Thursday, April 3, 2008

Splittin' Wood and Workin' Hard

That's me, when I was finishing up with splitting 19 cords of hardwood, for firewood. I worked on that wood pile for 9 or 10 hours a day, for 10 weekdays, during 2 weeks in the late summer of 1969. My Uncle Finley bought the wood and had it delivered to Katahdin Lodge in full length tree sized sections. The Lodge only had wood stoves for heat, and 19 cords was enough to last through the entire upcoming winter. Gary Glidden (Finley's other bear hunting guide) did the chainsawing work to cut the tree length sections up into those short lengths. Then I split 'um up and stacked 'um up good and proper.

According to the way some photographers see it, this is a self portrait. I conceived the shot, directed a helper to stand on the exact spot I had chosen, told them to make sure they could see a certain background object at the left edge of my camera's view finder and also the top of my head in the viewfinder. Then I told them to squeeze the shutter when they heard my splittin' axe kachunck! into the wood -- and it turned out good.

Cleaning up after those two weeks of splitting wood. That's me with my back to you, Finley lookin' at you and two of our paying bear hunters who enjoyed pitching in to help out a little.

Heh, heh, yeah; those other three men were helping me clean up the little wood chips and scraps that were scattered on the ground at the end of my 90-some man hours of wood splitting and stacking; but nobody at all ever got between me and the splittin' axes, mauls and wedges when I was steadily swingin' heavy steel and making small chunks of firewood from great big tree trunks.

Do you see that 1967 or maybe '68 Chevy pickup truck back there, in the photo?

That was my favorite vehicle of all times to drive.

It had: four wheel drive; large sized, heavy duty, all seasons-mud-snow super gripping tires; a flat head type of 290 cubic inch straight six-cylinder engine; a four-speed standard transmission with a "granny gear"; and a stick shifter on the floor.

The granny gear was first gear. It was there to drive real slow with through mud and snow, or to get the truck slowly moving when it had an extra heavy load to haul. We Katahdin Lodge drivers normally used that four speed as a three speed, never employing first gear till the going got really rough--like in a wheel swallowing, mucky, oozing ol' quagmire.

Driving with a standard transmission gives a driver much more control of the vehicle's precise speed. It runs tighter on both the acceleration and deceleration. The deceleration effect also helps slow the vehicle down for curves or going down hills. I knew and had always made good use of the basics of those facts but was actually given a very worthwhile tip for developing better, standard transmission, driving skills by one of the Lodge's paying bear hunters from Massachusetts. The tip was to shift gears less frequently and at slightly higher RPMs than when most people shift. That allows a driver much better control of the vehicle, it is easier to change gears and with much smoother riding--if you do it right. I always had an open mind for learning such things.

The truck had neither power brakes nor power steering. That lack of power assist was best for the way that we had to drive up there in northern Maine in order to get our daily business taken care of. Or when I was just driving around enjoying the wild and wonderful Maine countryside with a girlfriend or other friends.

Having no power assist on the steering makes it much harder to turn the steering wheel, because it gives a lot of resistance to a driver's manipulations of the front wheels. That forces wheel handling efforts to steer the vehicle much more precisely, which was better for driving at higher than posted speeds on Maine's wild and woolly, twisty-turny, hump and downy, two lane tar-topped, gravel or dirt country roads. We always averaged 5 to 15 MPH over the speed limit.

No power brakes made it much less likely that we Katahdin Lodge drivers would brake too hard and fast and bash some passenger's face or head against the dashboard or something. Like when we were carefully traversing the rough old, washed out, rocky, mud puddley logging roads, old overgrown farm fields and such in the back-in-the-woods places where we used to drive when bear baiting. We were constantly, gently applying the brakes in those rough situations. And we definitely did not want to brake too hard and fast and go out of control if a wild animal, domestic pet, pedestrian, stalled vehicle, slow moving piece of humongous farm machinery or maybe a whole herd of milk cows 'suddenly appeared' in the road in front of one of us.

On one late winter, Saturday evening in Maine, just after a cold, quiet darkness had eased on down over Rural Route 11, between the Lodge and the Town of Patten, I was on my way into town for a Saturday night date with my girlfriend, when a whole herd of cows did 'suddenly appear' in front me all across the freezing, friggin road.

To my discredit, this happened at a clearly marked cattle crossing. Cows have the absolute right away at cattle crossings. Cows who have full, uncomfortably expanding udders, and whom are heading for the milking barn, make way for neither man, beast nor fast moving motor vehicle.

Oh jeeze! The plump and pretty little dairy farmer's wife was standing there in the middle of Rt. 11 next to her herd of crossing cows and she was all-a-jumping up and down, frantically waving her arms up in the air and forcefully holding out a tightly gripped, lit kerosene lantern at me.

Fortunately, I knew how to tap brakes like them ABS brake systems do for most of you.

Consequently, instead of plowing into the farmer's wife and a half a dozen or so udder swollen milk cows, I slid sideways and over into the snowbank a bit--whilst skillfully tapping down on the brakes till the truck came to a safe stop.

That was my fought. I was thinking about where my girlfriend and I could go 'parking', after going to see a movie, instead of paying my usual full attention to the road.

If we don't respect the farmer's rights, how in the hell are we gonna' eat?

Man o' day! I was embarrassed and ashamed at making that nearly tragic mistake!

One mistake like that, and I'd have been sent packing back down to my parents' house in Dundalk, Maryland. I'd probably have never seen Patten, Maine again.

