Working Boys

Up here in the northeastern part of the country, a sense of urgency begins to set in when the nights turn cool. It is time to step up the winter preparations.

I purchased firewood from my bachelor diary farmer neighbor again this year, just as I have done for so many previous years. I usually get ten face cords but decided to get fifteen this year. He delivered the split, seasoned hardwood to our side yard for $45 a cord. That $675 worth of wood will heat our house all winter, heat my work shop as needed, provide fuel for backyard maple sugaring next spring, and leave a few cords extra for the next year.

A neighbor of ours recently told Marlene that they spent $5,000 for propane to heat their house last winter. It is a big old house. I like big old houses. But I wouldn’t want a heating bill like that. Small houses have their advantages.

The only thing better than getting wood from my neighbor would be getting it ourselves. Cutting and bringing in a year’s supply of firewood can be a great family project, if you have the woodland. When I was a teenager, my stepfather and I worked together to cut firewood in our woods and get it hauled back to the house. We had an old Farmall F20 tractor and a wagon. The tractor started with a hand crank in the front. Cutting the wood was a lot of work. But it was good work. We split it all by hand with a maul. The harder-to-split chunks called for a sledge hammer and splitting wedge. We never used a hydraulic splitter.

We have friends who have woods and two teenage sons. They had their wood lot logged two years ago and have been working together as a family to cut the tops left by the loggers. They use the wood to heat their home and are selling the rest. I would love to be able to do that with my boys.

But we still manage to get some firewood work in. The wood we buy is split but many of the chunks are too big for our wood stove. So we re-split much of it. In previous years we have rented a log splitter and worked together over a weekend to re-split and stack the wood. Then my 17-year-old son, Robert, wanted to do the job himself, by hand, with a maul, and I paid him what it would have cost for renting a hydraulic splitter. He did that for two years. Last year my 13-year-old, James, took over the job of resplitting the wood. And he is again doing it this year.

I’m of the mind that every healthy boy needs physical work to do. They have a lot of energy and a physical challenge suits them. Splitting firewood is ideal work for a teenager. And it’s not “make-work.” It’s necessary work. It’s important work.

Another beneficial job for boys is helping with hay. I’ve written of this numerous times in the past, and here I go again....

One day last month I came home from work and Marlene told me that James was helping a neighboring farmer with his hay. A short while later he rode into the driveway on his bike. He was seriously filthy. Green hay chaff was plastered to his arms, neck and forehead. he was home only for a few minutes to refill his water jug. It was an exceptionally hot day. He was tired and grumpy. We didn’t have much of a conversation. He had to get back to work.

A couple days later James told me he had been working that day on the hay wagon, which was being towed behind the baler, which was being pulled through the field by the farmer on his tractor. Typically, when there are a lot of people helping to get the hay in, the farmer kicks the bales into the wagon with its tall sides, and they end up in a jumble. Then the wagon is unhitched, an empty is hooked up behind the baler, and the full wagon is taken back to the barn where several helpers help to unload it into the barn.

But on that day, James was the only helper. So he stood in the wagon as it was being towed behind the baler. He grabbed each bale as it was kicked into the wagon. He packed the bales tightly, layer after layer until the wagon was full.

It is something of a trick to ride a jouncing wagon and pack it full as the bales come flying back at you. It’s also hard work, especially when you are the only one doing the work and it is very hot. James packed two wagons tight and high on that day.

What pleases me most about this story is that James told me he was so hot he felt sick. He thought he was going to throw up and pass out. Those are two symptoms of heat exhaustion. But the bales kept coming. There was no stopping. The farmer needed him, and he stuck with it. That kind of work is for men, and he did the work like a man. I’m quite certain I could not have done that at 13 years old.

Robert has done less farm work this year because he has been working 40+ hours a week since early spring for a local building contractor. It has been a learning experience for him. It has not been without discouragements, but he has stuck with the job, and his employer told me he was pleased with Robert’s effort. That is what a father likes to hear.

