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By Bill Lewis
Farming was tough in the 1950s. President Eisenhower was trying to make some corrections in the ill-fated policies of the previous administration. Thus, farm grain and meat prices fell sharply. Young farmers scrambled to find other means of making a living. Many quit farming, others found part-time work off the farm.
Luck would have it that a company making staves from white oak lumber moved onto 6 acres a mile west of the Y on 6 and 15 highways.
Locals scrambled to get a job working at the mill. Most cut, blocked and hauled oak bolts to the mill. Others were involved in piling the staves; loading the bolts onto a wagon or sled and moving them up to the equalizer saw the break. These bolts were very, very heavy. Most were 40-44 inches long and would weigh 60-80 pounds. The equalizer saw was two 36-inch blades exactly 36 inches apart. One would set the bolt on the rack which the operator would shove forward. The two saw blades then cut the bolt to 36 inches, throwing the cut-off ends into a pile and loading the cut off the bolt on a cart which would be moved down to the barrel saw that would fashion the stave.
Well, would you believe the scale for labor in 1955 was 50¢ an hour? But, lucky me, I was getting 65¢ for operating the equalizer saw.
It was hard and dangerous work, but when you have a wife and two kids to support, you do what you have to do.
Well, I had this old 1948 pickup. I hit on the idea of throwing those cut-off ends into my pickup bed. At the noon hour, I would run a load to town and sell it to locals who were burning wood. That would be quite a few, perhaps a third of the city. I ate my lunch while driving to unload the wood and get back to the mill by 1:00. Then, do the same thing after work. I got three-fifty a load for the wood which was nearly as much as I made in wages. If I did not have a market one day, I burned it myself. You might say the sawmill saved the farm. I stockpiled a mountain of bolt ends. Even sold some the next winter. Truth be told one winter working at the stave mill is enough.
Did I hear McDonald’s employees might be getting $15.00 an hour soon? Really?