Rev. Edgar F. Wheeler: 10 Cutting Firewood

Through the Thirty’s my family, as did most, heated our home with wood. Wood also fueled our cooking stove. I remember in my younger day watching Dad and Mom sawing wood on a cold, snowy day. They used a large circular saw called a buzz saw. It was powered by a crude single engine motor which was mounted on wheels. In time I was considered old enough to get out in the cold and help with the winter work. It was hard on me leaving the comfortable position of mere onlooker.

Once the fall and early winter work were done, it was time to cut a winter’s supply of heating fuel. We planned to have enough leftover wood to last into early the next winter. Our source of wood was a timberland about two and a half miles away. Dad and Uncle Edwin owned it jointly, and each family got its wood there. Axes and cross cut saws had to be sharpened in preparation. Dad liked the double bit axe. The cross cut saw was about five feet long, with a handle on each end to make it a two-man saw. We removed the box from our grain wagon and lengthened the wheel base to haul logs and branches home, where they would be sawed into stove-sized lengths.

Generally, the weather was “Kansas cold” when we got to the task. We dressed accordingly and took the cold ride to the timber. Dad and one or two of us boys would drive over in our 1926 Chevy, bringing food and drink for a full-day’s stay. Charles and I pulled the saw. We generally worked on our knees, which was quite uncomfortable on the cold, hard ground. The power in the sawing was in each pulling, not pushing. So it was important that each, in turn, pull his share. Sometimes one of us would break out into argument: “You’re not pulling your end.”

Dad’s favorite wood for heating was oak. But sometimes we cut from some fencerows of osage orange trees when they needed cut back or thinned. They were thorny and gave lots of pricks. The wood was bright yellow and very hard. It threw intense heat which was hard to control in the stoves. They also threw sparks which threatened to set the house afire.

Dad was busy, too. He trimmed branches and split the logs to manageable size. As noon came, he would get a fire started, taking precautions that it not get out of hand. I don’t remember just what we ate, but I know that hot food and drink were wonderfully comforting and reviving for fatigued bodies. Sitting around the fire with Dad was a pleasant family experience for the males of our family.

We were always looking for something innovative to reduce the labor. Dad learned that a mixture of equal amounts of potash and sugar, when enclosed in an airtight space, was powerfully explosive when ignited. So we began drilling a one inch hole about half of the length and just past the heart of the log. We tamped it with some dry paper at the bottom of the hole, inserted a dynamite fuse, put in the potash-sugar mixture and tamped it air tight with dirt. Then one of us would light the fuse and all got behind a tree for safety. If the log had no cracks that would leak air, it was nicely split.

The slow, long and cold trip home with the load of timber was hard on us and the horses pulling it. One grade on the road was nearly a half mile long. It was necessary to rest the horses from time to time. To save added weight, the driver would walk alongside the load. The “lucky” ones would go home with Dad to start the evening chores.

At some time Dad received a 1919 Model Ford truck in payment of a debt. It had a square wood framed cab with no doors. It also had two special gearings to make it possible for the small engine to move heavy loads. One was a special transmission called a Ruxtel, and a two speed differential in the rear. I can’t remember its name. The result was that, whole show, the truck could carry immense loads without bogging down. A long load of poles would sometimes lift the front wheels off the ground, when some of us would have to add our weight to the front. The radiator was so leaky that we had to carry extra water for the two and a half mile distance. Nevertheless, it was a novelty as well as a vast improvement for hauling. The rundown condition of the truck led us to junk it before long. The advent of a reliable McCormick-Deering tractor replaced horse power for hauling.

Once the timber was stacked at home, we set up to saw firewood. Before we had tractor belt power, an old Dodge motor, equipped with a steam engine governor to regulate power and speed, did the job. It and the saw were mounted on an old auto frame, making it a portable unit. We located it so that the firewood would be thrown into a huge pile beside the wash house, not far from the house. The logs and timbers were placed on a tilting frame which guided the wood into the saw. Dad operated that part, and we boys would carry the wood to it. I always felt the danger of falling into the saw if there was snow on the ground or otherwise slick, or even of tripping into it. Some of the larger pieces still had to be split to fit in the stoves. Oak wood split fairly easily unless it was knotty.

We had a sense of relief when wood cutting was over and we could enjoy its warmth in the house. To our disappointment, Dad always had work to do – barns and chicken houses to clean, haul manure to the fields, repair harnesses and machinery and take care of livestock.

It was a hard life, yet satisfying, as well as developing strong bodies and hardy wills for work.

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