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Gathering firewood in the 1880s

This is part two of a series portraying ranch life in the 1880s, as seen through the writings of Bud Cowan in his book “Range Rider.” In the last “Postcard,” we left our readers as two young men were about to make a power saw out of an “old Buck Eye mowing machine.” 

Here’s the rest of the story…

We pulled the old machine up to the woodpile and dug a hole deep enough in the ground to bury one wheel as far as the pitman wheel, to which the sickle is ordinarily attached. We put an extension on the end of the pitman rod and fastened our big cross-cut saw to it, in place of the sickle which really belonged there, and then we built housing for the rod. Next we made a sweep; that is, made a pole and fastened it to the top of the other wheel remaining out of the ground. We put a singletree on the end of this pole and hitched up a little white mule we had. We put a lead bar in front of the mule and fastened his tie rope to it. This we did in order to keep him from walking off straight. By being tied to the lead bar, he walked around in a circle and pulled the sweep attached to the wheel that turned the pitman rod with the crosscut saw attached to it. Did it work? I’ll say it did!

It took quite a little while to make the mule understand just what we wanted of him, but when he once got the idea he had as much fun out of it as we did. We would saw until noon, then unhitch our mule and feed him grain and hay. Then I would take the saw out and file it while Jimmie fixed dinner. After that we would oil our mowing machine, put the saw back in again, hitch up the mule, and go to work.

Father said when he left for Denver, “You boys have wood enough to keep you busy until I get home.”

Well, we fooled him, because we had every stick cut and split when he came home about Christmas time. He was surprised to find the wood all cut, split and piled in the woodshed. When he asked us how we did it we kidded him quite a little while, because we had replaced the mowing machine as soon as we had finished with it and covered up all signs as to what we had done. Finally we did tell him.

The boys who were doing the feeding around our ranch laughed at us and said it couldn’t be done, but we did it just the same, and after that nearly everyone in our neighborhood did their wood-sawing with an arrangement like the one we had. Inside of three days we had sawed wood that would ordinarily have taken three weeks of hard work.