The recent thread about MechWarrior Orchard Pruners that devolved into
a discussion about Old Style Buzzsaws put me in mind of a story in
which I had the misfortune to be a minor character.
The tale takes place in 1962, which made me to be twelve years old,
and most definitely a minor.
Back then I worked on a farm during the summers, helping with second
milking, cutting and baling hay and straw, shoveling tons of grain
into silos, and doing lots and lots of fencing.
This ain't yer Errol Flynn style of fencing I'm talking 'bout, neither
- but the kind where ya yank out the dead posts, creosote the new
ones, drive, plumb and tamp and on to the next one.
Carney Stoltzfus had been hired on for the summer specifically to help
with the fencing. Although he was from Amish stock, local legend had
it that he'd run away as a young man and hired on as a roustabout with
a traveling Carnival, thus acquiring his nickname and skills enough to
make him qualified, in Pop Tilly's eyes, to be a Fence Dentist.
Pop Tilly ran a nice neat dairy farm of about two hundred acres and
ninety cows, and he didn't really care much where Carney had been, or
what he'd done, since Carney was from the next county over anyways.
The posts were locust and rotted slow but eventually took on the
rotted tooth look below ground level that would make them prone to
snapping if not replaced in time. The end result of a summer's worth
of fencing was a lot of neat fence lines and one hell of a big pile of
old fence posts. By the end of that summer of 1962 we had a pile of
fence posts that was about twenty feet square and ten feet high.
It was Carney that suggested that we cut the old posts up for
firewood. Pop Tilly was of a mind that they were better off being
burned as they sat in the pile, but Pop was a thrifty sort and when
Carney went on about how the rot might be cut off and the rest bucked
up for use in the milking parlor stove, Pop figured he could save
himself a little money over the winter.
We had several tractors on the farm. There was a pretty new 30-20
that did most of the heavy work, and an old Farmall that was mostly
relegated to harrowing and spreading manure. There was a little
orange Case that I used to sicklebar the banks when the weeds got too
Then too, there was John Deere Model B that had been on the farm since
Pop's father had done the farming but was now used mostly during
haying season to haul wagons, and in the fall and winter was fitted
with a belt driven buzzsaw of about three foot diameter, to buck up
firewood for the Atlantic Queen stove that was the soul and
centerpiece of Pop's kitchen. There was no way that some shabby old
fenceposts would ever find their way into The Atlantic Queen.
Pop was fussy about the buzzsaw blade and would hand file it every
year before firewood season. He was a might concerned about what the
locust posts would do to his blade, thinking and saying that locust
was a dirty wood that would leave a residue on the teeth, making them
less able to cut the oak and orchard deadwood that he used in The
"I don't like to see a fuzzy toothed blade."
Carney assured Pop that he would be mindful of the blades condition
and would clean it up after the fence posts were cut.
On a September morning that held the promise of rain, Carney and I set
about the task of bucking up the fence posts. As I was only twelve,
Carney reserved the task of pushing the posts into the buzzsaw blade,
while I was relegated to dragging the posts from the pile, so that he
only had to grab them up and put them on the bucking table.
Things were going fine and we had a respectable pile of bucked up
firewood sitting next to the saw by about half an hour before
lunchtime. I was getting tired from dragging the heavy posts from the
pile and went to get a drink of water from the jug a little ways off
to the side of the tractor.
I guess I threw Carney's rhythm off by taking that break because he
went over to the post pile and started dragging a piece towards the
buzzsaw. I saw something odd about the post and a second later I was
hollering, "Rat, Carney, Rat!"
I should tell you now that Carney was a bull strong, square built man
who feared no other man, nor any sort of work, hard or high - but he
had an abiding fear of rats. This particular rat was a good example
of the kind of grain fed rats that often inhabited the areas around
barns - he was big, fat and fearless.
I'll never know why Carney didn't just drop the post and let the rat
run away - but that's not what he did. For a moment that is frozen in
my memory, as it was in time then, the fat rat and Carney stood stock
still, facing each other across the length of fence post. The fat old
barn rat wasn't giving an inch and Carney looked pale and stricken
Then Carney lifted the locust fence post and began to turn round and
round with it, like one of those hammer throwers in the Olympics.
Round and round he went, the rat hanging on for dear life, probably
wondering why he hadn't just jumped off in the first place. I figured
this was something that Carney had learned at the Carnival.
I was transfixed. Even though I'd been working with Carney all summer
and thought him to be a strange man, I'd never seen him do anything so
strange as what he was doing now. The two-being tarantella seemed to
go on and on until finally the fence post hit the bucking bench of the
This knocked the rat loose from his purchase on the end of the post
and onto the bucking table, where his claws skittered and swiped for a
foothold - but the unfortunate geometry of the whirling post, the rat,
the bump, and the buzzsaw, sent the grain fattened rodent into the
teeth of the spinning blade.
There was an instantaneous explosion of fur, guts and blood.
I was stunned for a moment.
Carney continued to whirl around for maybe another turn and a half.
When he stopped, I went over and shut off the B.
Carney and I sat there for a good five minutes. I guess Pop wondered
about why the tractor was shut off, as it was not quite time for
lunch. He came and saw us both sitting on the ground.
Pop went to the buzzsaw blade and looked it over for a bit.
"Ya see what I was saying, Carney, about that locust being a dirty
wood. I don't like to see a fuzzy blade. You'll have to clean this
up good before we cut the wood for the Queen."
Thomas J. Watson - Cabinetmaker, ret.
tjwatson1ATcomcastDOTnet (real email)