I beg to differ with O. Milan Ramsey (Farm Collector, March 2005, page 5) about using a splitting wedge and explosives to split stumps or logs.
I have in my possession one of these tools (shown at the bottom of the photo at right) bought in the 1930s from the Missoula (Mont.) Mercantile Co. by my neighbor who gave it to me in the 1970s. It was used to blast large stumps apart so the land could be cleared for farming. Logs could be split open in the same manner. Pour black powder in the open end, put some wadding in and hammer the wedge into the top of the stump. Push a fuse into the "touch hole," light it, and run and hide.
The large tool in the photo above is a stump hook (or root puller) made by the Swenson Grubber Co., Cresco, Iowa, about 1913. The stump hook was used in conjunction with a capstan winch. The winch I have was made by the Smith Grubber Co., La Crosse, Wis., and sold through the Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog.
- John M. Edgerton
27 Loon Lake Road
Bigfork, MT 59911
In regard to the letter (Farm Collector, March 2005, page 5) from O. Milan Ramsey in which he says he had never heard of using explosives to split logs:
In northeast Iowa during the 1920s and 1930s, my dad, Mellien Loftsgard, always used blasting powder to split elm logs. Before the ground froze, we always made sure that a bucket was filled with clay and stored in a warm place so the clay could be used as a cap over the powder-filled hole in the log. As a young boy it was my job to use an auger to bore a 1-1/2-inch hole in the log about 6 inches deep, into which was poured black blasting powder. Then a piece of blasting cord was inserted and topped by a mud cap. This procedure was commonly used in our part of the country, as elm was about impossible to split using wedges and a maul. Elm was used for firewood, as it was not very suitable for lumber.
- Stanley L. Loftsgard
618 E. National Ave.
Richland, MO 65556
Along about 1970, while living in California, I bought an old house that had a huge eucalyptus tree in the back yard. When a storm brought a limb down, I called a man with a chainsaw and had the tree cut into blocks for firewood. But nobody wanted 3-foot thick firewood. After it lay about six months you could hit it with an axe and the axe would bounce like you were hitting a rubber ball. My friend Fred came along and said, "I'll take the wood. I'll split it like we used to back in Iowa."
Well, we moved that wood over to Fred's back yard and he went out and bought some black powder and fuses. Fred drilled holes in the blocks for his gunpowder, packed in his charges and lit the fuse. He ran back into the garage to wait for the blast. Everything went great until about the third blast. When Fred ran back into the garage, he ran into the waiting arms of two Los Angeles policemen. They slapped the handcuffs on old Fred, but then one said, "Hold on, there is really no law against this." They took off the handcuffs and took the gunpowder and fuses away. They made Fred promise never to do it again. I guess that wood is still there, waiting to be split.
- Jessie May
6420 N.E. 39th Ave.
Portland, OR 97211-7816