Traveling Trails Less Traveled. By Buckshot Anderson
For November 2nd, 2007 Edition.
Recently, while cruising a back woods two-track checking potholes for any sign of migrating waterfowl, I came across two gentlemen loading a rickety trailer with firewood. The late October afternoon was much too warm for a normal late October afternoon and their sweat streaked faces confirmed my conclusion concerning the temperature. They were doing what my dad used to say was “making wood for the winter.”
I waved a cheery hello as I slowly drove past the toiling pair and smiled inwardly as I recalled my present “woodshed”, a 300 gallon propane tank, was already filled and waiting for Old Man Winter to huff and puff.
Wifee poo and I gave up heating with wood after the winter of 2003-04. In the spring of ’04 we sold our “old house” and began the task of choosing a new one, devoid of wood heat and wood heating devices. My body told me that six decades of heating with wood, and all the work that accompanies it was enough for one lifetime. And now, three years later we have no regrets.
But as I continued my wandering that October afternoon my mind drifted back in time and recalled what I like to refer to as “the evolution of heating with wood.”
My memory allowed me to retreat back in time to the early 1940s. At the time dad, mom and I, plus one cat and a black cocker spaniel were living in a three-room log cabin. I guess “rustic” would be a good name for the facility, although in later years my mom referred to our original homestead dwelling as “early depression.” The cabin was small and cozy, lacking electricity, phone and running water. However it contained lots of love, caring and good food, plus it was warm in the winter.
From the time we moved there in the fall of ’39 to the end of WW II, dad cut all our wood with an axe and Swede saw, and split our winter fuel supply with a short handled double bit axe. After WW II dad and uncle Bud built a “buzz saw”, which was the common name for the machine and similar contraptions used all over the north woods to buzz up a winter wood supply.
Buzz saws were generally constructed on an old automobile frame with the rear wheels intact so the mechanical monster could be towed to various locations to buzz up a pile of firewood. A large circular saw did the buzzing, and full length logs were set upon a hinged table resembled something you might presently see in a hospital operating room. The hinged table would be pushed forward, forcing the log to come in contact with the whirling circular saw. At a minimum this was a three-man operation. The table pusher and one other worker would pick up an 8-foot long (or longer) log, and place it on the table to be buzzed up into 18 inch or longer chunks of firewood. The third guy, the one who drew the short straw, had to stand next to the rapidly rotating blade and hold the end of the log being sawed off. When the cut was complete he had to toss the heavy chunk of wood off to the side without getting his arms, hands or fingers buzzed off.
The first wood burning stove I can recall, (back then they were called “heaters”) was a small cast iron model, which dad moved in and out of our small cabin with the changing of the seasons. This was done to give us move living space in our tiny living room during the seasons of spring, summer and early fall. Mom cooked on a wood cook stove, which delivered enough heat to take the chill out of the house should a cold snap strike when the cast iron heater was being stored in the garage.
In November of 1942 the north was struck by a sudden and unexpected storm on November 11th. Now known as Veteran’s Day, back then it was called Armistice Day. Temperatures had been unusually warm and dad had not brought our cast iron heater into the house and installed the stovepipe. I can still see him tramping through the blowing snow carrying that heavy stove on his shoulders and cussing about the unexpected storm.
That was an historic storm. A number of duck hunters lost their lives in that storm along the Mississippi River and other waterfowl marshes when the high winds, sub-freezing temperatures and blinding snow hit the upper Mid-west.
In 1949 we moved into our new “lodge”, which was heated by a gigantic iron monster in the basement. A half-dozen insulated pipes brought the heat to the upper levels of the two-story log building, and dad dubbed the furnace as “the octopus.”
After feeding the octopus with wood for several winters, we switched to coal. That added an additional chore to my list, as it was my job to drive dad’s pickup truck to the Minocqua Lumber Company and shovel the cargo box full of coal. Once back home I backed the truck into the basement and shoveled the coal out of the cargo bed into the coal bin. What a fun job that was!
Dad and mom gave up living up north during the winter months after the winter of 1954-55. Their son was now in college and the task of filling the woodshed ended for a few years. The Jr. Anderson’s lived in Florida during the school terms from 1960-66, and the memory of filling the woodshed was nearly forgotten. But then Peggy and I bought the family resort and moved back to our beloved north woods in June of ’66. The chore of filling the woodshed resumed.
In 1976 we sold the resort and build a new home on one of the back 40s. Our new home was heated with a modern wood burning forced air furnace situated in its own private furnace room in the basement. This provided our primary heat for the next 28 winters.
Over the years we used several different additional wood burning stoves for supplemental heat, none of which have provided me with any positive cherished memories. We tried one those Ben Franklin reproductions, several different air tight models, one of those thing-a-ma-jigs that you installed in the stovepipe a couple of feet above the smoke outlet to blow out the heat rising in the stack, and a stove made from a 55 gallon oil drum.
I shudder to think of how many hours were spent by members of our family and myself from ’66 through ’03 cutting, hauling, splitting, piling, and hauling again to supply fuel for winter warmth! But, it was great exercise and gave us a sense of accomplishment once the 12 X 24 shed was filled to the brim.
Of course, there was always more fun connected with heating with wood during the winter months. There were ashes to haul outside, and then dispose of again once spring arrived. Cleaning out creosote encrusted stovepipes and chimneys were also delightful tasks. Wheeling those big wheelbarrows filled with dry firewood from the shed to the furnace room was also lots of fun, especially when it was 30 below zero or a foot new snow on the ground.
But, that’s all history now and I smile often when I simply walk down the hall and turn up the thermostat when a wintry blast chills our house.
Mr. Leon "Buckshot" Anderson is one of the few old time hunting and fishing guides left in Northern Wisconsin. Buckshot is a personal friend of the family and has known and worked with my grandfather, Howard "Pop" Dean, both of whom are members of the fresh water fishing hall of fame, Legendary Guide. Buckshot has authored 7 books on the great outdoors. All of his books can be purchased directly from him, at a discount, by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to: 2220 Deadman's Gulch Road, St. Germain, WI 54558.
Books by Leon "Buckshot" Anderson Click Here
Yes; Deadman's Gulch is the correct name, I have been on that road many times. Sincerely David D. Cruger
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