Memories of Sawmills

Read one reader’s letter on his memories of his uncle’s sawmill in Central Vermont.

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courtesy of Anthony B. Lovelace

As I read the January 2021 issue of Farm Collector, Anthony Lovelace’s column (“View from the Back Roads”) brings back memories. The car with a rear-wheel jacked up and belted up to a pump jack reminds me of my uncle John sawing up slabs to burn in the wood furnace in their house.

Uncle John had a sawmill behind the house in central Vermont and disposal of the wood slabs cut from the logs was a constant problem. One solution was to install a wood-burning furnace in the cellar of the house for heat. He had a cut-off saw and when work was slow, the help would be put to work cutting up slabs into firewood to burn in the furnace.

He acquired a cordwood saw but didn’t have a power source, so he backed up one of his trucks over the road to the cordwood saw, jacked up one back wheel and belted it up to the saw.

After the wood supply for the house was in place, Uncle John would park one of his trailers at the end of the sawmill and place a few pieces of pipe crosswise on it to act as rollers. As the slabs were sawn from the logs, they’d be stacked on the trailer. When the trailer was full, he’d put a truck under it and go “slab peddling.”

I often accompanied him as he went around to homes where he knew wood was burned, offering the load of slabs for sale. This work usually took place in the evening. The person buying the slabs had worked all day and the last thing they wanted to do was unload a trailer load of wood slabs.

Uncle John had a quick way of unloading the trailer. He inquired where the buyer wanted the slabs and then begin backing the truck up toward the spot. As the rear of the truck approached the spot, he’d speed up in reverse, then suddenly slam on the brakes. The load of slabs would go flying off the back of the trailer with the pipe rollers stopping against a roller permanently attached to the back of the trailer. He’d collect his money, secure the pipe rollers and we’d head for home.

Sawdust was another product of the sawmill. Uncle John had a couple of box trailers that he’d back up beside the sawmill and run the sawdust discharge pipe into it. When the trailer was full, he’d sell it to local farmers, delivering the trailer load of sawdust and unloading it.

He had a gasoline-powered auger that he used to convey the sawdust from the trailer to the farmer’s storage facility. On one delivery, the starter decided to retire on the truck he was pulling the trailer with. The farmer offered his farm tractor to pull the truck to start it, but the confines the truck was parked in were tight. Uncle John blocked the front wheels of the truck, jacked up one rear wheel, put the truck in gear and turned on the ignition. He then rolled the raised wheel back as far as it would go, grabbed the wheel with both hands and spun it forward. The truck started right up. He pulled it out of gear, lowered the wheel, removed the blocks from the front wheels and we were headed home again.

Thank you for the memories.

Richard W. “Dick” Rowell,

Gardendale, Alabama

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