Wood cutting culture

Around November the conversation switches from the weather to “Got your wood in yet?”  Gas station, grocery store, Friday night fish, almost anywhere: “How ya’ been?  Got your wood in yet?”

I see my brother-in-law every 3 months or so.  The purpose of these meetings is for me to confess I don’t have much wood cut and also to try my new excuses for why.  Like, “Isprainedmyankleandmyunclediedagain.”  If I can get some sympathy from Max (for the 17th time in a row), I know I can use that line again.

Herbie the tractor and other tools. A little tractor gets around perfectly in the woods.

How much wood you have is like hay in the barn or food in the freezer, a sign or your industriousness and productivity.  That’s what worries me.  Telling people how much wood you have on hand is like the size of the fish you caught on that trip up north with your buddies.  There’s usually an inflation factor.  I keep my woodpile hidden from the road for more than aesthetic reasons.

I’ve been heating with wood for 40 years.  It requires a lot of specialized equipment.  We have three 4-wheel drive wood trucks that cost $450.  That’s $450 total, not each.  One was $250, another $200 and the third was “get this piece of junk out of my yard”.  That’s the best one, it’s a ¾ ton. I like to think I represent the “fleet” in Farm and Fleet.  They’re all Ford F series pickups which is good if you only have one alternator to share.   Before you say anything I know that $250 is a lot to spend on a truck but my oldest boy used it for Prom and my wife took it to Monroe once so it has more value than you might think.

What's growing in the back of your wood truck?

Spring is coming soon, in June they say, so you would think this is a good time to take it easy.  But even though it’s April the “pile” in front of our furnace looks like a spilled match stick box, so we had to do wood chores if we wanted to avoid another 52 degree Monday morning in the kitchen.  It also was a good day because our teenaged son had been to a party the night before and was beat, so he would be easier to sneak up on and capture.

So today our task was:  load green elm cut last fall, pile some branches, haul/cut some old poles and run the splitter.

The splitter, by the way, is an indicator of wimpiness.  I just bought it recently (honest) and tried to keep it behind the garage but one day someone in town asked what the red thing was in my yard and I was exposed, then and there.  “Getting old – can’t use a maul on his own wood anymore.  It would probably do him some good.”

I was already infamous at Lowes in Dubuque because we hauled the new splitter home behind a Miata.  I guess city folks aren’t used to trailer hitches on sport cars.  But sometimes the truck is impractical or doesn’t have the alternator on so we hitch trailers to the little black Miata.  I think of it as a support vehicle for the wood trucks, like a destroyer with an aircraft carrier group.

Small load of green wood.

At any rate my wife and the boy left to pile branches and load the elm on the Prom truck, about a mile away.  With warmer weather I figured I’d start by taking the chains off the tractor tires, although taking the chains off the tractor is one of the few sure ways to make it snow.  I hate the chains.  I hate putting them on and hate taking them off.  Of course, my disdain transfers to incompetence and it takes forever.

We have a great supply of poles, remnants of what our neighbors didn’t use for set posts.  (Nothing like a highway project to build your supply of poles.)  It’s best to use an old chain. Poles can have nails, staples and neat electricity warning signs on them so I use a lousy, old chain to minimize my loss when I hit metal, which is an invariable.  It is so dull I doubt it would cut butter so I try to sharpen it, which is somewhat like the chains on the tractor and a lot like bowling.  I bowled in a league for maybe 10 years and my average went down every year.  With the chains there is a strange inverse correlation that results in the chains getting worse the more time I put into sharpening them.  Like a few other things, I seldom disclose this in town.

In the summer Herbie does photo-ops for our city friends.

But I muddle through it, hauling a few poles at a time behind Herbie the little tractor, then cutting and splitting them to size.  The green wood duo shows up and joins in.  They have a small load of bigger wood so we split that up too, making a decent little pile. The 18- year old is starting to feel the stress of two hours continuous work without texting and is having hallucinations of a cold Mountain Dew.   We finish before tragedy strikes and he comes back around when we get his IPod into his hands.

We do wood chores every couple weeks. It’s a regular thing for many families around here.  But this has not been my year to brag about a big wood stash, so I usually like to redirect conversation to politics or the age-old argument about whether green or red tractors are best.  Lately it has been better to talk about the tractors.

But I am more conscientious this spring and finally on top of it all.  We got a lot of wood “done” today, at least a couple weeks’ worth.  So I think for once I’ve got a leg up in the bragging contest.  Almost makes me want to go down to town and wait for someone to start a conversation.

You thought I was kidding about Prom?

Before heading into the house I refuel the splitter. And in the distance I can hear the drone of at least three chainsaws in the distance.  My neighbors were hard at it, too.  Those dirty dogs.

So I have new plans to cut as much as I can this spring when I can see through the woods and before the underbrush grows too much.  I’ll get a biiiiiiiggg head start this time so by next fall I can crow when the weather and conversation both turn.  If not my uncle might die again.

Rick Rolfsmeyer, Hollandale, Wisconsin (Pop. 283)


3 Responses to Wood cutting culture

  1. Bill Pinkovitz says:


    I actually cut wood this weekend and didn’t cut off any important appendages. We could have used one of your fleet. All we had was an old Deere riding lawn mower with a trailer, one chain saw with very dull blade, one axe and my little red car. Not wood fit in the trunk, but enough so i could barely see the road in front of me on the way home.

    Don’t spread it around, but you probably could get me to volunteer for day of cutting wood. Better yet, you cut it and i’ll load it. Me with a chain saw is a scary thought.

  2. Ron says:

    Great post! I have to respectfully disagree about the wood splitter. It is not a sign of wimpiness, its a sign of common sense.

  3. Bevery Rolfsmeyer says:

    I may be biased, but this is a very funny article. Garrison Keillor (sp?) has nothing on you. You should send this out, or get your own column in a newspaper.

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