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Front Page » October 22, 2002 » Local News » Society meeting focuses on history of sawmills in county
Published 5,238 days ago

Society meeting focuses on history of sawmills in county

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Dennis Nelson discusses sawmills at the historical society meeting.

It was truly "A Night of Historical Memories" as members of the Emery County Historical Society and guests met to hear about the founding, running, and demise of the many sawmills located in the mountains around Emery County. Guest speaker, Dennis Nelson, of Ferron, a retired educator who served as Superintendent of Schools for Emery County, also talked about prospecting and getting the "uranium bug in your blood."

Society President, JoAnn Behling, welcomed the audience followed by a prayer and the pledge to the flag. Past President, Sam Singleton, took a moment to introduce a special lady he dubbed "the Queen of Emery County" because Singleton went on to say, "she was and still is!" and everyone sang "Happy Birthday" to Emma Huntington of Castle Dale, a long time society member and supporter, who is celebrating her 92nd birthday.

The large crowd of 50 or more enjoyed the blend of voices of Joan Burke and Shaun Tomsich as they sang songs reflecting the time of the old sawmills and logging camps. Everyone joined in with "You are my Sunshine" and "Home, Home on the Range."

Dennis Nelson said that he worked in and owned sawmills for much of his young life. First they lived in a tent all summer and then a cabin was eventually built. They would stay on the mountain felling trees and sawing them into lumber from Monday through Saturday, then they could bring a load down. The trees were marked by the forest ranger. The stumps could only be 12 inches or less high. Notching the tree decided the direction the tree would fall. Wedges were hammered in to help control the way the tree should fall. Wedges were also used to keep the weight of the tree or logs from stopping or binding up the saw.

Nelson demonstrated props of a long timber saw with two kinds of teeth. Four straight teeth were called cutting teeth then there would be one tooth with a notched sharp end called the drag teeth that cut on the drag pull back. He also had a tool called a "can hook" or PT, that he and the men all came to call the "can't hook". This tool was essential to hooking and rolling the logs and maneuvering them where they needed to go. He also had a large ax and a pair of work gloves. His colorful demonstrations of each brought laughs to the audience and some questions, too.

Some terms that Nelson explained were "winnie edge," "the carriage," "scale board," "bridge planks," "off bearing," "skids," and even "lumpy-dick." The most colorful term was "two-holer" which described the new outhouse that was built and was given a very funny and creative dedication.

"There were poor times during the depression years. Lumber was selling for $25 a 1,000 board feet." The lumber they made was used like and instead of currency most of the time; even the doctor who delivered the babies was paid in lumber.

Logging was hard and dangerous work but being in the beauty of the mountains all summer was also a time that made him and many young boys into men. He told of the strength of a gentle giant named Glen Barney who could lift and carry unusually heavy loads. He also had the natural ability to high jump and was awarded a college scholarship because of this skill.

After Nelson's service in the military, he married, and received a laugh when he said, "and decided that the real money was in teaching school." He taught in schools in Carbon County before being named as Superintendent in the Emery School District. All his life he had wanted to build his own home so he checked out and bought a "one man sawmill from up in Oregon" and after retiring he was able to fulfill that goal.

"In the past 50 years the techniques and technology have changed a lot in timber cutting, sawmills and lumber yards."

After more songs by Burke and Tomsich, ending with "Til We Meet Again" it was time to hear about the times in the 1940s when everyone got bit by the prospecting bug.

Nelson's father really was smitten by the uranium bug and thus his sons got into it some also. They bought a Geiger counter, called "a snifter." First time out they found some really "high grade" ore, but alas, it was only a small pocket. The ore was separated and refined through something called a "milk process." The prospecting and excitement of hitting the big one ran high for many years.

Nelson chuckled as he said, "Whether you are rich or you think you are, you start to thinking of how you want to spend that money. We started by thinking of a new washer, cause ours was leaking. And maybe then thought about the luxury of a couch."

Their family did mine enough uranium to get paid the bonus of the ten thousand dollars that the US government was offering as incentive to finding new uranium sources.

"It was a good experience and there were lots of good times, but nobody I knew got rich quick or easy." stated Nelson. He left the audience with smiles when he said he hadn't expected so many people so he hadn't prepared very much to say.

Refreshments were enjoyed while visiting, along with the wonderful treat of shiny apples that were grown, picked and shared by ECHS members, Mike and Carol Beard, who came all the way from Fruit Heights just to get in on some more historical memories.

The Emery County Historical Society lead by JoAnn Behling, President for 2002-03, is one of the largest and most active historical groups in Utah with a current membership of 70 members. New members are welcome.

Contact any officer: Behling; Terry Williams, President Elect; Maribelle Wareham, Secretary; or Dixie Swasey, Treasurer, and simply hand them your "five bucks" along with your mailing address.

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