Mudsock Heights

Mudsock Heights

The View from Mudsock Heights: The Old Saw

By Dennis E. Powell | Posted at 5:32 AM

Did you hear the old saw? If you live near me, you did. People have asked, so I suppose it’s right to tell: yes, the woodstove got installed and yes, the ornery old locust tree that had been the bane of my timber disassembly efforts has gotten cut and stacked.

Restoring the old stove, which had been in the barn for years, was a pleasure to restore. The rust that had scaled the outside responded well to a wire brush, and many coats of high-temperature flat black paint made it look like new. I discovered that rubbing compound, when applied to flat-black enamel and polished for a couple of hours, makes for a slate-like sheen, just right for the top of the stove. The hearth got built, Dave Barrett and his guys came and put up the chimney, and we were in business.

Leaving the locust, which had defied my attempts to take it apart with my chainsaw. Enter John Hurlbut.

Everyone hereabouts knows John Hurlbut. (It is said that he once visited Italy and toured the Vatican and, as luck would have it, was invited to a Papal audience. Later, he appeared as part of the entourage on the balcony for the weekly blessing. Someone in the crowd said, “Who is that?” and someone else said, “You mean the fellow in the tall hat next to John Hurlbut?”) But if you do not know him, look in the book of world records; his picture appears in the “nicest guy in the world” listing.

He provided his father’s old chainsaw. A Sears product approximately 40 years old, this saw was built back when engineers, not lawyers, designed products. It was manufactured with the understanding that saws are made for cutting things and are therefore dangerous, and if you use one improperly the task of arranging for stitches and reattachments is entirely yours. It has a long, heavy steel bar and a chain with teeth that look frightening when it’s only just sitting there. Unlike many modern chainsaws, it is not made of plastic. And as with many older implements, it can be a little cranky about getting started, especially when it’s chilly. Took awhile to concoct the formula of pulling the rope four times with the choke on and the throttle open, then a couple times with choke on and throttle off, then both choke and throttle off, but be ready to grab it and give it some gas when it catches. I’ll never cease to be amazed at the zen of mechanical things.

This saw is loud. Either the muffler is very ineffective or unmuffled the sound alone would be enough to bring down trees and break windows.

I love the thing.

The locust tree, which had seasoned vertically for years and had been made horizontal by a windstorm early in the year, more than met its match in what has come to be known as the Mighty Hurlitzer. Where my modern saw groaned and complained, smoked, screamed, and did everything except cut the locust, the Hurlitzer was like an electric knife through the Christmas goose. It took less than 10 minutes to turn the trunk of the locust into nice slabs fit for splitting. An hour later it was split and stacked.

And as I write this, it warms me.

The stove and chimney draw nearly perfectly, too. I’ve been in a lot of houses where from first frost to the spring thaw, the odor of woodsmoke is not just present but unavoidably strong. To get a whiff of smoke from this stove, one must step outside.

Of course, the locust tree won’t be enough wood to get me through the winter, even if it stays as warm as it has been. I forgot to go through the woods here and tag the dead trees, but the windstorm a couple of weeks ago (which provided a relaxing powerless evening in front of the stove, in fireplace mode with doors open and the screen installed, though I did miss the second part of a really good two-part Dr. Who) marked many of the dead trees for me. They are now parallel to the ground.

I’ll get to them. The first nice, dry morning will catalyze my enthusiasm and by nightfall there will be a face cord stacked by the back door. It isn’t that impressive — the firebox in this stove is tiny, so I have to cut the wood into 14-inch slabs. A face cord — 4 feet by 8 feet by the length of the pieces — isn’t much wood when it has to fit in my little burner.

Getting it all done imparts a truly homey, countrified feel. As did something three weeks ago, on a cold night, when I stepped onto the back porch. Perched atop the satellite dish was a tiny owl. The ancient Romans would have considered this a very good omen.

I do, too.

Dennis E. Powell is crackpot-at-large to Open for Business. Powell was an award-winning reporter in New York and elsewhere before moving to Ohio and becoming a full-time crackpot. You can reach him at