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Doorless Logging Trucks Of Yesteryear Had Purpose

By Charles Cooper

Hello everyone I hope you are having a good week.  As someone said, “The saga continues”.  As usual when I ask for input, someone will oblige.  Jim Peacock called and reminded that he and I both not only worked at our respective mills, but also went into the woods to cut timber.  

At that time we were using crosscut saws to cut down the trees and cut the length of logs we needed.  Picture trees in a natural growth which means this is virgin timber, and add to it the vines, under growth and yellow jackets with weather about like we had last week and very little breeze getting through – and you have our working conditions.  

Cornish would notch the tree with an ax to indicate the way he wanted it to fall. Now in theory the tree is supposed to fall that way when you saw it through, but that doesn’t take into consideration if some of the limbs catch on another tree and maybe cause it to spring back at the sawers.  That has happened on more than one occasion and several people have lost their lives that way.      

Another problem is that the saw binds in the tree for some reason.  Then it is necessary to drive a wedge in the cut and try to unbind the saw.  If that doesn’t work Cornish usually carried a small bottle of kerosene and that could be poured on the saw and combined with the wedge the saw would finally loosen.  

Now Jim’s family operated a little differently.  They were only buying hickory timber and it would all be cut into the same length.  Around the time World War II ended Jim’s dad, Cleve, saw a chain saw listed in the Sears catalog.  It sounded like a great way to increase production in the woods and he ordered it.      

It cost about five hundred dollars, which was a large sum at that time.  Unfortunately Cleve only got to use it a couple of times.  One day two of his employees went into the woods and let a tree kick back on the saw and completely destroy it.          

That was one of the reasons why a small business owner found it hard to make much money.  

Jim, thank you for reminding me about that phase of lumbering.  Between the two of us, we have enough experiences to fill a big book.  Most of the log trucks in those days had the doors removed so the driver could jump to safety if the truck would turn over on a hillside, which did happen once in a while.  

One more thing and then we’ll put this narrative to rest.  After we had cut the logs into the desired length, we would take the truck and park as close as we could. We would try to get a slight slant so we could put skid poles to the bed, and then we would manhandle the logs up the poles in to the bed of the truck.      

I’ve heard Papa Badley talk about how cypress shingles were made in his day.  They were done by hand using a tool called an adz and they would be bigger on one end and split down the big end for the next shingle to fit into.

I wish I knew more about this operation, but as a kid you don’t pay as much attention as you should.  I know that I saw some of those shingles when a roof had been replaced. The workmanship was incredible and they lasted for years and didn’t leak.  My grandfather, Bragg Cooper worked with a man named Ben Abbey cutting cypress blocks into the proper length and then turning out the shingles by hand.  

Abbey would take the finished product into town and sell the shingles to builders.  He later became a large landowner in the Delta near Shelby, Miss.  Many fortunes in those days started with just such humble beginnings.  

Mr. Joyner is compiling a history of the Stave Mill for me and I’m looking forward to writing about that business which operated in Water Valley for over fifty years.  I received a phone call today (Wednesday) from Winfred McCain who has been visiting in the Water Valley area and we are supposed to meet for lunch tomorrow before his flight leaves for Seattle.  I haven’t seen Winfred for several years and I’m looking forward to us getting together.  

Don’t forget to send your input to me and we’ll cover it in future 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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