Every winter, in the 1940s and 1950s, we were in the woods cutting down trees on that 238-acre farm outside of Seneca, Wisconsin in the middle of Crawford County. After morning chores, down to the woods we’d go. We had a sleigh, two runner blades in the front and two in the back and we would hitch Dolly, the black horse, and Prince, the roan-reddish horse, to the sleigh-wagon and away we go with axes, cant hook, and crosscut saw. Much depended on the snowfall. Sometimes the Massey-Harris ’44 and the farm wagon.
A big tree would yield a log or two, fence posts, and firewood. That’s a two-man crosscut saw I’m talking about. It’s amazing how fast a properly sharpened crosscut saw can zip through wood.
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 choose a direction we wanted 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. When the tree started to fall, we 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 to be “hung up” in another tree. That could be dangerous and a real pain to get it down. 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.
The logs were later taken by wagon to Vedvik’s saw mill outside of Seneca. In the summer, we built a corncrib and hog house from the sawed lumber. 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 “buzz” saw and make into chunks of firewood.
We felt we were like Paul Bunyan, the lumberjack figure from American folklore. We read stories in our reading books at Oak Grove School. Paul Bunyan was big. 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 out in California going right through a tree. I told Dad about this picture, and he said “they just should have gone around it”. Seemed 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.
Five minutes of rest and then back to cutting wood.