There’s an old saying that goes something like this: Wood warms you three times – when you cut it, when you split it, and when you burn it. I would argue that it warms you more times than 3 – when you haul it indoors, load the stove, and clean out the ashes!
I remember the first time I was introduced to the concept of splitting wood. It was the first summer of my employment at the Stone Valley Recreation Area as a Pennsylvania State University work-study student. Stone Valley is owned and operated by Penn State for the purpose of outdoor recreation and education. It also serves as a hands-on outdoor learning center for various college departments including the forest management department.
The 700+ acre property is located just under 20 miles from State College, PA – the home of Penn State – and includes Lake Perez and surrounding forest land with over 20 miles of hiking trails. It was a dream work-study position! I worked there for 2 seasons which translated to full-time in the summer and weekends in the fall. I was leaving town just as the masses were arriving for the infamous Penn State football games. I happily waved to the bumper to bumper traffic as I exited State College to go and play in the woods.
My responsibilities generally revolved around staffing the two boat rental offices. One of these was located at the park’s main west entrance where we rented primarily canoes and rowboats. The other boathouse was located across the lake at the east entrance to Stone Valley. This is where we rented small sailboats called Flying J’s. I’m sure all that has changed now but back in the late 1970’s that was the arrangement.
I met a fellow Penn State employee who was a student in the forestry department that first summer. (I was a Parks and Recreation major.) His name was Tom and he worked primarily behind the scenes doing “forestry” type tasks. We built a strong friendship during my last two years at Penn State. On occasion, when times were slow in the boathouse, I was assigned other jobs. One of those chores was splitting wood from trees felled on the property. We used a mechanical log splitter and Tom was my teacher. He was a patient and detailed “wood-splitting” mentor and we had lots of fun working together that summer. There’s something very rewarding when you see that firewood start to pile up throughout the day!
Tom also showed me the fine art of changing a flat tire that summer! In 1978, the Teamster’s Local 8, which represented Penn State’s technical services workers, went on strike. They picketed out at Stone Valley during that time and we had to cross their picket line to get to work. On one occasion, a picketer got the bright idea to sabotage us and they peppered the road with nails unbeknownst to us! I had never changed a tire before, and Tom came to my rescue! It was heart-breaking to leave work that day and discover a flat tire on my beloved “three-on-the-tree” Plymouth Duster. I still remember his methodical step-by-step instructions on changing tires safely!
Fast forward two years. I had graduated from Penn State and eventually made my way back to southeastern Pennsylvania. It was not long before I met my future husband, Jim, while working a truck-stop waitress position. I worked the middle shift at the Birmingham Grille diner so that I could job search during the day and Jim was one of my first customers. But, that’s another story. What is significant is that he operated his own tree-trimming business. You guessed it! That meant he had a lot of firewood to split and sell! I seemed destined to befriend guys who loved trees!
Jim had a Lickity-brand Log Splitter at that time. It was a real workhorse of a machine bordering on dangerous at times! I can remember pieces of wood literally flying off the wedge, the hydraulics were so powerful. We used that machine for many, many years until Jim sold the business and we moved to Vermont.
Since we’ve burned wood all our married life as a source of heat, you might say that I have split my fair share of wood over the years! After moving to Vermont, we eventually decided to purchase another log splitter. My son, Luke, started scanning Craig’s List and found a gem of a splitter. It’s a Split-fire SS294. While a tad slower than the Lickity (and therefore safer!), it has a 4-way wedge and splits in both directions. So, ultimately, it’s more efficient! My wood splitting days were numbered then as the the boys were able to operate the machine. And, once they flew the coop, we started burning more fuel oil and took a break from processing wood.
Well, we’re back at it! With the uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are preparing for winter in Vermont and back at the wood-splitting game! It’s still remains very rewarding physical labor and I still love seeing that firewood pile up as we work through the logs.
The day we were to start splitting up the 5+ cords of wood was also the morning I rose early to see if I could get a glimpse of the Perseid meteor shower. I set up my camera, tripod and shutter cable release and waited. Unfortunately, it was a little cloudy and I only saw one meteor. But, I sat outside from 3:30 am on and watched the day dawn. It was magical! 🙂
As I sipped my coffee and snuggled under a quilt in my Adirondack chair, I snapped some photos of the surrounding garden as well. 🙂
At the end of the day, I certainly felt like I had done some work!! Up at 3:30 am along with completing a day of physical labor will do that! I was happy when Jim had another thought for the next day’s work.
We were splitting some wood for my sister-in-law in exchange for some of the firewood and got a little side-tracked! Her son has a band saw mill and Jim and his friend, Bill (the maple syrup guy), decided to play around with it and saw some logs – some of Bill’s lumber and some of my nephew’s cherry logs. It was a nice diversion from wood-splitting! I got a break and just enjoyed taking pictures! 🙂
Just another day in the life of our Vermont summer 2020! 🙂