Every winter, in the 1940s and 1950s, the 3 Scheckel boys and Dad were in the woods cutting down trees. Our 238 acre farm out on Oak Grove Ridge had about 60 acres of woods and Kettle Hollow pasture.
A big tree would yield a log or two, fence posts, and firewood. That’s a two-man crosscut saw I’m talking about. We didn’t purchase a chainsaw until I was a junior in high school. Dad bought one from Frank Fradette, the Homelite dealer back on the Ridge.
It was very hard work, but there was pride and joy and some memorable moments. We would hitch Dolly and Prince to the wagon and load axes, cant hook, crosscut saw, onto the hay wagon.
After morning chores, down to the woods we’d go. We also had a sleigh, 2 runner blades in the front and 2 in the back, and we would hitch the horses to the sleigh and away we go. Much depended on the snowfall.
Dad showed us how to make a notch on the side of the tree that you want the tree to fall. Phillip, Bob, and I would pick out a direction we want the tree to fall, and took great delight if the tree fell right in the direction we chose. We would pick a direction that was as clear of other trees as we could make it.
When the tree started to fall, Phillip. Bob, and I would yell “timber’ to warn anybody that was nearby. Of course, there wasn’t anyone except the four of us and Browser, the dog. We made sure the dog was out of the way.
We didn’t want a tree “hung up” in another tree. That could be dangerous. We did not have hardhats or any protective steel toed shoes. As soon as the tree was felled, two of us attacked the top of the tree with axes, cutting off the ends and stacking the brush. Two others would use the crosscut saw to cut logs and fence posts. Long limbs about 10 to 12 feet were stacked up or loaded up on the wagon. These would be taken to the farm buildings to await the tractor-driven “buzz” saw.
I sometimes felt we were like Paul Bunyan, the lumberjack figure from American folklore. I read stories in our reading and language books at Oak Grove School. Paul Bunyan was of enormous size. He dug the Grand Canyon when he dragged his axe behind him. He created Mt. Hood, in Oregon, when he piled up rocks to put out his campfire. Babe, the Blue Ox, was his companion. Paul Bunyan needed a place to water Babe, so he dug the Great Lakes.
I had seen a picture in one of the library books at school that had a road going right through a tree. It was one of those big Redwoods out in California. I told Dad about this picture, and he said “they just should have gone around it.” Seems reasonable to me!
We’d take a breather now and then, deep in the woods. Sit on logs or tree stumps and drink water from a gallon jug that we brought along. Sometimes we packed a few sandwiches.
Dad would tell a few stories of his past. A man was working in the woods with him when he was a boy. They were felling trees and a dead limb hit him on the head. The man got a bad bruise, but kept right on working. At noon, they went home to eat dinner, the man laid down on the couch to rest awhile, and died. Dad thought that a blood clot had went to his brain.
Dad would tell stories about his Uncle Pete Scheckel. How he worked for him down in Iowa. Told stories about his Springbrook, Iowa, farm where he grew up, a place we had never been. Talked about the importance of paying one’s debts. Being honest and frugal. Railed against big and intrusive government. Looking back, I guess you could call them “teachable moments.”