Editor’s Note — Following is a second excerpt from an interview of Kenneth Payne, conducted by Anne Malanka as part of the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area’s oral history project in 1991. The interview was tape-recorded and placed on file in the Big South Fork Library Collection.
I’ve logged all around Leatherwood, up and down, on this side of the river, on the east side. I had a mill sitting right at the branch. Then we left that place and went up on the Alticrest and sawmilled for three or four years. From there, we went down on Pool’s Branch, which comes in at Gernt, on White Oak, and we logged that out.
We’ve always had two mills, one of the a mill that was moving. And we sawmilled better than 16 years for Koppers Company over in Campbell County, next to Caryville on top of those mountains. We were saw milling in there before there was ever a 75 (Interstate 75), when (Hwy.) 63 was just a gravel road. I can remember very well, it took 45 minutes from the time I left the house to get there. I worked to clean off a lot of the land where 75 is, and where 63 is, where they built those roads.You take 16 years at one place, that’s around where Royal Blue is at, and that’s an awful long time to work for one company.
Then we came back and started saw milling at home. Old age caught up with us, and we stay at home now. We buy the logs. Every once in a while some man will have a load of logs and we have trucks that we’ve got a side-loader on, and we’ll run out and get his load of logs, but that’s all the logs we do now.
My father was the boss for J.C. Pemberton; he just run the whole thing for Grover. When I was just a chunk of a boy, in 1928, they paid me 50 cents a day. I wasn’t doing nothing. I’d just go down there and sit, and could wave the flag as well as the next man. When this man way down in the hole gave you the signal, you’d give a signal to a man way up yonder. Later, instead of using the flagmen, they began using the telephone, and this man down underneath had a place where he’d touch the wires together, and it rang a bell. Then the skidder would know that the man was ready to go. They called them bell boys then.
I’d work in the logging business in the summertime, then go to school during the school year. Then I worked making staves for the Buffalo Stave Company. I’d go to Morristown, Rogersville, in that section of the country, and make staves. I went through Knoxville, which wasn’t too big then. You didn’t have those streets that went one way. We’d ride the train from here over to Knoxville, then we would catch the trucks and go on over to where they made the stave bolts.
Remembering the Hudson Tract
The Buffalo Stave Company came into this country here I believe about 1936. When they repealed the alcohol, they came in and started making staves. They bought down on the Hudson tract; it was 6,400 acres on that one boundary of land. My brother, Estell, and I were the first fellers to saw a tree down on that job. I was 15 years of age at that time.
The Hudson tract was all of that land down around the mouth of Williams Creek, up to No Business, and all that country back in there down to below the John Smith place. Hudson was the name of the people who owned the land. I believe the Buffalo Stave Company put up $35,000, and the Pemberton brothers put up $25,000. That’s what I’ve been told. That was an awful lump sum of money at that time. We cut millions and millions of feet of timber.
J.C. Pemberton had seven mills running on this at one time, and I just worked on. My dad had the contract to cut the timber. And then, later on, when I had to go to school, I’d either help them cut the timber or become a dozer operator. A lot of times I’d go out and count the lumber at the contractor’s yards, so the contractors could get paid.
Very seldom would they take just one man’s figures on it. I’d have to go back and check, and lots of times I’d check 500,000 or 600,000 feet of lumber, and I’d be within 2,000 or 3,000 feet. That’s where I learned to figure lumber. Today, it’s just automatic, like your ABCs.
Sawmilling to Supplement the Farm
Since I’ve come out of the service, I’ve been my own boss, self-employed. Lots of times, the sawmill supplemented the farming.
We grew snap beans. When I came back, I got into the farming business a little heavy. We had 30 acres of snap beans and had as many as 125 pickers. We picked better than 500 bushels of beans a day, and I had five acres of strawberries. We sold those strawberries to Winter Garden. I was their buyer. I bought strawberries off of everybody around here, and then we’d haul them down to their plant in Dayton, Tenn., or to Knoxville.
