Don’t Ride the Saw, Son! A memory not soon forgotten. . .

Don’t Ride the Saw, Son!


Randal Champion

Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Written:  October 2005


My dad, Marvin Champion taught me some valuable lessons in life-but operating a crosscut saw was not one of them. You have seen a crosscut saw hanging on the wall of your favorite restaurant, usually painted with some pretty scene depicting nature. Let me tell you, it is not a pretty item for my recollection.  To me, it was for my mortification!

A crosscut saw is about six feet long with a handle on each end and an“idiot” to pull each handle.  I said, “pull it”, you don’t push on this saw.

Horseflies drawing numbers

Let’s go cut down a tree.  You will need two people with gloves and long-sleeved shirts.  A glass drink bottle is filled with kerosene.  A tuft of green pine straw is stuffed into the bottleneck.  The kerosene lubricates the saw blade and prevents sap from sticking on the blade.  Usually, it is high summer, and about 95 degrees and the humidity approaches 300%.  A wide-brimmed hat and a neckerchief are handy – the horseflies are drawing numbers for their turn to make a run at your neck.


An ax was used to remove the limbs from the trunk.  A horse or mule pulled the cut logs out of the woods.  The animal was loaded with a collar, hames strap, trace chain, a single trace and a log hook.   Long cotton lines directed the horse.  The horse was busy stamping its feet and swishing its tail at flies.  You yelled to get its attention.

My dad was the job foreman and the left hand was the saw puller.  I was never skilled nor strong enough to pull left handed, I always pulled right-handed.

Now, you are confused.  Walk up to an open doorway and put your shoulder against the door frame facing, leaning forward slightly.  Look to your left the saw handler is in the right hand.  You are the right-hand puller.  Your partner faces you and holds the other saw handle in his left hand.  The saw is “dabbed” with the kerosene.  The blade is applied to the trunk and the cut started.  It took several swings to start the cut paralleled to the ground, through the bark and into the tree.  The saw cuts on the pull stroke.   Pushing on the handler is a no-no.  You loosen your hold when your pull is completed and the saw should run freely back to your partner as he completes his pull stroke.   My Dad’s cry was, “Don’t ride the saw. Son!”, take a break, drink water, and “dab” the blade (with kerosene).

Trunk notched

The trunk was notched at about halfway point in the cut.  This notch determined the direction of the fall.

Now, back on the saw, “Don’t Ride the Saw Son”….the saw starts binding in the cut, can you guess why?  Dab the blade, several more cuts and the tree cracks and groans.  The blade is removed and Dad pushes on the tree with an ax and the tree falls.   Now, the work begins the tree is sawn into manageable lengths.  The ground is never level and the saw binds.  Steel wedges are driven into the cut behind the saw.

Horse’s work begins

The cuts are completed and the horse’s work begins, A long hook is not available.  A chain is looped around the log and attached to the single tree.  A single tree is a foot long wooden bar with a steel hook at each hame on the horse collar.  The chains are attached to each end and hook on the single tree.  The single tree center ring is attached to the log chain.  This keeps equal pressure on each wooden hame on the horse collar.  The lines (reins) are flicked to start the horse pulling on the log.  The logs were removed and used for firewood.

I later found out how to operate and use a chain saw.  A large oak tree by the barn was struck by lightning and died.  Dad’s small Poulan saw was not up to the job.  My uncle brought over his big saw and cut completely around the tree, but his bar was not long enough to cut through the center core.

As we discussed the problem, a north wind started blowing and the big tree went down. Only a few small strands of wood were keeping it upright.

I stored the cross cut saw in the barn and it remains there today.  It will not be used again. I certainly won’t do any tole painting on it.


Chinaberries and Other Memories of Alabama Do you remember 4-H clubs? Eight-party lines? Fashion in the 1950s? Going to school during World War II?
In this collection of Alabama memories, Jean Butterworth takes readers on a nostalgic journey through growing up in Alabama during the Great Depression, World War II, and beyond. She pays homage to a time before the Internet, cell phones, and all of the distractions of modern life.
Readers of all ages will enjoy taking a step back in time and preserving these memories, which, like Chinaberry trees, may soon be hard to come by. 

About Donna R Causey

Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She cohost the Podcast: Alabama Grist Mill and developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and

All her books can be purchased at and Barnes & Noble.

She has authored numerous genealogy books.
RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE)
is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2)
is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series)
Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1)
is the continuation of the story. .

For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

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