The Man with a Thousand Saws

A Michigan chainsaw collection inspired by a pile of chainsaws in a scrapyard celebrates the Upper Peninsula’s logging heritage.

| April 2019

 mutti-with-saw
Mutti is often asked which is his favorite chainsaw. His answer: “The one that starts.”

Gerald “Mutti” Ketola owns more than 1,000 chainsaws. He lives near the town of Gwinn, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where logging is still done. In days gone by, many men throughout the state worked at remote lumber camps, felling trees and floating logs down rivers to saw mills.

Mutti (Finnish for Matt, Mutti’s middle name) began collecting chainsaws about 12 years ago, after visiting a scrap yard with his cousin and seeing several chainsaws tossed in a pile. Sensing their role in local history, he wished there were a way to save them. Those saws didn’t leave the scrap yard, but they did inspire a collection.

bow-saw
This Precision bow saw produced in Montreal, Canada, between 1946-48, is one of Mutti Ketola’s oddballs.



Within a few months, Mutti’s saw collection edged close to the three-dozen mark. He was invited to display them at Gwinn Fun Days in 2006. People who saw the display began to offer old saws to him. Some of those saws not been used for years; some were donated by relatives. Mutti took them all. What else could he do? “My grandpa and grandma saved everything,” he says.

His display at the U.P. Steam & Gas Engine Assn. show in Escanaba, Michigan, brought in more saws. After the show, a man with an old saw called to tell him to come and get it if he wanted it. “‘My grandkids will just throw it away,’” the man told him. “‘I know you’ll take care of it.’”

saws-saws-saws
Part of Mutti’s August 2018 display. The third saw from the left in the front row is a left-hand saw. Mutti hopes his saws will end up in a museum, but he has little expectation that they’ll stay in the Upper Peninsula.

Mutti drove 100 miles to see what the man had and ended up getting a Mall Model 10 saw with a bow attachment. In that configuration, the chain runs through an aluminum tube that arcs over a much narrower bar, then underneath it. These saws were less likely to bind when cutting through a log, but were used most often to trim limbs and cutting small timber. With the Mall, Mutti also got the optional two-man bar and chain attachment.

In 2017, Mutti returned to the Escanaba show with 110 saws. By the time he headed home at the end of the show, his collection had grown by an additional 47 saws, some from the swap meet and others donated. “I get many of my saws without spending a lot of money,” he says.

Rise of the underwater chainsaw

Early gas-powered chainsaws were heavy, two-man devices. Some of the extra weight was the result of having a clutch, transmission and a swivel clamp assembly to turn the chain bar 90 degrees. Float-style carburetors then in use would only operate in a vertical position. On other saws, the rear handle and carburetor could be turned 90 degrees. When moving from felling trees to bucking them to length, design changes were essential.

wright-gs-218
This Wright GS-218 reciprocating saw was built in about 1957 by Wright Power Saw & Tool Corp., Stratford, Conn.

Mutti has several two-man saws, including an underwater Remington Model 6-P pneumatic unit powered by 90 pounds of air pressure. Manufactured in Park Forest, Illinois, the unit is marked “for underwater cutting only.” The saw has two air chucks: One is for the supply line, and the other is used to evacuate discharged air, reducing the amount of bubbles and stirred-up silt in the work area. The operator’s manual was issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Underwater saws were used to clear remains of old docks and piers, bridges, log jams and related industrial and military tasks. When dams were built to create electric generating plants, lakes were formed. Trees were cut off at the base, under water, and floated to the surface. They were then cut into logs and transported to mills for processing into lumber or paper.

1951-disston
A 1951 Disston Mercury/Kiekhaefer.



Electric saws not always practical

Mutti’s two-man Lombard saw, dating to the mid-1940s, is powered by electricity. The motor is a three-phase 220-volt unit with a 440-volt option. It runs at 3,450rpm and weighs 73 pounds. He says many saws of this type were used in mining applications.  

1950-disston-model
A 1950 Disston Model 101.

His collection of two-man saws also includes a Disston Model DA-211, powered by a 2-cylinder, 9hp Mercury Kiekhaefer motor. With an opposed motor said to minimize vibration, the Disston was proclaimed “the champ of the woods” in a 1953 magazine ad. Available attachments included narrow-profile guide rails up to 7 feet long for felling very large trees.

