From the Files of the Rochester Historical Society

I always like it when an article I have written leads to a second article because of a reader’s response. I think in the newspaper industry that means it is a story with legs. Often, the person responding has a much greater depth of knowledge than I do. This happened after I wrote the article about the museum’s caliper that was used to measure the board feet of a tree or log. I received a call from George Orrall who for 30 years had a shop in Lakeville. Out of a pine shed on Rte. 79, George, known by some as “Chainsaw George,” sold and repaired logging equipment, chainsaws, winches and chippers. Over the years, he made the acquaintance of many people who made a living from the harvesting of trees. George was a natural in retail having worked many years peddling the crops grown on the family farm off Rte.18. He traveled up and down Rte.28 from Wareham to Canton and Whitman selling produce.

            His chainsaw shop was a second career where his previous dealings with the public came in handy. He carried calipers in his business. They were made for him by a retired sawyer, Mr. Stets, from Middleboro. He would bring in calipers that he made in groups of three. This is when I learned that there were at least two sizes of calipers. Depending on the logs being measured, one might use a short log caliper, or if your log was 16 to 18 feet, the longer one would be needed. He also said that calipers are still used by small sawmills today.

            As time passed, the constant sliding of the caliper arm on the stick would cause wear that could affect measurements. Because the number of board feet determined the value of the log, this wear on the stick often caused disagreements between buyer and seller over the numbers. George told me to think for a moment of the different people who would be relying on the caliper’s measurements. They included the woodcutter, the sawyer and the miller. He also listed the different uses of the wood which affected how the buyers and sellers looked at the measurements. They might be interested in the wood for boards, shingles, or even sawdust.

            At a young, almost 86, George has a lot of stories, many occurring in Rochester. His wife grew up on a family farm in Rochester on Marion Road, and her grandfather continued to live in Rochester when the family moved to Lakeville. I have a feeling that more of George’s stories may well make it into a future article.

            In talking with my brother-in-law, Tom, who runs a sawmill machine for Wagner Woods in Amherst, he told me about the lumber stick pictured with this article. This one was made by the Conway Cleveland Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It looks a lot like a yardstick, but it is very flexible. The metal head has a pointed hook to grab, flip or pull a log. There are indentations in the metal for board widths of 1/4, 5/4, 6/4 or 8/4s to quickly get a measurement. You put the hook on the end of the log and measure the length and board feet. There are measurement numbers on both sides of the stick, and based on the measured length and thickness, it gives the number of boards it contains.

            It did begin to seem that log-measuring tools were everywhere. On the outside wall at a Cracker Barrel in Portland, Maine, two other types of log measurers were hung as decorations. I do seem I never know exactly what kind of journey an article idea will take me on, but I always find it fascinating and hope you do too.

By Connie Eshbach

Leave A Comment...