Now, with summer over, it’s time for these working boys to refocus their energies into school work. James can continue to split firewood while homeschooling, but Robert will stop the carpentry work in October. His goal is to get his high school diploma (as a homeschooler) by next spring. Getting his own car (which he has saved the money to buy) is contingent on getting that diploma.

The car is the “carrot on a stick.” Boys need work and they need a tangible goal to work towards.


Ralph&K.C. Armstrong said...

there was a boy who was in trouble and had to go to foster care. The foster father was an older man with grown kids. He operated a sheep farm in Montana. The boy had chores on the farm. One of the first chores the boy had to learn was to clear a type of thorny bush from the sheep pasture. If the bush wasn't cleared out, it would tangle in the sheep wool. This would make the wool less valuable. This was a tedious hand tool job and was never ending. Every time the boy stayed out late, or got into trouble, the patch would need to be cleaned out again. Years went by, the boy grew and matured into a fine boy and went off to college. When he came home from college for break, he found a new tractor in the barn and no thorn bushes in the field. The boy asked the foster dad, "what's with the tractor?". The dad replied, "I needed it to get rid of the thorn bushes.". The boy said, astonished "you mean I pulled up those bushes by hand all those years when we could have just cleared them with a tractor??". The dad smiled and said, "yes, but you needed those bushes more than I needed a tractor. Those bushes taught you that hard work has reward, foolish choices have consequences and late nights make for early mornings. I could have fought with you, or talked till I was blue in the face. But I figured those bushes and a short hoe could do it better than me,"

This story is supposedly true. I know my dad sure raised me the same way and most of the time I was too busy to get into trouble!!

Tovah said...

$45 a cord!!! That's fantastic, Herrick. Our firewood, split and delivered is running about $250 per cord in New England. We have 10 acres of woods and DH and oldest son cut the trees and then the whole crew has to drag them from the woods down to the woodpile. For some reason, everyone wants an ox, or draft horse. :)

Anonymous said...

Your post brought back great memories of trips with my Dad to the forests of the northwest to cut wood to heat our home. We would cut it into 8' lengths in the woods (mostly small stuff)and carry it to the truck. It was also my job to cut the wood to stove length when we got home. I did it with a 6' long one man saw. One day a new neighbor moved in across the street and he saw me day after day putting logs on a sawbuck and sawing them up one after the other. He came over and asked me how old I was. I told him I was 13. He asked me how much my dad paid for all this work. I told him my dad didn't payme any money but he did give me these.....then I pulled up my shirt sleeve and showed him my well developed arm muscles and said not many boys my age have these. He then said that whenever I wanted to earn some money to just come over and ask. so for the next five years I earned $2 an hour doing hard work for the neighbor. He was impressed by a young man with a work ethic. I still remember the respect WORKING HARD earned my at that time and it continues to motivate me today.

The last two years my son who is now 5 has been learning to do his part for the family as well. We are teaching him that everyone in a family can contribute something no matter their age. Next year he will be in charge of our pastured poultry as his contribution. I am looking forward to seeing him rise above his peers on the wings of hard work and a solid work ethic.

Thanks for the memories.

Anonymous said...

That ability to work hard will stand your boys in good stead their whole lives. Young people today take to physical labor like the ass to the harp. They can't even wash dishes or clothes without help.

You've done them a real favor and built their character. Good job.

RL said...

Where I grew up very few kids had these kinds of values instilled in them. All there was to do was to get in trouble. For two of my childhood friends getting in trouble was their favorite pass time. With nothing productive to do kids often turn to things like drugs, alcohol, gangs and immoral behavior.

It’s good to teach children from an early age that life isn’t a free ride. So many young people today think they’re entitled to easy street. Then they become angry and destructive when they find out it isn’t that way.

Anonymous said...

The fall of the year and getting in the final bits of the firewood on crisp late fall days after the harvest was complete - what memories you have brought back.