The Drag Saw

| August/September 1997

P.O. Box D201, Greenville, California 95947

You don't notice much with ignorant eyes. I'd been looking at the drag saw for years, wishing it would disappear along with stacks of tires, coils of barbed wire and Dodge Power Wagon fenders listing in the weeds that grow tall in June between our house and the woods beyond. A useless hulking mass of steel gears and rods and cogs rusted into rest under a cedar tree that's what I saw in the drag saw.

With eyes like mine, you miss the history of a tool in a myopia of wishful thinking. I would have hauled that thing off to the dump if I could have lifted it alone, but Elmore stopped me before I had the chance. And then my brother, Lowell.

Elmore drove out from town in his 1951 Jeep pickup truck, red faded to nearly pink. Said he wanted to see my flowers. I guess I invited him one time when we were watching the A's beat the Cubs on the town Little League field. I knew Elmore. Every Monday morning at 9:05 he called the newspaper office to report on the week's weather. It was his job, and mine, to get the temperatures and precipitation into the local newspaper of record. Sometimes we chatted about this or that, but I knew it was time for business when he cleared his throat and said, 'Well, we have some temperatures.'

On the morning when he came to look at my flower beds, he handed out some advice about how much water and how much sun. Then he asked if he could look around a little. He headed directly toward the bone yard and I followed, embarrassed by the junk poking out from under every tree. Elmore ignored it, walked straight to the collection of gears and rods and cogs moldering under the cedar tree and knelt down in the weeds. He brushed aside some brittle brown fronds and stared at a bit of metal on the inside of a large spoked wheel.

'Yep, this is it,' he muttered. 'It's what?' I asked. 'My daddy's drag saw.' Elmore was grinning. Behind his thick scratched glasses his owlish eyes had a gleam.

The drag saw belonged to A. E. Hunt, Elmore's father. He was born in Indian Valley in 1866. His parents had come to the valley in 1855 after a few years in the Sacramento Valley. They home-steaded in a little canyon a mile from Peter Lassen's cabin, Hunt's Canyon. A. E. Hunt worked in the Fippin Sawmill close to the family place until he retired.

He bought the drag saw around 1916. No one around the area had heard of the machine. I figured A. E. must have been quite an entrepreneur to bring in such a piece of equipment when no one else had one, but Elmore just chuckled.

'Well, he sawed wood by hand for many years. Got pretty tired of that. I guess he was willing to try most anything.' The drag saw probably cost his father a couple of hundred dollars, he said.

'I was just a kid. My brother Ed he run it most of the time. Soon as we got it we set it in a little meadow close to where the road is now. There were Indians living all around. They'd come around when they heard it start up. They'd be sitting back there maybe 100 feet, afraid to get too close. It made too much noise. They'd seen what work it was to do, the cutting by hand, and this fascinated them.

'As far as I know this was the first drag saw around. I never heard of another one before that. Several ones got them soon after it but I don't think there was any before ours.'

But the Hunts had trouble with their drag saw. They couldn't make the drive sprocket stay on the shaft. A. E. sent Elmore off to fix it.

'I took it over to Westwood. Took the wheel just the wheel, probably in my old Model T, something like that. They didn't do very much electric welding before that time but there was a fellow there at the Red River sawmill that did welding and we took it to him. He was an expert welder and by God he welded that thing. It was the only way we could make that thing stay on. It behaved itself after that.'

The work on the Hunts' drag saw was the first electric weld in Plumas County. But the drag saw soon lost its usefulness to the chain saw. It stayed on the Hunt family ranch until the 1930s, when they sold it to the Myers, Elmore's wife Dolly's family. When the Hunts moved into Greenville they left the drag saw behind. It remained there, summer after summer, until sometime in the 1970s.

Bill Williams, a sweet man with a penchant for horse trading, came into the rights to all of the equipment left lying around the old Hunt ranch. He began gathering up plow parts and lumber for trade. The drag saw he hauled back to his place on Pecks Valley Road, unloaded it under a cedar tree and left it right where Elmore found it in 1980, five years after we bought the property from Bill Williams.

It would be there now I still can't lift it if it weren't for my brother, Lowell (his story follows). On one visit from Salt Lake City he asked if he could take the drag saw home and restore it. That was the second time I looked at those gears and rods and cogs and saw something more than rusted junk. The first was through Elmore's fading eyes.


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