Now we’ve had the first frost and the first snow of the season. The leaves are turning yellow and the snow that stuck to tree trunks has melted. It was in times like this current reprieve from impending winter, that people used to “make” wood.
The furnace in the old farmhouse burned corncobs, coal, and wood. It was replaced by fuel oil during the 1960s, but there was a back-up unit attached that still burned wood. And, there was a small wood stove in the kitchen. The poorly insulated top floor had an oil burner as a heat source because none of the ductwork from the basement furnace went upstairs.
Once there was a line of mature elm trees along the State Line south of the house. That line helped meet the requirements for the original tree claim. But in the 1970s, Dutch elm disease wiped them out. Dad had all of the dead trees cut down and then spent years cleaning them up to burn in heating the house. It wasn’t really a necessity, but I think that it was “therapeutic” activity for him after my brother Bob was killed in Viet Nam.
Dad traced his hearing problems back to the noisy chain saws he used. He never blamed the old John Deere tractors like I’ve heard other people do. The cattle shed got converted to a really big woodshed where he could work protected out of the weather as well as store the processed wood. Eventually, he replaced the loud gas-powered chain saws with quieter electric ones, but the big trunks and limbs still had to be split down to the size that would fit in the small stove. That’s how the wedges and ax were used.
Over the last twenty years we’ve moved out that stockpile of reserved wood and cleaned up the shed for storage. It won’t be the same place where sawing and splitting wood was therapeutic recreation. But, in the first one hundred years, before the shed was even built, “making” winter wood was an important fall activity on Lone Tree Farm.
This buzz saw was one of the main tools used in that chore. It’s buried at the back of another storage shed, but back in the day it saw lots of action. The blade has no shields and was turned by a belt powered by a tractor. Thick logs about six feet long were hoisted onto the table and then pushed into the naked, spinning blade. It would have been a nightmare for OSHA, but was a pretty efficient way to convert big limbs to a smaller more manageable size. I don’t know why it was called a buzz saw because the noise was more like a scream that echoed all over the farmyard.
Another tool for making winter wood back then was this crosscut saw. We had two of them. The larger one was Grandpa’s who was a big man. It had jagged, wicked looking teeth that probably worked well to rip large limb into lengths that could fit on the buzz saw table. The smaller saw was Dad’s.
Grandpa gave Dad this saw as a wedding present. The story goes that even though the newly weds were in a partnership, the saw only had one handle. There was a place to mount a second handle, but this one was a one-man saw. In every relationship, each person had their own responsibility. Back then, men sawed wood.
That’s not so much true now. This is the little battery-powered chain saw that my Margaret uses to trim trees around the house yard. It’s the current version of “recreational” sawing. Sometimes, I get to help clean up the sticks and burn them in a brush pile. But, not always.
And, the two old crosscut saws that were powered by Dad and Grandpa? They’ve moved to Colorado. Now, they’re hanging on our son’s shed as retro, Rocky Mountain “chic” decorations.
Your “making wood” reminds me of the seven to nine cords I cut every summer while living outside of Fairbanks for eight years. Yes… for me too, it was a life necessity and a recreational stress-reliever. During our first two years in the Tanana River flats south of Fairbanks it was easy to find all the dead-fallen spruce I needed within walking distance of our small cabin on Pile-Driver Slough. I could cut 10-foot lengths, and drag them back to the cabin for cutting and splitting. When we moved closer to Fairbanks I bought a small utility trailer and drove about 14 miles north to the Bonanza Creek “burn” where several square miles of dead-standing spruce and birch were available for cutting for the annual price of a TEN DOLLAR STATE PERMIT for residential fire wood. I would cut and haul wood on either Saturday or Sunday… every weekend between Summer Solstice and first Snow. In both cabins those wood stoves were our only source of heat… and they provided the warmest, coziest living rooms Karen, Krista, and I ever lived in. Thanks for your story. It reminded me of some very good times from thirty years ago.
Thanks, Del. Your experience was way beyond (in space and time) our grandparents getting ready for winter in southwestern Minnesota! Thanks for sharing.