Peeks From The Past

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The Winter Supply of Fuel (wood)
(as recalled by Herman J. Gerwing)

Joseph Gerwing’s farm home was likely typical of many pioneer homes built before 1920 in Saskatchewan. It was a two story frame structure with little or no insulation. The rooms on the main floor consisted of a porch, pantry, large kitchen-dining room, living room and a bedroom.

There were four bedrooms on the second story.  Heat was provided by a wood burning furnace located in the basement. A single duct fed warm air to a large floor register on the main floor. Heat to the second floor occurred by natural flow through a smaller register on the ceiling of the main floor. Needless to say it was cold upstairs on those –30 deg. F. winter nights!

The annual fuel requirement for cooking and heating for one year was 25-30 sleigh loads of  wood. Poplar trees were  plentiful in the area, so they were the logical choice for firewood. In any case they had to be removed as the land was cleared for cultivation.

Wood was cut a year in advance. The reason for this was the poplar trees contained a lot of moisture. Cutting & piling for a year allowed the wood to cure. Cured wood burned much hotter and easier than “green” wood.

Securing the wood supply was always done in the winter because summer was too busy due to the never ending schedule of field work. The wood for the most part was cut by hand with axes from green poplar stands located on the farm. The wood was then manually loaded onto sleighs. Sturdy draught horses were used to haul the loads to the farm yard.

After the 25 to 30 loads were assembled at the yard, the logs were sawed into stove length pieces. About 25% of the wood was then split to assist in curing and so it would fit the stove/furnace more readily.  All the wood was then piled and left to cure. 

In the early years the sawing was done by hand with a two man “buck saw” of the type you see in lumberjack competitions.  Splitting was done with an axe and a wedge. Joseph automated the sawing and splitting of the logs in the 20’s when he acquired a circular saw and a splitter powered by a single cylinder stationary engine. Later the engine was replaced by Joe’s first farm tractor, a cross motor Titan International which had a belt pulley. The belt pulley was used to run a variety of farm equipment such as the saw, splitter, thresher and the grinder for making chop. Chop is ground grain that is fed to livestock.

On Joe’s farm the cured wood was hauled from the wood pile to the house by stone boat and horses once per week all winter long.  A trap door in the basement wall was opened and the wood was tossed into the storage room below. A fire in the well stoked furnace would last through the night. However the heat generated by the furnace gradually diminished hour by hour and by morning the temperature in the house would sometimes be below freezing. The wood for cooking and heating water was carried indoors each day and piled in a big wooden box near the stove in the kitchen. The kitchen stove had a reservoir filled with water attached to it. That reservoir was the main source of hot water for washing.

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