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Sawmilling Reinforced Desire For Good Education

By Charles Cooper

Hello everyone.  Hope you’re having a good week.  Sunday was Father’s Day and Lupe, Terri, Elizabeth. and Shelby took me out to eat and it was an enjoyable day.  

The other day my friend, J.B. Petrea, called and invited me to the Webster County Singing Convention next Saturday, the 21, in the City Hall in Eupora. I’m looking forward to this event as I’ve been inactive since last September, and I hope this year I’ll be able to attend as I did before my hip forced me to curtail my activities.  

Last Sunday I had the pleasure of visiting with Sandra and Chris Bennett near Abbeville. I hadn’t been on old Highway 7 in so many years that it was like visiting a strange country.  Those from my generation can still remember the old crooked, hilly road where we had to dodge the pot holes.

In last week’s column I didn’t cover all I wanted about Cornish Crews sawmill.  The next summer after we had moved back to town, Cornish set up his operation on what is now Jones Street at the bend just above the house I own now.  He had switched to electric power and at times it would get overloaded and we would have to stop briefly.  

I saw enough that summer to know how important a good education can be.  A young man I knew at Camp Ground had dropped out in the third grade and he was doing manual labor and feeding a family on sawmill pay.  

Another old fellow who was in his eighties was working every day because he had no retirement and was too late to have social security.  Another man, the father of one of my long-time friends, was also working there every day with no hope of a better job or retirement.      

What was ironic was I had had the opportunity to go to work in Chicago at the Illinois Central Freight House making almost as much in a day as I made working for Cornish for a week.  Even though I was big for my age, mother thought I was too young to go that far from home.  

With the war raging, the railroad would look the other way when an under-age boy applied for work.  Cornish had another project adjacent to the sawmill, several low rent houses.  He was taking lumber from the mill and building cheap houses.

I also worked on those and it was an education in itself.  After the house was framed we would take 1/12 planks and box up the walls.  Brick siding had just become popular after the war and we would cover the walls with it.  Bear in mind we were putting this lumber up green– you can imagine what happened when it shrunk.

He was using  green oak lumber, and the only way we could drive a nail in it was when it was green.  We were using all hand tools, saws, hammers, etc.  When using a spirit level, the mercy bead must be in the center to be perfectly balanced.  

If we even could see the bead at all he’d say, “nail it, it’ll rent.”  When attaching the brick siding we were supposed to use small nails similar to roofing nails, but we had to use whatever nail was available.  I’ve seen nails sticking through the boarding all around the house.  

Among ourselves, we would joke about the tenants having nails to hang their clothes on as there were no closets.  We would also say that when that green lumber dried and shrunk around the nail, a tornado would take the whole house away intact.

He was renting those houses for about eight or ten dollars a month and the type tenants he had didn’t pay that half the time.  It never dawned on him that you get exactly what you pay for.      

That said, he would do anything for anybody, selling wood to people who never paid him and I never heard of him suing anyone.  

Switching subjects, I had another income-producing job. We had a huge pasture behind our house and we brought two milk cows and three horses with us as well as some milk goats.

 I sold some milk to the cheese plant and goat milk to people who had ulcers.  I learned that goats are very smart animals, for example a milk goat had to be standing on a box or even a board before she would let us milk her.  I had to be quick because when she thought we had kept her long enough she would jump off the box or board and leave whether I was finished or not.  

This week I felt like writing about things I hadn’t thought about for many years and I hope it’ll be interesting as it’s part of our heritage.  

Let me hear from you as I always try to use your input in columns.  My email address is or write me at P.O. Box 613189 Memphis, TN 38101 and have a great week.

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