Fremont County, Iowa

"Cuttin Wood"
by Emily Bengston

View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
Week of February 22, 2010

A Tall Tale:
In this modern day of chain saw, and hydraulic log splitter, it is hard to imagine the prodigious feats our fore fathers (and in some cases, fore mothers) could perform with an axe. And thereby hangs a tale. Most names have been omitted to protect the innocent although philosophers have argued through the ages whether anyone is truly innocent.

"It was 1933, and I was cuttin' wood on the old Biggins place over on Horse Crick. They was sellin' the timber off in acre plots and I had bought two acres. It was pretty fair timber; lots of ironwood, some red oak, and a little burr oak and a locust or two throwed in. Most of it was about the size of a telephone pole, nice and straight and easy choppin' for the most part, so I begin to think about settin' a record of some kind. I was just a young buck then and just chuck full of vinegar and some other stuff besides so I thought, 'Why not?'

"Now a cord of wood is a pretty good day's work for a man with an axe, but I begin to believe maybe I could do two cords, so I gets up extra early one morning and heads for the timber. It was still pretty dark when I got there, so I chunked my axe in a handy stump, hung my coat on a fence post, and when I seen the first little red sliver of sun peekin' over the horizon I laid my hand on my axe handle and lit in a-choppin'.

"I'd chop down a tree, lop off the limbs, and buck it up into eight foot lengths. We mostly done it that way and then we'd get old Clarence Allen to come in and cut it into stove length with his buzz saw. Fact of the business, it was there on the old Biggins place that Clarence lost his leg.

"Never stopped for food ner water--jist kept a-choppin' 'til I seen the sun was getting pretty well down in the west and then I dropped my axe and commenced to pilin' what I had cut. About half-way through the second cord I seen it was goin' to be purty tight, and, sure enough, when I throwed the last stick on I was about half a dozen sticks shy.

"I was jist sick. All that work and to come up short by a little dab like that most killed me. But what're you goin' to do? A man can't very well say he's done something 'less he's actually done it; not if he's any kind of a man anyways.

"So I moped around there for a few minutes a-cussin' and a carryin' on and then I headed back for the house. It was purty rough goin', but the moon was up pretty good by this time and when I gets down to where I'd left my coat I see something bright shining there in the moonlight. I couldn't quite make out what it was so I says to myself, 'Now what in the world can that be?' and I get to lookin' and, by golly, it's the head of my axe still a-sticking there in that stump where I'd chunked 'er that morning. I'd been a-choppin' all day with just my axe-handle and hadn't ever noticed." Jerry Birkby

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Page updated on November 1, 2020 by Karyn Techau