Remembering Pappy's portable buzz saw with Witte engine that cut wood to heat homes and pay the bills
Detail from promotional materials for a buzz saw owned by William Easley
My Pappy, William H. Easley, was born on a farm in Boone County, Mo., in 1899. His brother, Edward, was born in 1901. When they were in their teens, they purchased a stripped-down Ford Model T for $10. They drove the car several years until my uncle got married in 1923.
Uncle Edward didn't think that a married man really needed a stripped-down Model T, so he and Pappy traded it even up for a portable buzz saw powered by an 8 hp Witte engine. The saw was on a wagon-type frame with steel wheels and a long tongue, so a team of horses or mules could pull it. Pappy and Uncle Edward sawed wood for their families, several neighbors and anyone else within a ten-mile radius that needed their services.
Pappy told me that, at a time when wages were 50 cents a day, they charged $3.50 per day for two men and the saw. Pappy was the sawyer, Uncle Edward the off-bearer, and the person they were sawing for furnished enough help to keep wood carried to the saw. They sawed together from 1923 until Uncle Edward quit farming and moved to town in 1941. Even after he moved, Uncle Edward arranged his schedule so he could be at the farm to help on the day Pappy sawed his winter woodpile. Apparently the saw was causing trouble in 1932, because Pappy received some ads for new engines in the mail, along with a parts book and price list. The total cost for the seven needed parts, including a piston, came to $16.80. I don't know if Pappy ordered the parts or not, but I assume he did, since he didn't buy his first tractor until 1939, and something had to power the saw for those seven years in between.
I was born in 1942, and although the engine wasn't in running condition, in my earliest memories the Witte was still free, and a couple of neighbor boys and I would play on the old saw for hours. It became a tank, train, airplane, or anything else we wanted it to be. We would turn the large flywheels, causing the piston to open and close with a loud whooshing noise. After we got too old to play with the engine anymore, the piston soon stuck from lack of use.
From when I can first remember until the early 1970s, we sawed our own wood pile, and at least two of the neighbors' piles, each year. By this time, the belt pulley on an 8N Ford tractor powered the saw. Depending on their size, we would either chop trees or cut them down with a cross saw, then cut the limbs into eight- and ten-foot lengths. We would haul them to the yard in a wagon and drag them to the house with a tractor. Then we cut and split the limbs into sections small enough that three or four men could cam them to the saw. With this much labor involved, old fence posts, scrap lumber and anything else that would make a stick of firewood found its way into the woodpile. When Pappy finally bought a chain saw in the early '70s, the old buzz saw was retired. In the mid 1970s, the farm joining Pappy's was developed commercially. One day at noon, a gentleman from the job site showed up at Pappy's door, asking if the old saw was for sale. He wanted to restore it to running condition. The amount of $25 was agreed on, which seemed like a fair price. Pappy figured that after 50 years of use, a $15 profit on the original investment wasn't bad. It was a good price at the time, but I do occasionally wonder if it might not be worth a little more today.
I still heat with wood cut with a chain saw, but sometimes I think that, if the old saw was still around, I'd like to hook up the belt just one more time and show my grandkids what old-fashioned wood sawing was all about. FC
For more information: Alan Easley, 8300 E. Turner Farm Rd., Columbia, MO 65201; (573) 442-0678.