The Eskola forest railroad, also called the small railroad (Pikkurata), in the central part of Central Ostrobothnia, was an unusual phenomenon in Finnish forestry. Pikkurata, owned by the national board of forestry Metsähallitus, was a narrow-track timber transport railroad. At its longest, it was almost 70 kilometres long. It was built by hand through rough forest terrain, using the tools of the early 1900s. The railroad and its locomotives, wagons and pump trolleys was used for about 40 years, from the early 1920s to the early 1960s.


The approximately two million cubic meters of timber that were transported along the railroad came from the forests of Sievi, Reisjärvi, Toholampi and Lestijärvi. However, more than timber was on the move, as hundreds of people with their diverse backgrounds and stories also travelled along the line. The majority of workers on the sites came from the nearby regions, but some from further away in Finland as well. At the beginning, about a hundred Soviet marines, who had rebelled and fled the Kronstadt fortress, also worked here.


The village of Eskola, with its railway yard and buildings, prospered after the Pikkurata was built in the 1920s. New inhabitants moved to the village because of the jobs available there. The over ten-kilometre distance to Kannus, the closest village with a church, meant that various services and activities were independently arranged in Eskola. For example, the inauguration of the Eskola People’s House took place in 1924. The rapid growth of the village aroused a range of opinions and even suspicion among the local population. As Arto Ojakangas writes in his novel Pölkynvälit:


”I just find it nice that there is more life in the village. Many of the younger people in the village think like me. Older people and especially the farmers whose land the railroad crosses are suspicious or even hostile, in the same way as the grannies. Most followers of the Awakening, whose conventicles I also attend and whose conviction I share, believe that decent life will disappear from the village due to the forest railroad. However, no one can deny that the income from Pikkurata has kept hunger away in many a cottage.”


The trees felled in forests were drawn by horses to the pick-up places along the forest railroad, where load workers lifted the timber by hand to railway wagons. It was not until the mid-1950s that the first chainsaws were introduced and used along with frame saws and axes. In Lestijärvi timber was floated to the railroad along waterways. Men carried firewood in their arms, but bigger amounts of timber were rolled along stretches to the wagons. Four locomotives transported timber from the backwoods to Eskola, which was the operational and administrative centre of the project. From Eskola, the timber was transported by the trains of Finnish State Railways VR to sawmills, factories and harbours.  Felling, loading, discharging and maintenance could sometimes employ as many as 500 people in the winter.


Ojakangas writes:


“A small locomotive is huffing and puffing in the direction of the railroad. It is moving backwards and pushing the loaded wagons next to the wagons left by the big locomotive. The small train stops. A man runs and stops between the locomotive and the first wagon, and soon the locomotive leaves and the wagons stay. A plank is soon put between the wagons, and the men start to carry firewood along it from the small wagons to the big ones. That is called discharging.”


The men who came to work at the felling sites lodged in cabins built along the railroad or sometimes even in chimneyless dirt huts. There were also stables for horses. The loaders lived in caravans, which were moved along the railroad according to demand. Especially in the early days of the railroad, living was not pleasant in the confined and cold premises, where vermin were also common. Over the course of time, the conditions improved as the lodgings became more functional and the national board of forestry employed "cabin hostesses" to take care of cooking and cleaning.


The national board of forestry ended operations on the railroad in the early 1960s because the railroad had become unprofitable. The stock and rails were sold as scrap iron. Some of the workers’ forest cabins were sold to private parties and moved elsewhere, and some disappeared completely. The workers began to work in agriculture or in factories, while others moved to Sweden.


All that remains is the Saarivesi lakeside cabin from 1947 and the Eskola locomotive shed, which is today an active village hall. A museum locomotive and its wagons have been placed in the village hall yard. In the courtyard of the Eskola house (Eskola-talo), there is a miniature of the forest railroad. You can find a heritage centre (Perinnekeskus) near the Eskola summer theatre and lido.


A forest road is all that remains of the demolished railroad, optimal for hiking or exploring by vehicle. Along the road there are signboards about the history of the destinations.