Editor’s note: Last week, Linden Olson talked about what it was like to take care of pigs in the winter before the industry moved to climate-controlled indoor housing. This week he tells readers about another, more dangerous, farm chore performed “back in the day.”
Another winter job that needed to be done every 4 to 6 weeks was to saw up wood from the farm grove to be burned in the furnace located in the basement of the house. On a Saturday or a school holiday, the belt-driven buzz saw with a 4-foot saw blade was towed to an area in the grove where the wood was to be cut. It was staked down by driving steel stakes into the frozen ground with a sledge hammer. After a wagon was set in position to load the cut wood, the tractor was lined up and the belt placed on the belt pulley of the tractor and the pulley of the saw. The belt had to be given a half twist so the saw blade would run in the right direction. The sawing began with two people bringing tree branches or logs to be cut and placing them on the saw cradle to be cut. Another person would carefully rock the saw cradle into the saw blade for cutting and then move the branch or log 18 to 24 inches for another cut. Another person would “catch” the chunks of wood and toss them into the wagon. This continued until the wagon was full or the wood was all sawed up.
The wagon was called either a triple-box wagon or a flare box wagon. The triple box was 3 feet wide and 8 feet long. The triple box designation came from the three one-foot high sides around the floor. It usually had a pair of two one-foot high sideboards that could be used if needed. The sideboards were left over from the days when ear corn was picked by hand and the sideboards were placed one on top of another on the far side of the wagon. When used in this way, the sideboards were called “bang boards” because the corn ears banged against them before falling into the wagon box. The bottom foot on the sides of the flare box was similar to the triple box but flared out to 5-feet wide at the top to give it more capacity.
When the wood cutting was done, the wagon was pulled up to the house and the wood was unloaded by removing a basement window and tossing the wood chunks into the wood bin. There was also a bin for corn cobs and one for coal. The cobs were used to start the fire, the wood kept it going and the coal was used for really cold nights.
After the wood was unloaded and the saw put away, everyone could come inside and warm up cold fingers and toes. While warming up in the farmhouse kitchen there usually were fresh-baked cake donuts for everyone. They had been cooked in hot lard on the wood-burning kitchen stove. I don’t miss sawing wood but I sure miss those warm cake donuts that were rolled in sugar and eaten with hot chocolate.
While penning this, I was reminded of Bob Artley, who drew editorial cartoons for our local daily paper, The Worthington Daily Globe. Bob had a number of books published in which he drew how he remembered growing up on a farm in the 1920s and ‘30s. His books include memories about farm chores, farm kitchens, country schools, farm animals and more. My favorite is Memories of a Former Kid. Some of his books are still available on Amazon.com.