The time for snakin’ out firewood was after the last wagon load of corn was hauled from withering November fields and stored in the barn. Dad rolled the wagon into the shed, scotched the wheels, and wired the shaves to log barn rafters. This signaled the time when horse and mules enjoyed a short season of rest. In spring, summer, and harvest time, our mule Kate worked every day in the fields except Sunday. After harvest, she rested in the pasture until it was time to replenish the firewood supply from last year.
The day came when Dad took the crosscut saw down from the barn rafters to sharpen its mighty teeth with special files. My oldest brother, Edward shouldered the sharp saw, and he and Mama took off for the woods. Dad gathered the leather harness from the gear room, and then went to fetch Kate. Walking through the pasture, Dad caught her by the halter and then led her to the barn. He checked her teeth, feet and ears, assuring himself that she was in good health. Slowly he worked a sugar-coated metal bit into her reluctant mouth. Usually the mule backed away and flinched. “WHOA KATE!” echoed about the home place. Next he slid a worn bridle over her ears, and then buckled it into place under her neck. He tied the bridle reins to a post while he strapped a U shaped, padded collar in place around her neck. Next he swung the harness onto her back, then straightened and buckled it to the collar. Moving to the rear of the mule, he pulled her tail free from the end strap. Slowly, he loosed the trace chains from the end of the harness and hooked them to the single tree with a swivel attached to it, protecting the mule in case the log rolled. He swapped the cotton plow lines on the harness for twenty-two-foot long leather check lines that would not snag on roots and rocks as she pulled heavy logs to the wood yard. Wrapping the check lines around his callused hands, he gently flicked Kate’s side with the lines, saying, “Git up!” The two of them headed into the woods to the site where Mama and Edward had timber on the ground ready for the mule to pull to the wood yard.
Edward now recalls, “First, I’d chop a wedge out in the base of the tree, then sink the blade as deep as I could in the cut. The handle would point the direction the tree would fall.
You couldn’t hardly pull a crosscut saw with Dad because he would ride the handles. That meant extra work on the other end of the saw. I and Mama had the rhythm figured out. We could cut faster than a chain saw today. Usually we fell five or six trees, then cut them into eight foot logs. It’s hard work. I’ve blooded my knees a many of a time pulling a crosscut saw all day long.
We didn’t trim any limbs off, so there was no brush to fool with. Dad backed the mule up to the log, hitched it up, and dropped the check lines. Kate went by herself to the wood yard where brother Ellis waited to unhook the mule and lead her back to the cutting site. Once all the logs were snaked out of the woods, I and Mama cut the trees into firewood and Ellis busted it. The limbs were used for cook stove wood. If it got wet we’d stack it in the oven to dry it out so breakfast would cook faster.”
Dad walked the sweaty mule back to the barn and put her in a stall away from winter winds. We all knew a good work mule like Kate was vital to our survival.
Barbara is a contributor to the Foxfire Series of Books. Her writings have warmed our hearts more than once.
Her book is available and you can find it on the right side of this page or order it below. It is well worth the reading. I truly enjoyed reading it!
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You can also find her book on her web site It’s Not My Mountain Anymore
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