practice in the lumber camps was to operate a company store for the men. Most men working in the camps started the season with no cash to buy their necessities. If a man needed a new shirt or trousers, he usually picked them up in camp and the lumber outfit deducted the bill from his wages at season’s end.
Sam Hodgeden saw these transient men heading to the camps each fall as potential customers. His prices were more competitive than those at a camp store, but he knew the men usually had no money when they headed for the woods each fall.
Hodgeden outfitted these men for winter and extended them credit with a garnishing agreement through the camps. Hodgeden’s special attention to the needs of the woodsmen helped successfully divert a good share of business away form the camp-owned stores and into his own pocket.
Most Aitkinites looked upon these woodsmen as a seasonal nuisance and discouraged their loitering. Sam Hodgeden, on the other hand, nurtured their business and, as a young man, had also shared their occupation.
In summer, during the lumberjack’s off-season, Hodgeden provided these woodsmen with a haven. A large round table supplied with coffee and cookies was reserved in the back room just for their use. They were welcome to come play cards, read the paper, or just sit around and tell stories to each other during the summer months.
One popular item with lumberjacks and ‘river pigs’ (log drivers), was a product called “Blue Vitrol.” Hodgeden would buy glass bottles with the product name pressed into the glass. He would fill each bottle with about 3¢ worth of copper sulfate and water, selling the concoction for one dollar a bottle.
The product was popular with men who had just endured a long winter in the lumber camps. It was used (externally) for ridding themselves of lice.