New Horizons Writers’ Group


Those Clever Immigrants

Bob Hirt

Back East many years ago a tornado swept through the northern Hudson Valley of New York State wreaking havoc on buildings and field crops as well as causing several deaths in our county. We lost two huge barns as well as a silo in that tornado along with some farm machinery in those barns. We were very fortunate in that no one in our family was hurt nor were any animals lost in that brief and bazaar occurrence that lasted barely 40 minutes.

Three miles to the east of us the more violent part of the tornado went through a six-acre forest of mature white pine trees leveling the entire tract. It was as though a monstrous giant had passed his huge hand from one end of the forest to the other, carefully laying down all the trees side-by-side in an almost-perfect parallel pattern. Tragic as it was, that site appeared incredibly artistic. Only one tree remained standing in that entire plot, a giant white oak tree, its base over three feet in diameter. It had evidently defied every and all onslaughts, and judging by its age it had seen more than a few of those through the years.

My dad, with minimal funds to work with, found out about Henry Sager’s forest and went to talk with him about salvage. After all, we needed to rebuild two large barns and a smaller out-building. Sager, also a farmer, and my father negotiated a deal. After some careful planning our family went to work with our new project.

That stand of pines was about three miles from our farm and we had no easy way of bringing the logs home after harvesting. Dad bought a huge two-man chain saw and we three boys took turns with it, trimming the branches from the fallen trees and measuring and marking logs off in 10-, 12- or 14-foot lengths. My brothers and I were a great team. Dad would drive the horses and wagon from the farm while we stayed back doing the cutting, stopping occasionally to chat, eat snacks and drink some of the then-famous Kool-Aid. We had a third draft horse to pull the logs out from the underbrush and out to the side of the road, one at a time, where we’d stack them up. When Dad came back with the team we’d roll the logs onto the wagon with the help of what is known as a cant hook. Logs would be stacked four or five high and secured with a log chain for the team’s slow clippity-clop back home. In as little as three weeks we had cleaned up the entire plot of fallen trees, thus leaving a mish-mash of tree stumps, trimmed branches and underbrush. Mother nature was then in charge of the remains.

Dad had heard about an old sawmill on a farm some 20 miles from home. He knew of the owner but had no idea that he, at one time, was also a lumberman and sold lumber to area farmers and contractors. The mill was really rundown and it had some rotted timbers, as well as bushes growing up inside it. My father bought it anyway and we all helped take it apart. We hauled it home on our farm truck and put it back together after replacing a few of the timbers. Dad surprised us with how quickly he learned to move the sawmill’s carriage back and forth to engage the saw’s blade with a log as well as how to sharpen its huge five-foot diameter blade. Our biggest farm tractor provided the power to run the mill. Soon he was producing lumber in various thicknesses and lengths for our barn’s new life. In the end, some six weeks later, we had harvested and produced almost 32,000 board feet of lumber to rebuild our damaged barns. There was even lumber left over to build a new hen house and a machinery storage shed. My father was one of those stubborn German immigrants with great determination. He could do almost anything he set his mind to.

Those early immigrants to America had great pride. They were not only courageous but learned very early how to work hard to support a large family in a new land. I look back with admiration at my parents, both from southern Germany, and I honor them in their struggle to succeed in a land totally foreign to them. It is folks like them and the many thousands just like them that came here in the early 1900s that Made America Great.