But nothing like that ever happened.

Anyways, the point is that I prefer the precise handing capabilities of a standard-shift-it-yourself transmission and no power steering or brakes for when I really wanna' Rock n' Roll out on some good old country roads.

But, then, come to think of it now, for most of you's ("you's" is my Baltimore accent showing through), you's had best stick to power everything and ABS brakes for your vehicles. You may own a big-ass SUV with four-wheel drive and all that lot, but ya' gotta' be able to drive Northern Mainer style to do it how we Katahdin Lodge drivers done it.

That's a well earned bit of braggadocio for sure.

Those barely visible, nice and neatly stacked, piles of firewood over in the woodshed there to the right are just the 'tip of the iceberg' from all that firewood that I split and stacked in the late summertime of 1969. I loved doing it.

And you see those piles of wood there that are not covered? Well they got covered with tarps later that day. I can't stand seeing firewood being stored uncovered. Leaving a firewood supply go uncovered wastes the wood by allowing it to get wet from rain and snow and to rot. That makes it very difficult to get a home heating fire burning good with the moist, partially rotted wood.

There were two things at Finley's lodge that were never left out in the yard uncovered.

One was firewood, the other was tools.

Fin stored his rakes, shovels, mauls, picks, mattocks and other garden type tools in a building or tucked up under a building's eave and hanging from some nails--in order to keep rain and snow off the wooden handles and metal heads. Finley K. Clarke never in his life owned a wooden handled garden tool that had any rust or rot on it.

I appreciate that. Makes sense to me to take care of the equipment right. You never know when you're really gonna' need it.

I believe that splitting wood is better exercise than pumping iron--lifting free weights. Like when using the weight lifting equipment that was set up in the weight room down in the basement of the old YMCA, in my home town of Dundalk, Maryland. During my early teenage years, I lifted weights "at the Y" several times a week.

Neither of those two physical endeavours, though, weight lifting or wood splitting, are as good exercise as swimming.

During four summers of my youth, from 1961 to '64, I attended Red Cross swimming courses, including a life saving course, and swam many laps every summer at Baltimore County's Merritt Beach, in Dundalk. The beach was right down the street from the home that I grew up in. I was still swimming there regularly in 1965, when Baltimore County closed the beach to swimmers; it was closed due to water pollution from Bethlehem Steel Mill in Sparrows Point, Maryland.

Those Red Cross water safety and swimming qualifications made me somewhat more valuable as a professional outdoorsman, a Maine Guide; because I had the ability to save drowning fishermen or fisherwomen, canoeists, boaters, swimmers or somebody who accidentally fell into some deep water.

As a teenager, I also used to get plenty of exercise while being paid to mow and trim lawns in the summer, and to shovel snow from sidewalks and driveways during the winter.

So ya' see, that 1969 wood spitting and stacking experience was my type of preferred exercise. And that "wood chopping" (a quote from my city kid days) work, like the swimming, mowing and snow shoveling, was all done outside, where I enjoy spending my time the most.

Before I started that wood splitting and stacking job each day: I had to water seven hound dogs, two Bobcats and one ornery horse; and I had to help Fin and Gary load some 250 to 450 pound 55 gallon drums full of rotting, stenching, maggot covered bear bait onto Katahdin Lodge trucks.

Then Fin and Gary went out riding 'round the beautiful Maine countryside bear baiting. While I worked steady at the hard labor task of splitting and stacking firewood.

Later, during each evening: I had to feed and water the animals; and like every other evening during bear season, I had to go out and gather up a few of our paying bear hunters from the woods; I had to track any bears that our hunters had shot at--sometimes with Finley and/or Gary and sometimes by myself; even through the deep, dark woods at nighttime, but always unarmed; if any of our hunters killed a bear, we had to carry it out of the woods to the truck; then we guides had some bear skinning to do, when we finally made it back to the Lodge.

Fortunately, during those two weeks, when I was working on that 19 cords of firewood, Monday thru Friday, Fin and Marty only made me mow the lawn and trim the weeds, on their large piece of cleared ground around the Lodge, on Saturday or Sunday.

And I was responsible for cleaning up the dog crap. About twice a week, I had to shovel up what the five hound dogs who were chained to five individual dog houses dropped on the ground. About twice a month or so, I had to scrub out the wooden floored dog pen where two Beagles lived.

The Bobcat pen got cleaned out about twice a month too. It's a dirty job, but someone had to do it. Animals who rely on human care deserve that kind of good treatment.

Except for during those 10 days of building up those humongous stacks of firewood, I performed all of the afore mentioned morning, evening and weekend tasks plus went out bear baiting and guiding bear hunters 6 days a week. Just like Gary and Finley did. I had a lot of fun while doing it all, too.

During the entire time that I worked for my Aunt Martha and Uncle Finley, at their Katahdin Lodge and Camps of Patten, Maine, I never worked less than 9 hours a day, 6 days a week.

In fact, at the beginning of bear season, in June of 1969, I worked no less than 14-15 hours a day, for 2 and 1/2 weeks straight. Without a break at all.

And that 14-15 hours a day is what it figures up to after deducting meal times.

Working at the Lodge was quite a broad based challenge to take on and do well at. I was, and still am, proud to have accomplished what I had at Katahdin Lodge.

See this website as a book, viewing it a page at a time. Turn the pages by clicking on that OLDER POST button below. 

Click on HOME under this to go to the first page.

There is a table of contents over in the right hand column at the bottom of every page - under BLOG ARCHIVE. 

No comments: