Sunday, December 30, 2007

Poets' Corner

The Ballad of Blasphemous Bill (mild profanity; morbid humor)

I took a contract to bury the body of blasphemous Bill MacKie,
Whenever, wherever or whatsoever the manner of death he die --
Whether he die in the light o' day or under the peak-faced moon;
In cabin or dance-hall, camp or dive, mucklucks or patent shoon;
On velvet tundra or virgin peak, by glacier, drift or draw;
In muskeg hollow or canyon gloom, by avalanche, fang or claw;
By battle, murder or sudden wealth, by pestilence, hooch or lead --
I swore on the Book I would follow and look till I found my tombless dead.

For Bill was a dainty kind of cuss, and his mind was mighty sot
On a dinky patch with flowers and grass in a civilized bone-yard lot.
And where he died or how he died, it didn't matter a damn
So long as he had a grave with frills and a tombstone "epigram".
So I promised him, and he paid the price in good cheechako coin
(Which the same I blowed in that very night down in the Tenderloin).
Then I painted a three-foot slab of pine: "Here lies poor Bill MacKie",
And I hung it up on my cabin wall and I waited for Bill to die.

Years passed away, and at last one day came a squaw with a story strange,
Of a long-deserted line of traps 'way back of the Bighorn range;
Of a little hut by the great divide, and a white man stiff and still,
Lying there by his lonesome self, and I figured it must be Bill.
So I thought of the contract I'd made with him, and I took down from the shelf
The swell black box with the silver plate he'd picked out for hisself;
And I packed it full of grub and "hooch", and I slung it on the sleigh;
Then I harnessed up my team of dogs and was off at dawn of day.

You know what it's like in the Yukon wild when it's sixty-nine below;
When the ice-worms wriggle their purple heads through the crust of the pale blue snow;
When the pine-trees crack like little guns in the silence of the wood,
And the icicles hang down like tusks under the parka hood;
When the stove-pipe smoke breaks sudden off, and the sky is weirdly lit,
And the careless feel of a bit of steel burns like a red-hot spit;
When the mercury is a frozen ball, and the frost-fiend stalks to kill --
Well, it was just like that that day when I set out to look for Bill.

Oh, the awful hush that seemed to crush me down on every hand,
As I blundered blind with a trail to find through that blank and bitter land;
Half dazed, half crazed in the winter wild, with its grim heart-breaking woes,
And the ruthless strife for a grip on life that only the sourdough knows!
North by the compass, North I pressed; river and peak and plain
Passed like a dream I slept to lose and I waked to dream again.

River and plain and mighty peak -- and who could stand unawed?
As their summits blazed, he could stand undazed at the foot of the throne of God.
North, aye, North, through a land accurst, shunned by the scouring brutes,
And all I heard was my own harsh word and the whine of the malamutes,
Till at last I came to a cabin squat, built in the side of a hill,
And I burst in the door, and there on the floor, frozen to death, lay Bill.

Ice, white ice, like a winding-sheet, sheathing each smoke-grimed wall;
Ice on the stove-pipe, ice on the bed, ice gleaming over all;
Sparkling ice on the dead man's chest, glittering ice in his hair,
Ice on his fingers, ice in his heart, ice in his glassy stare;
Hard as a log and trussed like a frog, with his arms and legs outspread.
I gazed at the coffin I'd brought for him, and I gazed at the gruesome dead,
And at last I spoke: "Bill liked his joke; but still, goldarn his eyes,
A man had ought to consider his mates in the way he goes and dies."

Have you ever stood in an Arctic hut in the shadow of the Pole,
With a little coffin six by three and a grief you can't control?
Have you ever sat by a frozen corpse that looks at you with a grin,
And that seems to say: "You may try all day, but you'll never jam me in"?
I'm not a man of the quitting kind, but I never felt so blue
As I sat there gazing at that stiff and studying what I'd do.
Then I rose and I kicked off the husky dogs that were nosing round about,
And I lit a roaring fire in the stove, and I started to thaw Bill out.

Well, I thawed and thawed for thirteen days, but it didn't seem no good;
His arms and legs stuck out like pegs, as if they was made of wood.
Till at last I said: "It ain't no use -- he's froze too hard to thaw;
He's obstinate, and he won't lie straight, so I guess I got to -- saw."
So I sawed off poor Bill's arms and legs, and I laid him snug and straight
In the little coffin he picked hisself, with the dinky silver plate;
And I came nigh near to shedding a tear as I nailed him safely down;
Then I stowed him away in my Yukon sleigh, and I started back to town.

So I buried him as the contract was in a narrow grave and deep,
And there he's waiting the Great Clean-up, when the Judgment sluice-heads sweep;
And I smoke my pipe and I meditate in the light of the Midnight Sun,
And sometimes I wonder if they was, the awful things I done.
And as I sit and the parson talks, expounding of the Law,
I often think of poor old Bill -- and how hard he was to saw.

from BALLADS OF A CHEECHAKO by Robert Service

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Weekend Steam

On the cover of the July-August 1967 issue of The Iron Men Album we have a nice photo of Sam Osborne, Dover, PA, with his 1893 Single T Peerless. It is adorned with its original wooden spoked wheels. Sam located this engine in West Virginia, where it was being used to operate a moonshine still.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Bore Cut

The bore cut is a technique that every chainsaw operator needs to understand. It is used in creating a hinge, both for falling and in bucking trees. Your ability to perform this cut allows you to handle dangerous situations safely, such as falling a tree with forward weight or lean, without it splitting and making a barber chair. The key to doing a bore cut is to bury the nose of the bar with the attack corner. If you try to drive straight into the wood with the tip of the bar you WILL have a kickback. Burying the nose first makes it safe and easy. Watch the video a few times and you should be ready to go out and practice. Be sure to wear your safety gear. The next video in this series will demonstrate a kickback; check it out. Click on the label for chainsaws at the end of this post or in the sidebar to see other videos about chainsaw techniques.

A big Thank You to Engineering Johnson for his help with this video.

Wooden Rain

A very important part of every tree falling plan is your escape from the stump area. As I have told before on this blog, nearly all injuries and deaths related to tree falling occur within a 12 foot radius of the stump. You need to move out of this zone on a pre-established escape route as soon as you set the tree in motion. You should move 20-25 feet, and use other trees for shields if that can be done easily. The escape route should be 45 degrees off of the fall line of the tree, and the opposite direction from which the tree is falling. After the tree is on the ground you need to stay back for a few seconds until you are sure that no more woody debris is going to rain in on the stump area.

The United States Forest Service still teaches the old falling methods which finalize your hinge while the tree is beginning to fall. The reason I have heard from Forest Service chainsaw instructors is that boring a tree to make a hinge is a difficult skill to learn. One of the safety problems with the Forest Service method of falling trees is that your escape from the stump area is delayed or prevented because you are still cutting with your saw deep in the tree.

The picture below is the site of a snag I cut in my woods. Note that the chainsaw is on the stump, and the wood in front of me is part of the treetop which fell backwards as the tree went down. It landed 10 feet from the stump. One of my landowners was nearly killed in 2006 by the same type of incident. He was knocked down 12 feet from the stump, and spent several months in a hospital and rehab facility.

 Dropping dead trees is always a bit more risky than working with live trees, so use the open face and bore cut method when you are working on snags; it will allow you to escape from the bullseye more quickly, and may save your life.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Poets' Corner


Up in the morning's no for me,
Up in the morning early;
When a' the hills are cover'd wi'' snaw,
I'm sure it's winter fairly.

Cauld blaws the wind frae east to west,
The drift is driving sairly;
Sae loud and shrill's I hear the blast,
I'm sure it's winter fairly.

The birds sit chittering in the thorn,
a' day they fare but sparely:
And lang's the night frae e'en to morn,
I'm sure it's winter fairly.

Up in the morning's no for me,
Up in the morning early;
When a' the hills are cover'd wi' snaw,
I'm sure it's winter fairly.

Robert Burns

Weekend Steam

From the cover of the September-October 1958 issue of The Iron Men Album we have a Phoenix log hauler, owned by the Smolik brothers of Osage, Iowa. I saw this engine operating at Cedar Falls, Iowa many years ago. Photo by Ray Ernst of Wayland, Iowa, one of the founders of Midwest Old Settlers and Threshers Association.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Killer Stumps

Mistakes made by other people are valuable learning tools. Some of them are so valuable that I take a picture so I can pass them on to others. These stumps illustrate the phenonenon known as "Barber Chair".

The first stump also shows a strange misconception that I run into frequently. The cutter of this tree cut across the stump at an angle, ostensibly "So the stump will push the tree over!" Stumps do not push on a tree; gravity can pull it over, wind can push it over, you can wedge it over, you can pull it over with a cable, you can push it over with a skidder, but the stump DOES NOT PUSH!

A barber chair occurs when a tree goes into motion while the hinging wood is too thick to bend. Since it can't bend, the tree splits lengthwise. This happens suddenly, often explosively. If the cutter is in the way of the butt end of the log when it happens, he will suffer severe crushing injuries when the tree smashes into him. If the tree misses him at this point, the danger is not over. The tree becomes airborne on a springpole, and it is anybody's bet what the tree will do next. You literally cannot get away fast enough.

The stump below was the site of a fatal accident. The cutter had been ruining trees all over this woods with poor cutting technique, and this tree was his final mistake. He cut a small wedge (barely visible on the ground) on the left side of the stump, intending the tree to fall that way. He then bored through the tree where you see the step on the right side of the stump. Next he cut to the left, severing all the wood to the wedge cutout. The tree was heavy to the right, and when he severed the wood on the left, the tree split to the right and stood on a springpole, which you can see lying behind and to the right of the stump. The cutter ran, but the tree rotated counter-clockwise on the springpole, and the butt of the log hit the logger on the back of the head, killing him. His body was lying 12 feet from the stump.

If the cutter had been using a hinge to control his trees he would still be alive. There is a lot of resistance to learning the new methods of falling trees, mostly because we are all reluctant to change methods we have become accustomed to. Most loggers I encounter are still using cutting methods developed with axes and crosscut saws. Modern chainsaws allow us to bore through trees, giving us the advantage of a hinge of proper thickness before the tree is set in motion. This is a skill well worth developing.

If you use a chainsaw, you should seek out a safety instructor who can teach you the latest methods. Your life could depend on it.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Vintage Toys

One of my favorite Christmas presents was a mold for casting lead soldiers. I would use up all my lead making soldiers, then melt them down and make new ones. I doubt that anyone is marketing such a toy today. Putting children and molten lead together today would bring a herd of protesters and lawyers on the run. I suspect that this man received the same toy one Christmas and then started collecting molds when he grew up. The toys pictured above are cast out of a tin-zinc alloy, which is harder than lead, and safe for anyone to handle. It would be interesting to know who is collecting and playing with these toys. I suspect that most of the happy owners are big boys.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Poets' Corner


when the cold weather
comes i always
get a new interest in sociology
i am almost human that way
it worries me as to how
the other half
are going to get through
the winter
last evening i went
into a cheap eating house
and dropped into a beef stew
and had a warm bath
and a bit to eat
and listened afterwards
to a couple of bums
who had begged enough
during the day to get a supper
they were talking
about this new movement
on the part of the jobless
and homeless
to take possession of the churches
and live there during
the cold weather
said the first bum
i dont think i could do it
it would bring up
too many associations
you see i am a minister s son
you too exclaimed the second bum
why i also
am the son of a preacher
my father was a minister
in small towns all his life
he worked himself to death at it
he never got paid enough
to live on
and it was not until i left home
and became a hobo that i ever
got as much as i wanted to eat
at one meal
precisely my experience
said the other bum
have you ever had any temptation
said number one to quit being a hobo
and take a regular job
yes said number two
very often
but i have always had
the strength of character
to resist temptation
it is my duty to my fellow men
to see that they have
material on which to wreak
their passion to be charitable
during the christmas holidays
it makes the well to do
more comfortable and gives
them a warm virtuous glow
when they give me a dime
and i should not feel justified
in taking from them
such a simple and inexpensive pleasure
yes said the other bum
the rich we have always with us
they are the great problem of the age
we must treat them as well
as we can and help them
to have a little fun by the way
so that they can forget at least temporarily
the biblical assurance
that it is as hard for them to enter
the kingdom of heaven
as for a camel
to pass through a needle s eye
well said the other one
sometimes i think i would
be willing to change places with a rich man
and run the risk
oh certainly said the other
i have never had any instinctive
hatred for riches
it is only work that i detest
riches are all very well
if you inherit them
but i doubt if they are worth
toiling for
think of all the millions
toiling miserably in order
to be damned
it is a pathetic sight
but if one inherits riches
he knows that the fates
have doomed him to be damned
before his birth
and it is of little use to struggle
that is far different from striving
desperately all one s life
to lay up enough wealth
to damn one
i perceive said his new found friend
that your early training
has stayed by you
you have a truly religious nature
yes replied the other
at the cost of great
personal sacrifice in many ways
i have kept myself
an object of charity
in order to foster
the spirituality of the well to do
the most passionate piety
could do but little more
but if you had inherited
great riches said the other bum
would you have given them to the poor
i doubt was the reply
that i would have felt justified
in doing that
i would more likely have said to myself
that providence
had by that token
marked me out as one destined
to hell fire
and would have considered it
impious to struggle against
the manifest wishes of heaven
well sighed the other
life is full of terrible problems
indeed it is
rejoined his friend
but i am afraid that i shall
never solve even the least of them
when i am empty and cold
i am not in the mood for meditation
and when i am warm and replete
i go to sleep
the few guiding principles
i learned in father s church
have carried me thus far
and i shall go on to the end
never thinking beyond them
i merely apply them literally
and they work
they have made me what i am
he concluded complacently


FROM: the lives and times of archy and mehitabel by don marquis
doubleday doran & co inc 1935

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Weekend Steam

This photo is taken from The Furrow, a magazine published by John Deere forty years ago. The Russell engine belonged to the Shellabarger Brothers, the Advance Rumely belonged to Harold Jarvis, and the Wood Brothers engine belonged to William Seyb and Dallas Kerr. This photo was taken at the Midwest Old Settlers and Threshers show at Mt. Pleasant, Iowa in 1966.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Carbon Credits

There are a lot of words being flung concerning saving the Earth from global warming. Carbon Credits is my favorite term in this shouting match. Some of my customers are collecting dollars simply because they wanted to plant trees, and then did so. They have since signed up with an outfit in Chicago that deals in this smoke and mirrors project, and are now collecting dollars that seem to be real enough. I wonder how long it will be until the investors in this mess wake up and begin to wonder what happens to all that carbon when the trees die. (See: Trees Are Temporary) The Cerambycid beetle larvae in the persimmon wood pictured above are not commenting about this issue, but they continue to work silently behind the scenes, along with carpenter ants, termites, powder post beetles, and assorted fungi. These mostly invisible flora and fauna are one of the big reasons we need to work overtime growing trees, but real forest aficianodos grow trees mainly because we like them.

Monday, December 10, 2007


Plan writing for forestry puposes has a long list of requirements because of the various bureaucracies involved. One of the unusual parts required in forest management plans is a section on Cultural Resources. This has to be mentioned in every plan that might be in a state, federal, or American Forest Foundation program. The nearest thing to a cultural resource I see are old cemeteries. If I can identify a site used by Indians, I am not supposed to document it in writing because it might cause looting of a grave site. I finally found an old building that I thought might qualify for a Cultural Resource;-)
I mentioned this old shack to the landowner and found that he has burned it down since I took the photo. A meth maker had taken it over to ply his trade, so the shack had become a double liability. Oh well, I will keep looking.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Sunday Service

The Men That Don't Fit In

There's a race of men that don't fit in,

A race that can't stay still;

So they break the hearts of kith and kin,

And they roam the world at will.

They range the field and they rove the flood,

And they climb the mountain's crest;

Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,

And they don't know how to rest.

If they just went straight they might go far;

They are strong and brave and true;

But they're always tired of the things that are,

And they want the strange and new.

They say: "Could I find my proper groove,

What a deep mark I would make!"

So they chop and change, and each fresh move

Is only a fresh mistake.

And each forgets, as he strips and runs

With a brilliant, fitful pace,

It's the steady, quiet, plodding ones

Who win in the lifelong race.

And each forgets that his youth has fled,

Forgets that his prime is past,

Till he stands one day, with a hope that's dead,

In the glare of the truth at last.

He has failed, he has failed; he has missed his chance;

He has just done things by half.

Life's been a jolly good joke on him,

And now is the time to laugh.

Ha, ha! He is one of the Legion Lost;

He was never meant to win;

He's a rolling stone, and it's bred in the bone;

He's a man who won't fit in.

From Spell of the Yukon by Robert Service

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Weekend Steam

Nice Rings

Count the rings on this oak stump and think about what you have been told about trees all your life. This tree popped up in an abandoned pasture sometime after World War II, and is only about fifty years old. Whenever I am visiting a school I can count on the teacher to tell the kids that it takes a long time to grow a tree, and then I have to get on my soap box. The truth is that trees grow faster than most people think. The misconception that trees take forever to grow discourages most landowners from trying to manage their timber. Another misconception landowners have is that their trees are not worth anything. This second idea causes landowners to market their timber poorly; often they practically give it away.

This oak tree grew on an unremarkable upland site, and yet it made a very good showing. It had some physical problems, as old field pioneers often do, so it was selected for harvest. The trees left to grow on this site are all of higher quality. The important point to note is that you can start from scratch and produce timber in your lifetime.

Be sure to look at the slide shows in the previous posts which show the various cuts needed to fall a tree. You will see the cuts being demonstrated on the stump of a pitch pine tree which died due to storm damage. This tree was planted in 1940, and the lady who planted it watched as it was turned into lumber. Here are a few pictures of that event.

Landowners who work with their trees regularly find that it is difficult to keep up with the changes in their timber. I still feel a bit of amazement when I cut trees for firewood that The Mrs. and I planted; we have even cut lumber out of a few.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Falling a Tree: The Open Face Cuts and Hinging

Falling trees and bucking logs are activities that have inherent risks. The methods you use when performing these tasks can dramatically increase or decrease your risk of being injured or killed. The most important step in preventing problems is committing to developing a plan for every tree you cut. If you don't have a plan, everything that happens becomes an accident; so here are your planning steps, and a slide show demonstrating the cuts to make in aiming a tree you are going to fall.

1. Look for safety issues around the tree you are cutting. Downed limbs, vines, brush, dead wood and widow makers overhead, power lines, and anything you can identify as a possible hazard. You have to mitigate your hazards before you start cutting. Sometimes you walk away and leave the tree for someone with a bucket truck.

2. Determine your aiming point. This is done by walking to the spot you want the tree to fall and looking back at the tree. If the tree is vertical in relation to you, you will aim straight on for this spot. You will need to change your aiming spot if the tree has side lean. Point up at a 45 degree angle into the tree and determine how much the trunk/crown lies off a vertical line from the center of the stump. You will move your aiming spot an equal distance in the opposite direction. Put a stick in the ground to mark the spot. The hinge will fail if the tree has significant side lean. If this is the case, find another direction to fall the tree and do this step again. You can handle more forward lean and back lean than you can side lean.

3. Determine your escape routes from the stump you are about to create. Your escape route should be on a line 45 degrees off of the fall line of the tree. (135 degrees from the direction the tree will fall.) Clear out any obstacles that might trip you or block you from making an efficient move away from the stump. You MUST get beyond a 12 foot radius as quickly as possible when the tree begins to fall. Ninety percent of injuries and deaths occur within that 12 foot radius, so distance is your friend. If you can dodge behind another tree, so much the better. Wood often comes raining down from the treetops when trees move, so get out of the circle, and stay out until things settle down.

4. Make your open face cuts to aim the tree. You aim the tree with the first cut, and your aiming aid is the line across the top of the saw. Line up your eye behind this line and point it at the stick you put at the aiming spot. Cut down on the face of the tree until the bottom of the cut is 80% of the tree diameter. If the tree has much side lean, you will want to make the hinge 90% or 100% of the tree diameter. A pocket size tape measure with a diamater scale on the back is a handy item to have in setting up this cut. Your second cut is made by cutting in horizontally and meeting the bottom of the first cut. Remove the wood and inspect the junction of your cuts. The cuts should meet exactly. If either cut passes the other by 1/2 inch or more, clean it up so they match. The angle between these cuts should be 70 to 90 degrees. This wide angle allows the tree to fall to the ground with the hinge holding the tree to the stump.

5. The final step is establishing a hinge, releasing the tree, and wedging if the tree is not balanced forward. Begin your back cuts on the bad side of the tree; that is the heavy side. You will complete your cuts from the good side of the tree. You start by determining your hinge thickness. The hinge thickness should be no more than 10 percent of the diameter at breast height. Begin the cut with the lower corner of the bar and bury the nose of the bar, then rotate your saw until the bar runs parallel to the open face cut. With the saw running wide open you push the saw through the tree while staying on track to make the hinge the correct thickness. When you have the saw all the way in you will then cut toward the back of the tree, but stop and leave a strap of wood holding the tree. If your saw did not reach all the way through the tree you will repeat this operation from the other side. Set a wedge in the back cut unless you are sure that the tree has forward weight. This will prevent your saw being trapped. When you are satisfied with your setup, make sure everyone is out of the way, cut the back strap, and make your escape. Use your wedges to tip the tree if it does not go on its own.

Remember when making these cuts that the hinge should be no more than 10% of the tree diameter in thickness, and should be at least 80% of the tree diameter in length. Boring cuts are always started with the bottom corner of the chainsaw bar. Stop and look around before you cut the backstrap. Make sure no persons or pets have wandered in while you had your head down making your cuts. Make your escape when the tree begins to go.

Always wear boots, chainsaw chaps or overalls, hard hat, ear, eye, and face protection when running your saw. Activate the brake if you are taking over two steps.

After watching this video, click on the "chainsaw" label to bring up other videos about using a chainsaw.

For Extreme Leaners, CLICK HERE.   And HERE.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Ain't Misbehavin'


During the summer of 2006 I had the good fortune to spend a couple of weeks at Orr, (Say it like a pirate!) Minnesota. While at Orr, I usually ate at this very nice local eatery.

In addition to great breakfasts, lunches and suppers, Sandy turns out those most amazing doughnuts. They are as big as a wheelbarrow tire and can feed three people. I was a bad boy, and even with lots of physical activity, I gained five pounds during those two weeks. A cop probably wouldn't survive a year. Since being in Orr, I haven't touched a doughnut...what would be the point after having the best? If you are in Northern Minnesota, be sure to drop by Orr for a treat.

The lovely Sandy and her daughter.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Saint Andrew's Day

Saint Andrew's Day is November 30, and even if you are not Scottish, it is a good excuse for a holiday season party. ( The flag of Scotland is the Cross of St. Andrew, and this is widely displayed as a symbol of national identity.) Because Andrew is the Patron Saint of Scotland, a proper celebration should have bagpipes, Scotch Whisky, and haggis. If you are apprehensive about haggis, at least make a meatloaf with both cut and rolled oats instead of bread for the filler.

My favorite poet, Robert Service, gets little or no respect from Professors of English; I think because he was a Scot, and possibly because he actually made a living writing poetry. In his collection of Bar-Room Ballads, published in 1940, Mr. Service uses the term Sassenach twice in one of his poems. This word is a Scottish/Gaelic term derived from an early word for Saxon. It is a somewhat derogatory term for anything English. Use of this word may be one of the reasons this successful and entertaining writer is still being snubbed for all of his works except for a few early poems about the Yukon Gold Rush.

Below is the offending poem; a great story to read with Saint Andrew's Day coming up. Now pour a glass of good Scotch, crank up a CD of bagpipes, and enjoy a good story.

The Ballad of How MacPherson Held the Floor

Said President MacConnachie to Treasurer MacCall:
"We ought to have a piper for our next Saint Andrew's Ball.
Yon squakin' saxophone gives me the syncopated gripes.
I'm sick of jazz, I want to hear the skirling of the pipes."
"Alas! it's true," said Tam MacCall. "The young folk of to-day
Are fox-trot mad and dinna ken a reel from a Strathspey.
Now, what we want's a kiltie lad, primed up wi' mountain dew,
To strut the floor at supper time, and play a lilt or two.
In all the North there's only one; of him I've heard them speak:
His name is Jock MacPherson, and he lives on Boulder Creek;
An old-time hard-rock miner, and a wild and wastrel loon,
Who spends his nights in glory, playing pibrochs to the moon.
I'll seek him out; beyond a doubt on next Saint Andrew's night
We'll proudly hear the pipes to cheer and charm our appetite.

Oh lads were neat and lassies sweet who graced Saint Andrew's Ball;
But there was none so full of fun as Treasurer MacCall.
And as Maloney's rag-time band struck up the newest hit,
He smiled a smile behind his hand, and chuckled: "Wait a bit."
And so with many a Celtic snort, with malice in his eye,
He watched the merry crowd cavort, till supper time drew nigh.
Then gleefully he seemed to steal, and sought the Nugget Bar,
Wherein there sat a tartaned chiel, as lonely as a star;
A huge and hairy Highlandman as hearty as a breeze,
A glass of whisky in his hand, his bag-pipes on his knees.
"Drink down your doch and doris, Jock," cried Treasurer MacCall;
"The time is ripe to up and pipe; they wait you in the hall.
Gird up your loins and grit your teeth, and here's a pint of hooch
To mind you of your native heath - jist pit it in your pooch.
Play on and on for all you're worth; you'll shame us if you stop.
Remember you're of Scottish birth - keep piping till you drop.
Aye, though a bunch of Willie boys should bluster and implore,
For the glory of the Highlands, lad, you've got to hold the floor."
The dancers were at supper, and the tables groaned with cheer,
When President MacConnachie exclaimed: "What do I hear?
Methinks it's like a chanter, and its coming from the hall."
"It's Jock MacPherson tuning up," cried Treasurer MacCall.
So up they jumped with shouts of glee, and gaily hurried forth.
Said they: "We never thought to see a piper in the North."
Aye, all the lads and lassies braw went buzzing out like bees,
And Jock MacPherson there they saw, with red and rugged knees.
Full six foot four he strode the floor, a grizzled son of Skye,
With glory in his whiskers and with whisky in his eye.
With skelping stride and Scottish pride he towered above them all:
"And is he no' a bonny sight?" said Treasurer MacCall.
While President MacConnachie was fairly daft with glee,
And there was jubilation in the Scottish Commy-tee.
But the dancers seemed uncertain, and they signified their doubt,
By dashing back to eat as fast as they had darted out.
And someone raised the question 'twixt the coffee and the cakes:
"Does the Piper walk to get away from all the noise he makes?"
Then reinforced with fancy food they slowly trickled forth,
And watching in patronizing mood the Piper of the North.

Proud, proud was Jock MacPherson, as he made his bag-pipes skirl,
And he set his sporran swinging, and he gave his kilts a whirl.
And President MacConnachie was jumping like a flea,
And there was joy and rapture in the Scottish Commy-tee.
"Jist let them have their saxophones wi' constipated squall;
We're having Heaven's music now," said Treasurer MacCall.
But the dancers waxed impatient, and they rather seemed to fret
For Maloney and the jazz of his Hibernian Quartette.
Yet little recked the Piper, as he swung with head on high,
Lamenting with MacCrimmon on the heather hills of Skye.
With Highland passion in his heart he held the centre floor;
Aye, Jock MacPherson played as he had never played before.

Maloney's Irish melodists were sitting in their place,
And as Maloney waited, there was wonder in his face.
'Twas sure the gorgeous music - Golly! wouldn't it be grand
If he could get MacPherson as a member of his band?
But the dancers moped and mumbled, as around the room they sat:
"We paid to dance," they grumbled; "But we cannot dance to that.
Of course we're not denying that it's really splendid stuff;
But it's mighty satisfying - don't you think we've had enough?"
"You've raised a pretty problem," answered Treasurer MacCall;
"For on Saint Andrew's Night, ye ken, the Piper rules the Ball.
"Said President MacConnachie: "You've said a solemn thing.
Tradition holds him sacred, and he's got to have his fling.
But soon, no doubt, he'll weary out. Have patience; bide a wee."
"That's right. Respect the Piper," said the Scottish Commy-tee.

And so MacPherson stalked the floor, and fast the moments flew,
Till half an hour went past, as irritation grew and grew.
The dancers held a council, and with faces fiercely set,
They hailed Maloney, heading his Hibernian Quartette:
"It's long enough, we've waited. Come on, Mike, play up the Blues.
"And Maloney hesitated, but he didn't dare refuse.
So banjo and piano, and guitar and saxophone
Contended with the shrilling of the chanter and the drone;
And the women's ears were muffled, so infernal was the din,
But MacPherson was unruffled, for he knew that he would win.
Then two bright boys jazzed round him, and they sought to play the clown,
But MacPherson jolted sideways, and the Sassenachs went down.
And as if it was a signal, with a wild and angry roar,
The gates of wrath were riven - yet MacPherson held the floor.

Aye, amid the rising tumult, still he strode with head on high,
With ribbands gaily streaming, yet with battle in his eye.
Amid the storm that gathered, still he stalked with Highland pride,
While President and Treasurer sprang bravely to his side.
And with ire and indignation that was glorious to see,
Around him in a body ringed the Scottish Commy-tee.
Their teeth were clenched with fury; their eyes with anger blazed:
"Ye manna touch the Piper," was the slogan that they raised.
Then blows were struck, and men went down; yet 'mid the rising fray
MacPherson towered in triumph - and he never ceased to play.

Alas! his faithful followers were but a gallant few,
And faced defeat, although they fought with all the skill they knew.
For President MacConnachie was seen to slip and fall,
And o'er his prostrate body stumbled Treasurer MacCall.
And as their foes with triumph roared, and leagured them about,
It looked as if their little band would soon be counted out.
For eyes were black and noses red, yet on that field of gore,
As resolute as Highland rock - MacPherson held the floor.

Maloney watched the battle, and his brows were bleakly set,
While with him paused and panted his Hibernian Quartette.
For sure it is an evil spite, and breaking to the heart,
For Irishmen to watch a fight and not be taking part.
Then suddenly on high he soared, and tightened up his belt:
"And shall we see them crush," he roared, "a brother and a Celt?
A fellow artiste needs our aid. Come on, boys, take a hand."
Then down into the mêlée dashed Maloney and his band.

Now though it was Saint Andrew's Ball, yet men of every race,
That bow before the Great God Jazz were gathered in that place.
Yea, there were those who grunt: "Ya! Ya!" and those who squeak: "We! We!"
Likewise Dutch, Dago, Swede and Finn, Polack and Portugee.
Yet like ripe grain before the gale that national hotch-potch
Went down before the fury of the Irish and the Scotch.
Aye, though they closed their gaping ranks and rallied to the fray,
To the Shamrock and the Thistle went the glory of the day.

You should have seen the carnage in the drooling light of dawn,
Yet 'mid the scene of slaughter Jock MacPherson playing on.
Though all lay low about him, yet he held his head on high,
And piped as if he stood upon the caller crags of Skye.
His face was grim as granite, and no favour did he ask,
Though weary were his mighty lungs and empty was his flask.
And when a fallen foe wailed out: "Say! when will you have done?"
MacPherson grinned and answered: "Hoots! She's only haf' begun."
Aye, though his hands were bloody, and his knees were gay with gore,
A Grampian of Highland pride - MacPherson held the floor.

And still in Yukon valleys where the silent peaks look down,
They tell of how the Piper was invited up to town,
And he went in kilted glory, and he piped before them all,
But wouldn't stop his piping till he busted up the Ball.
Of that Homeric scrap they speak, and how the fight went on,
With sally and with rally till the breaking of the dawn.
And how the Piper towered like a rock amid the fray,
And the battle surged about him, but he never ceased to play.
Aye, by the lonely camp-fires, still they tell the story o'er-
How the Sassenach was vanquished and - MacPherson held the floor.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Mmmmmm.....Holiday Treats

King Arthur Scone Mix from the Discount Grocery.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Barns vs. Corn Cribs

Gone For Good

Barns have been a popular topic for backroad historians for the last fifty years. Picture books about barns have been around as long as I can remember, and for the last twenty years the authors have been documenting the decay and disappearance of these landmarks. I attended a slide show and lecture about barns last year by a faculty member from the University of Iowa, and was struck by the lack of farming knowledge this historian/author had. Some of the photos displayed at this event were of corn cribs, but the lecturer knew nothing about them. Corn cribs were used for storing and drying ear corn (corn still on the cob). These buildings were used in the midwest for corn that was picked and shucked by hand, and later for corn that was harvested with tractor mounted and pull behind corn pickers. (Check out the article about picking corn at: ) The bin walls on the inside and outside of the building have gaps between the boards which allow air to move through the stored ear corn, accomplishing the drying.

Elevator; Drag broken and turned; One bucket visible

Corn cribs like the one pictured have an elevator to transport the corn into the cupola where it fell into a chute which could be turned to distribute it into the bins on either side of the drive-through. The elevator consisted of a drag which folded down behind the wagons to receive the grain, and buckets on a continuous chain drive to carry the grain upward. There was also a winch mounted on the wall which lifted the front end of wagons to dump them. All of this machinery was run by a gas engine or tractor belted to the drive mechanism at the end of the crib.


There are also two large overhead bins in the center for storing oats or soybeans. When this crib was built, the bins would have only been used for oats, as the owners at that time farmed with horses. Soybeans were not grown on this farm until this family rented out the land after they retired.

Portable Corn Sheller

The corn was shelled after it had dried. Doors along the bottom of the crib were opened in order to pull out the ear corn into drags which fed a portable corn sheller. The corn then could be used as feed on the farm, or transported to an elevator in town and sold.

Combines with corn picking heads allowed farmers to pick and shell corn in one operation, and this innovation quickly made the corn crib obsolete. It also created a new industry for building grain drying bins to be used on the farm. One of the benefits of the modern harvesting methods is that farmers are no longer losing their arms in tractor mounted corn pickers. Fifty years ago, it was common to see farmers with a metal prosthesis in place of a hand. Corn pickers had fast spinning rollers on either side of the tractor driver. These rollers separated the ears from the corn stalks. If the rollers clogged up with stalks, it was only natural for the farmer to grab the jam and pull. The trouble with that was the farmer could not let go fast enough when the jam broke loose and pulled back into the roller. These old corn pickers are an antique that needed to be phased out. I am not sorry to see them disappear into the mists. The new technology is not without its problems. One of the greatest safety hazards on the farm today is the danger of being caught and suffocated in flowing grain while emptying grain bins. You don't see suffocation victims walking around like we did with amputation victims, so a lot of families learn this lesson the hard way.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Pre-PC Thanksgiving

Copied from:

George Washington's 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation
Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me to "recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:"
Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, A.D. 1789.

G. Washington

Before Sparkplugs

One of the fascinating inventions from the early days of the internal combustion engine is hot tube ignition. It consists of a hollow tube opening into the combustion chamber and a torch to heat the tube red hot. Ignition timing can be adjusted by moving the torch up or down on the tube. It was a reliable system for stationary oilfield engines which had to run for days on end. It has no moving parts, no electrical problems, and the gas to run it was easily available in the oilfield. I saw a Bessemer engine in a powerhouse near Salyersville KY with this type of ignition in 1980. It was putting right along, pumping oil from several wells. I doubt there are any of these early Twentieth Century engines still pumping oil, but they are a common collectible you can see at gas engine shows. Roll down to the Boonville show pics in the October 24 post and you can see this Reid two stroke engine running. Click on the Antiques label to find the video easily.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Today Is...

Take a youngster or a non-shooter to the range and pop some caps this week.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Well Fed Forester

Once upon a time, I thought that a pack of saltine crackers and a can of Beanie Wienies was OK for lunch out in the field. I finally wised up and realized I could have a hot lunch every day just by taking along some of my camping gear. I started out doing many variations of beans and noodles, and I still do that once in a while, but beans and rice has become my tailgate specialty. I boil a small batch of black rice (sweet and high fiber) at home every night, and it is plumped up nice in the morning. I add a bean selection from the Dented Can Store and season it with a combination of habanero and other pepper sauces. Lunch for under 50 cents! Cheap and healthful! I usually top it off with some high power coffee to keep me alert after such a great feast.

Hot and Strong!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Keep Your Head Down, Friend

Friday morning will be a dangerous time for my friendly ten pointer. I have watched this deer grow up, and as long as I don't stray out of the yard, he will tolerate me when I talk to him. He has been hanging around the house and barn the last few days, and if he survives the first few hours of gun season tomorrow, I am sure he will hunker down in our woods for the duration of the weekend. I hope he reappears next week.

Blaze of Glory

White Oak
Red Maple

All summer long while the midwest baked the news people were moaning about the drab fall we would have. The fall colors have not been as intense as some years, but the trees have made up for intensity by putting on an extended show this year. Fall colors started early with the sumacs; and sour gum, which usually turns red and drops in one week, has lasted for a month. Quite a few sugar maples colored up late, and silver maples were a brilliant yellow last week. They dropped very quickly this week. The red maples put on a good show and are now nearly all done. Even the oaks have done a good job of showing colors this year. Sycamore was a real surprise, producing nice combinations of yellow, bronze and light greens on most trees.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Mixing Metaphors

What's a metaphor? Why for growing hay, of course. Some of the old technolgy on display at threshing shows illustrates past methods of handling hay and straw. Square bales are now the old way of handling forage crops for most of the people who display equipment at these shows. If you check out the age of the show participants you can deduce that most of them grew up with the big round bales you see in fields around the midwest. Before baling twine, before baling wire, there was loose hay. The technology of handling loose hay is a chapter in history that today's farmers don't know at all. This first picture was taken in northwestern Missouri in 1906. The horses in this photo are pushing gathering rakes, commonly called go-devils to bring hay to the stacker. In later years this method was updated by replacing the horses with an automobile or tractor.
My great grandfather Henry is the man on the right on top of the hay stack. His wife Ida is the lady standing on the right. She is carrying my grandmother Helen and twin Homer, who were born in 1907.

A major improvement was the hay stacker which was pulled by horses. This machine loaded loose hay onto a wagon, which then would be off loaded into a barn. The loose hay could be baled by a stationary baler in the barnyard, or packed in the barn as loose hay. Square balers pulled behind a tractor for baling in the field rendered these old methods obsolete very quickly. There is so much history in the brief time span of the Twentieth Century that we must not be too critical when folks don't get it right, but I think it is OK to chuckle.

There is no way this hay stacker could have loaded BALES! (Photo shamelessly stolen from Engineering Johnson)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

billion meticulations of the roots* or Don't Call it Dirt

*the lives & times of archy and mehitabel

Foresters do a lot of looking up while they work. This causes us to trip a lot, which is good for laughs if anyone is with us. Some criticize us for not looking down enough, but that really is not a true assessment. Soil scientists spend a lot of time looking down, and nobody gives them a hard time for not looking up; go figure. Once a year, soil scientists and foresters get together for the Central States Forest Soils Workshop, a field seminar where participants look both ways. Attendees from both disciplines range in age from college students to retirees, and everyone goes home richer in understanding of the resources we treasure. This fall it was in Southern Illinois, and there were over 160 participants. Next year it will be in Ohio. The location has not been announced, but you can probably Google it next August and find it.

Trivia: Foresters have to take soils courses, but soil scientists do not have to take forestry courses.

Retired Soil Scientist Dana G expounding on a hillside soil pit.

SIU Professor Charles Ruffner describing the effects of thinning and burning to foster oak regneration.

A pit in alluvial soil at Union State Tree Nursery. This pit had two soil types; a rare treat!

We look at landscapes, too. Here is Camel Rock at Garden of the Gods.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Get Out Your Gun and Whistle Up the Dog

Most hunters are preoccupied with the upcoming fall deer season when November rolls around. Deer hunting means getting out of bed early, finding your way into the woods in the dark, freezing your feet off, and being alert for other hunters so you don't get shot. Hunting groundhogs in the fall is a much more relaxing exercise in woodsmanship. These shy little creatures like to come out on warm, sunny afternoons in the fall when you are likely to fall asleep sitting in the woods. They are more easily alarmed than the average deer, so you must be quiet and concealed. You must have your rifle sighted in precisely so you can make an instant kill with one shot. If you can't do that, the hog will get away down its hole. Don't use a .22 long rifle.
Put one in the freezer before winter weather arrives or you will be caught short on Groundhog Day. 85 days and counting down!

Saturday, November 3, 2007


Here is a very old (100 years), rare and unusual engine. It was manufactured by the August Mietz Company in New York, New York. This is a two stroke engine with a hot head for ignition, and a fuel injector, which you can see in operation on top of the cylinder as the engine runs. This company ended production in 1915 after the death of the owner. I would guess that most of these engines were used in industrial situations in the eastern US. Seeing one at the Boonville IN show was a rare treat.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Enjoy Long Walks?

Here is a handy item you can’t afford to be without if you go off the hard road: the Hi-Lift Jack. I don’t use mine for lifting very often. Usually I am using it as winch. It is very handy for stretching fence, or straightening timbers in a slouching barn, but it really shines when it pulls me out of a hole, ditch or other off-road jam. If you stow one of these in your vehicle along with some chains and tow straps you can perform self-rescues and return home on four wheels.

Winches are expensive, and you can't have one on every vehicle you drive, but this bad boy can go with you in any vehicle. I dropped a wheel into a hole the other day and my truck was down on the frame. The first time this happened to me (29 years ago), I had a nice long walk and had plenty of time to contemplate my folly in unpreparedness. Walking is great when I am looking at timber, but walking for help is bad for the spirit. This time I winched out with my jack, and was back on the road in short order.

You can order one of these from:

Monday, October 29, 2007

Down on the Rio Grande

Many years ago I went to Terlingua, Texas to begin a canoe trip on the Rio Grande. It was a coincidence that I showed up on Halloween. Everyone was celebrating heartily and they made it clear that this was just a warmup for the partying at the Chili Championship.

I had a date with the river, so I missed the big party. If you like chili, and a good time, you better hit the road. The party begins on Wednesday.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

More Boonville IN!

This photo was taken at the Fall show in 2006 of a Keck Gonnerman engine running the sawmill. Kecks were built in nearby Mt Vernon IN, so this is a brand you see in Indiana and Illinois.

You can also see unusual engines like this Reid two stroke oil field engine. The Fall 2012 show will be October 12-14, 2012.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Some Little Old Country Show You Never Heard Of

Antique engine enthusiasts have shows scattered all over this country, and if you look for them, you can find shows from spring through fall. A favorite of mine is the fall show at Boonville, Indiana on the second full weekend every October. At this show you can see gas engines, steam traction engines, antique tractors, farming with horses, much more. The weather is always great for this show, and you can stroll the grounds all day without breaking a sweat.

One of the old skills demonstrated at this show is blasting a log into pieces. This practice is still used to reduce logs that are too large to run through a sawmill. My father and grandfather used to do this many years ago to split logs to a size that could be processed into firewood with a buzz saw. This was way back in BC... Before Chainsaws. The hole for the powder was drilled with a hand powered auger back then; now folks use a chainsaw to punch the hole.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Tape Your Ankles!

You can have an adventurous shopping experience in stores like this one, which I call The Dented Can. Bent and Dent discount/salvage stores buy odd lots of groceries and related items from salvage companies and sell the goods at greatly reduced prices. Some of the packaging is damaged, some of the items are out of date, and some items were cleaned off of store shelves to make room for updated products. Most of the items are still good, and in many years of shopping in these stores, I have discarded only a few purchases. This particular store is operated by Amish proprietors and is a few miles north of Kalona, Iowa, just east of the cheese factory on Highway 1. You will note on the photo that this store is open just three days per week. The shelves are fully stocked only on Wednesdays, and this creates an intense competitive mood among the bargain hunters shopping here. The number system was installed after scuffles broke out among people waiting to get in the doors at opening time. The owners now let one person in at a time, and this has worked for crowd control outside the business. Once you get through the doors, it is a bit like a roller derby retrieving a cart and getting to the aisles. Customers do not behave like ladies and gentlemen when they have bargain coffee beans in view and are blocked by other shoppers. I prefer to wear my combat boots, and I keep a sharp lookout for ladies with a clenched jaw and steely eyes.

You can shop for the same type of bargains safely at Greenfield Grocery in Wayne City, IL. This discount grocer is open six days a week and has fully stocked shelves every day. Greenfield is operated by a Mennonite gentleman, which means that the store has electricity, refrigeration and air conditioning.

Neither Amish or Mennonites will use the internet, so searching for these stores is not easy. If you can find one in your neighborhood, you can save a lot of money on your staple items, and try new foods at bargain rates.