Saturday, December 16, 2006
Working at my Dad's Sawmill
My father had a sawmill in the Black Hills of SD when I was growing up. The main mill was located in Sturgis and was by far the largest. When I left the mill in 1972, because he had sold it, we were sawing about 100,000 board feet per day plus a railroad car full of chips for making paper. What I first remember is the mill was fairly small probably sawing about 10 to 15,000 feet per day. I was about 12 when I got my first job at the sawmill. I wanted money and my two older brothers worked there so I could ride with them at 7. I could only work until noon but that was OK because by then I was bored to death and it was time to go swimming anyway. My first job was called stick and rock picker upper. I was impressed with the title and told everyone how important I was. All of our roads were dirt and gravel and I was responsible to make sure all of the rocks were picked up and also all of the sticks. The sticks were about 3' long and 3/4" X 1 1/2" and were placed between the layers of green lumber in the piles as the left the "green chain" which was where all of the rough boards (green and wet) came out of the sawmill. The fork lift picked them up and hauled them to the yard to stay (1 to 2 months) while they dried. As my Dad explained to me, the forks would drive over the roads and hit the rocks and the resulting lurching would cause some of the sticks to come out of the piles. As these sticks laid in the road, other vehicles such as cars, dump trucks and logging trucks would drive over these sticks and they would fly up and hit the break lines and break them. Without breaks a logging truck could crash and kill the driver. So you can see that I had a very important job and I worked very hard at it to keep the drivers from being killed. I think I made $1.50 per 1/2 day and that was good money being the minimum wage was only 75 cents [in 1955 you could still type out a cent sign (¢) on the typewriter without it being a big deal]. Before long I was wallowing in dough and the envy of all my friends. I made more money than my friends that were paperboys. Eventually I ran out of roads and to get sticks I just followed the fork lift around so I asked my Dad for a different job, for a while, so the sticks and rocks could build back up. I got in Dad's car [a 1955 green Ford with dual air horns on the right fender and a spotlight on the other fender] and we headed for a remote part of the sawmill yard. It was the area where they dumped the slabs from the sawmill. Slabs are the outer part of the log, containing the bark, which was waste. They were put in an old, yellow, State, snowplow type, Dump truck that Dad had purchased at auction and it had no brakes [ too many sticks] and the truck went up to this remote area and dumped the slabs. They had to be piled as they were running out of room. My new job. Not very important though as there were no lives in danger. Well I piled slabs for days and then one day it was very hot and there was no shade. My 12 year old mind figured it out and I took some of the slabs from the pile I was making and slid them about 1/2 way off. The sun was on the opposite side so it made an excellent shade break. I crawled underneath for my break and promptly went to sleep. I was awoke by my Dad kicking the bottom of my foot because it was lunch time. Boy was he mad and I couldn't come back to work for a couple of weeks which was OK by me. I had enough money in my pocket to get by and this allowed me to go to the pool in the mornings also. 12 years old, swimming in the morning and afternoon with enough money to spend at the snack bar. Life didn't get much better than that in 1955.