In the bean business, we sold a lot of them over to Clarkrange, and the last two years when we grew so many, we took them down to Dayton. I couldn’t see loading 500 bushels of beans in the truck, then unloading them, and reloading them again. I’ve grown tobacco for 30-something years and I’ve only failed one year.
We had broccoli, cauliflower; in other words, I was doing pretty good farming until I discovered that you had to know one thing. You had to know how to say, “I’ll take it.” You’d take it to the market, and they’d say “I’ll give you so much,” and you had to say, “I’ll take it.” You’d go to buy something, they’d tell you the prices, and you’d have to say, “I’ll take it.” That’s the reason I always say I sawmilled to subsidize my farming.
There’s a way of doing anything if you stop and think about it. Like in this lumber business. When you’ve been in it better than 50 years, you have to know how to make things come out. It’s not always easy and happy, because you go to work today and everything will be easy, but tomorrow, everything under the sun will break down and tear up. You’ve got to be a pretty good mechanic to fix it up and keep it going. If you had to hire it out all the time, you’d go broke.
We cut close to a million and a half feet of lumber a year. We cut a low grade of lumber when we don’t have a contract. We’ve been supplying one company in Knoxville for the last 17 years.
Last year, we delivered 554,000 feet of lumber to just this one company — two or three loads a week; 137 loads last year. They don’t buy from anybody else, and we’re the only supplier they have. They depend on us, and we’ve had to go a lot of times when I didn’t want to go. There would be ice and snow, but the steel mill don’t shut down during the cold.
I’ve always enjoyed working in the woods. The most I ever cut working in the woods with a power saw, and a feller helping me, was 23,000 feet. Of course I only cut 18 trees. Most of the time I only cut about three.
I pulled an old cross-cut saw many, many a day. You just couldn’t get people to cut with an old cross-cut saw. You’d cut a big stave tree down, and you’d cut in 39-inch blocks. I’ve cut a tree down and sawed on that tree all day long. The thing would be about four feet through, and you’d just saw one block off. It was great for building muscles, but mine’s all disappeared now. Arthritis got my legs; I guess I run up and down these mountains too much.
In the early part it was all steam operated. Then the diesel began to come in, and people began to use it because it eliminated the fireman, the one that fired the boiler. Also, the power units were cheaper. But it runs about the same. The arithmetic come out that it cost as much as the man that fired the boiler. But it was more convenient, you see. In the wintertime, you had to keep the fire in this boiler all the time. That little old tractor mobile, all you had to do was add anti-freeze to the radiator, and you could walk off and leave it. When it came to zero weather, you didn’t have to worry about whether your boiler had to have a fire in it. I’ve seen my dad have to go at midnight and build a fire in the boiler to keep it from freezing. That was the handicap about that.
The steam wasn’t just to run the saw. I’ve seen them use what was known as shotgun feeds on their carriage. They had a big cylinder, similar to what we have with these hydraulics today, and this cylinder would feed that carriage through the saw. They called it a shotgun feed because one pushed and one pulled. Our carriages today, it’s all done by cable, rolled on a spool.
The old-timers had a saw sitting on top of the main saw when they had the big timber. They had a 60-inch saw, and then they had about a 30-inch saw right up over that they’d kick in, and would reach through. I’ve seen chestnut stumps that were 10 feet across. The biggest one I ever saw was right above the old O&W Bridge.
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Footnote: This is part two in a series about early 20th century logging in Scott County, excerpted from an oral interview conducted in 1991, in which National Park Service employee Anne Malanka interviewed Kenneth Payne. Part three will be included in the June 2018 installment of Forgotten Times.
This story is the May 2018 installment of Forgotten Times, presented on the fourth week of each month by United Cumberland Bank as part of the Independent Herald's Back Page Features series. A print version of this story appears on Page B8 of the May 24, 2018 edition of the Independent Herald.