The humble Farmer: Buying wood? Bring your own yardstick and keep a sharp eye out

October 25, 2019

The humble Farmer grew up 3 miles from Ralph E. Cline Sr.’s Spruce Head sawmill, where, in 1964, Andrew Wyeth painted Cline in his World War I uniform for a portrait titled “The Patriot.” Courtesy of Robert Skoglund

You might have seen the recent newspaper article on some Maine folks who were shortchanged when they bought firewood. Because we have been led to believe that shorting people on wood is as common as a tick bite, you probably wondered why it warranted publication. There are few scribblers in Maine who have not articulated an opinion on

Maine wood choppers and there is little left to be contributed to an extensive literature. However:

Don’t think a 5-foot-7 man

Can stack your wood like big guys can.

For little guys are over awed

By chores exceeding one small cord.

Our backs and arms get sore and bent

But big guys smile cause they ain’t spent.

Just when I’d think there’s no more owed

They’d want to stack another load.

So shop around when you need wood

For things like that I ain’t much good.

One wants to think twice before publishing anything about Maine woodsmen in a newspaper. A columnist was once gleefully told by his next-door neighbor that he had hired the crookedest wood chopper in Maine to cut off his lot. Property lines meant nothing to him and anything that would fetch a dollar on either side of the line was likely to be cut and hauled off to the mill.

The columnist quickly put the “crookedest wood dealer in Maine” on notice with an article in the next paper. He was inundated with letters from wood choppers as far away as Presque Isle, swearing that they did not do that kind of thing.

That said, we all know that most wood dealers are as honest as most lawyers. It only takes one lawyer stealing half a million from an elderly woman to give the other lawyers a bad name. And so it is with our neighbors who fit and sell wood.

Cushing is across the river from St. George, and for years some of our firewood was trucked in from there. Sometimes a bit of hollow fir would be inadvertently mixed in with the hardwood. We’d nail on a top and bottom, bore a hole in the stick and nail it up for a birdhouse. Years ago we’d call a stick of fir with the center eaten out by carpenter ants, “Cushing oak.”

When I was a kid Ralph Cline had a sawmill 3 miles from here and he’d sell slabs to his neighbors for firewood. One day a customer squinted at the pile Ralph had dumped in his yard and said, “That ain’t a cord.”

Ralph said, ‘Well, we’ll see.” He spent quite a bit of time stacking the wood, brought the man back out of the house, took out his yardstick and said, “Look here. It’s 4 feet high and 4 feet wide and 8 feet long. Is that a cord?”

And the man said, “I don’t know. You’re the wood dealer.”

Ralph’s son, Brother Cline, told me many similar stories about his illustrious father. Years before my time, Ralph and others hauled lobster traps close to shore out of small dories. He knew that someone was hauling his traps, so he put a shingle nail in the crack of each door. When the door was lifted the nail would fall out. A day later Ralph got the biggest rock he could lug and dropped it off the dock and through the bottom of the dory containing shingle nails.

The field across the road from my house belonged to me, and Priscilla Adams owned the woods beyond it. I told her I didn’t like to look out any window in my house and see trees that I didn’t own. She wouldn’t sell but offered to paint my west facing windows black.

Together we owned from the St. George River on the west to Long Cove on the east, and years ago we discussed setting up a tollbooth on 131 and charging people to go to Port Clyde.

Her daughter studied art at some college out on the West Coast. I seem to recall that she was offered $600 for a piece of sculpture before she was even out of school. I never saw the work but it could have been something between Rodin and Louse Nevelson. “The Thinker” on a toilet seat?

Priscilla encouraged her to sell it, but the artist said, “How can I sell this? This is my child. I’m your child. Would you have sold me?”

Priscilla said, “I never had such an offer.”

I once told Priscilla that the Cushing dealer sold me a few cord of hardwood and that I wondered if it was oak.

Priscilla said, “He just sold me some and I wondered if it was wood.”

The humble Farmer can be heard Friday nights at 7 on WHPW (97.3 FM) and visited at:

www.thehumblefarmer.com/MainePrivateRadio.html