Reflections

Three Dollars Was Pay For A Day At The Mill

By Charles Cooper

Hello everyone I hope you are having a good week.  Friday was D-Day and it seemed very little was said about it. This was probably the most important day of the 20th century, the day we started to free Europe and bring an end to the Nazi regime.  

I telephoned Mr. Chester Joyner and simply told him “thank you.”  I think we both got a little emotional and as usual we had a long and interesting conversation.  He said that he actually landed in France 23  days after D-Day, but he spent the next ten months on the front lines in five major campaigns, earning several medals including the Purple Heart.  

At the peak there were about 16 million men and women in the armed forces and now, sadly, they are dying at the rate of about a thousand a day.  So if you know a World War II Veteran give him a simple “thank you” while they are still around to hear it.  

Mr. Chester is compiling a  history of the stave mill that operated for so many years in Water Valley  and I’ll include it in future columns.  Many of you out there have heard of a sawmill, but know very little about it so based on personal experience I’ll attempt to tell you about it.  

I worked for two summers for Cornish Crews when I was 15 and 16 and I’ve said many times it was the hardest work I ever did.  The first year, while we were still on the farm, Cornish had bought a small farm that joined Papa Badley’s place. He purchased the land mainly for the timber.  He had set up what was called then a “doodle bug” mill in a valley with no shade and no shed to protect us from the sun.  There was a carriage on rails that fed the log into the saw.  

The logs were rolled on poles up to the carriage and manhandled onto the carriage.  When it was locked into place, the block setter would set the angle he wanted the saw to cut.  In a normal operation, the block setter would ride the carriage and the sawyer would throw the carriage forward and pull it back when the log had cleared the saw.  

Cornish only had three people beside himself, his brother-in-law, Arthur Lovelady and me.  Cornish would set the blocks and operate the carriage, actually doing the work of two men.  On the other side of the saw was the off-bearer who pulled the sawed piece from the saw and threw it aside.  

This is a dangerous job because if he were to drop the piece into the saw, it would sling it back and possible kill the two on the other side.  I was classified as a log roller, but I also learned to off-bear.  Depending on the size of the log, it took at least four tips through the saw to get a square log.  

Each time it came back, the sawyer and log roller had to turn it for another run.  After it was squared the block-setter would set the block for the desired plank –  either a one-by-twelve or two-by-four, depending on the size of the log.  It was slow back breaking work because three people were  doing the work of five.  

The mill was powered by a Farmall tractor with a pulley that operated the belt.  To the right of the saw was a chain with flanges that pulled the sawdust away from the saw. The created a sawdust pile which grew in height as the work progressed.  I would roll the logs up; to the carriage using a tool called a cant hook which resembled at the end a half of an ice hook. The first cutting of the logs was called a slab and would be separate from the lumber.  Then, when time permitted, the slabs were cut into firewood lengths and sold in town as many people still used wood burning stoves and heaters.  

We all carried a paper sack with a lunch and a jug of water which we tried to put in a shade, but it was still hot by lunch time.  During this time Cornish would sharpen the saw with a file.  The teeth on the saw could be removed if they were broken and replaced with a new one.  This didn’t happen often unless the saw hit a nail in the log.  We worked from daylight until dark and I received the princely sum of three dollars a day.  

The next summer we had moved back to town, and Cornish had moved his operation to what is now Jones Street near the house I own down the street – but that is another story.  

If there are any of you out there that worked for a sawmill at any time of your life, I’m sure you can identify with this narrative. so let me hear from you.  

My email address is charlescooper3616@sbcglobal.net or write me at P.O. Box 613189 Memphis, Tn 38101 and have a great week.

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