Innovations in cooking and home heating developed so rapidly that the wood burning cook stove and space heaters seem like items from the distant past. Yet almost half my life has been influenced by wood burning devices. Note only were the timbered hills around us a source of beauty and recreation, but they were the source of our constant need for fuel. I wouldn’t say cheap fuel. Though it required little in the form of cash on the line, the year’s supply of heating and cooking wood needed hours of hard labor, a strong back and persistent dedication. Any time not spent on farm chores in winter was used for cutting and preparing firewood. It required two people to fell selected trees. Two “wood cutters”, a husband and wife, father and son, farmer and hired hand, or farmer and a helpful neighbor, would attack a tree. First, using an axe a notch was cut near the base of the tree on the side to which the tree should fall. Then working with a cross cut saw on the opposite side, two people worked a cross cut saw back and forth until the tree trunk weakened and fell. It was no easy task. Working in a bent over position each person on the saw had to pull his share and keep the rhythm going. Wedges were used to separate the cut if the saw got pinched.

A sharp, well-set saw was a basic requirement. I vividly recall Dad spending a winter evening after chores sharpening and setting his cross cut in the middle of the kitchen. Sometimes I would hold up one end of the saw while he worked on the other end. Felling trees was a dangerous job. To be caught by a falling log could result in broken bones, crippling injuries or even death. No wonder a hung up tree was labeled “a widow maker”.

Felling the trees was only the beginning. Working with axes and one man saw a the branches were trimmed, preserving every piece large enough to be used for firewood and stacking the useless brush to be burned. When all parts were worked into a manageable size they were loaded onto a horse drawn sled and hauled to an open space in the yard. By early spring a massive pile of logs and limbs filled that open space. Then it was time to gather a crew and saw it into chunks. It required a large circular saw powered by a tractor, and 4-6 men. Depending on the size of the log, one two or even 4 men carried the logs to the saw. One man fed the log into the saw and one or two men caught the chunks produced and transferred them to a pile. Again the kitchen was a busy place to feed the crew well. For us kids the best part of the process was the piles of saw dust. We never needed a sand box because we had piles and piles of saw dust in which we played every imaginary game our young minds could conceive.

But the job was not done.

Next time: Splitting Wood

Bernice Hellwig has been a lifetime resident of the Coon Valley area. Growing up at her parent’s farm in Chipmunk Coulee, Bernice developed a love of learning. Over the years Bernice has written the story of their lives. It is an account of cherished memories of farming, teaching and family. In her own words, this is her story.


Westby Times editor

Dorothy Robson is editor of the Westby Times. Contact her at 608-637-5625.

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