Owen-Withee Area History Series

What's in a name?


Long before there was an “Owen” or “Withee” or “Owen-Withee”, the Black River valley of northern Clark County was the center of the nation’s logging industry. White Pine was King. The first loggers in the 1860s used only axes to cut trees and prepare logs for transport.
Around 1880, specialized logging saws gradually replaced axes and tools to cut down trees and cut the trees into logs. Two basic types of logging saws were the “felling saw” and the “bucking saw”. Each had specialized teeth and design of the saw and handles. Some were designed to be used by one man, and others were designed to be used together by two men. Felling saws were sometimes called a “misery whip” and were used to cut down (i.e. “fell”) trees. While the bucking saws were used to cut the trees into logs after the tree was lying on the ground.
The loggers whose job it was to work with the logging saws to cut down trees and cut them into logs were called sawyers. That was hard work, and a highly skilled job. A professional sawyer could cut a four foot diameter tree down with a logging saw as fast as a modern-day logger can do the same thing with a gas operated chain saw.
Sawyers took great pride in their work and took care to keep their saws sharp, balanced, and clean. As a sign of respect for their saws, the saws were often named. Names typically were given in honor of a respected female in the logger’s life. Such as his mother, grandmother, or some other prominent female in his life.
I have several old logging saws in my collection. Each of them has been named. Such as my saw #6, named “Margaret”. Named in honor of my great-grandma Margaret Fox Wolter.
I first learned about naming conventions of logging saws many years ago from YouTube and Google. I was researching how to restore, sharpen and balance old logging saws that I had acquired. Old sawyers and logging saw experts sometimes referred to the saws by name. Researching that further, I learned that the old timers had great respect for their logging saws and would sometimes give them a name. The name would often be female and be someone for whom the logger had great respect.
I’ve since named all my saws. Names like Margaret, Meghan, Aramantha, Amanda, and Hazel. Each with a story. The saws themselves don’t talk, so I tell their stories for them.