Other early power saws were also run by electricity. The Wolf saw, made in Idaho in the 1920s, was among the first one-man saws produced. But operating electric saws in the woods proved impractical. A generator and long power cords were generally needed and the equipment had to be moved often. Complicating matters, electric power lines were rarely located near logging areas.

The single-man saw segment

Among the earliest practical, one-man, gas-powered saws produced in North America were those made by Industrial Engineering Ltd. (IEL) in Canada at the end of World War II. Mutti’s IEL saw, dating to about 1946, has a three-speed transmission. The chain-oil reservoir is inside the front handle. A small threaded plug at the top of the handle was removed to fill the tank and oil was drawn off at the bottom.

homelite-model
A 1951 Homelite Model 26LCS.

An early Disston/Mercury Model 101 saw is an unusual addition to Mutti’s collection. The Disston uses a straddle chain on the outside of the bar. The chain running in a slot proved to be a much better design, however, and is still used today.

Mutti’s collection includes examples of the first Homelite single-man saw, Model 20 MCS, made in 1949, and the second model, an LCS 26, produced in 1951. Each is equipped with the swivel rear handle and carburetor.   

remington-model
A Remington Model 6-P pneumatic underwater saw.

Mutti says he can date saws from 1952 and earlier, as most predating 1952 were built to accommodate float-style carburetors. After 1952, he says, carburetors were equipped with a diaphragm, allowing the saw to be used in any position.

Many other chainsaw improvements also date to the 1950s. Saw weight was reduced by the use of aluminum andUnderwater saws were used to clear remains of old docks and piers, bridges, log jams and related industrial and military tasks. When dams were built to create electric generating plants, lakes were formed. Trees were cut off at the base, under water, and floated to the surface. They were then cut into logs and transported to mills for processing into lumber or paper.

Dabbling in specialty saws

Mutti’s collection includes hundreds of conventional one-man chainsaws as well as specialty units he refers to as “oddballs.” A couple of the oddballs do not even have chains, including a Mono saw (sold by Montgomery Ward & Co.) with an auger attachment used to dig postholes.

lombard-electric
This Lombard Electric dates to the mid-1940s.

The Wright GS-218 with a reciprocating blade is another oddball. Produced in Stratford, Connecticut, for a short time in the late 1950s, the saw was aggressively promoted. A 1958 ad boasted, “No Whippin’, Kickin’ Chain” and claimed the saw would operate at “166 strokes a second.”

Despite those claims, the Wright was impractical for cutting large trees, as the blade did not have a very long throw to get rid of the sawdust, causing the blade to bind up. The Wright was much more useful at post-and-beam construction sites for use in trimming studs or building timbers: Imagine an overgrown Sawzall.  

mall-model-10
A Mall Model 10 with bow attachment.

Mutti even has three left-handed saws in his collection, including a Montgomery Ward Panther. On these saws, the bar is located on the unit’s left side.

“You don’t need a license”

Mutti’s saws are housed in his personal museum in Gwinn, where he also displays antique hand tools, hit-and-miss engines and related equipment in seven restored log barns. He has hosted visitors from as far away as Argentina.

mono-saw
The Mono saw, sold by Montgomery Ward & Co., complete with auger.

Visitors find out about him in unusual ways. A California man, for instance, makes a yearly road trip to visit relatives in Ontario. While dining in a restaurant in Wisconsin, he overheard a conversation about Mutti and his collection and decided to try to look him up. Once in Gwinn, he quickly learned that everyone knew Mutti. The man and his wife spent a few hours enjoying their time with Mutti and visiting his museum. 

Mutti’s collection is still growing, but it’s not because he’s trying to build the biggest collection. He just likes collecting saws. “The nicest part is the hunt,” he says. “You don’t need a license and the season never ends.” FC


For more information: Gerald “Mutti” Ketola, P.O. Box 211, Gwinn, MI 49841; (906) 251-8762.

Freelance writer Jerry Mattson writes articles on farm-related equipment, automobiles, motorcycles and tractors. Email him at themattsons@hotmail.com.



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