Friday, June 26, 2015

Family History Friday #16 - Pioneer Carpentry

     Our fifth biannual cousin camp will take place the last week in July.  We're  doing a family history theme this year and focusing on the lifestyles of some of our hardy pioneer ancestors.  One of the activities we are planning is pioneer carpentry.  My inspiration for this particular activity stemmed from a probate record I found pertaining to my fourth great grandfather, John Crihfield.  He died in 1851 in Lauderdale County, Tennessee, which borders on the Mississippi River.  Included in the probate record is a report of the estate sale which provides an exhaustive list of John Crihfield's personal property. This gives us a pretty good view of how the Crihfield family lived.  He appeared to have been a fairly prosperous farmer as he owned a fair amount of cattle and hogs. His son-in-law, (my third great grandfather) James H Heiskill, purchased a number of items at the estate sale. He purchased half of a canoe along with catfish hooks and lines. I'm assuming he probably already owned the other half of the canoe. It seems likely that he and his father-in-law were running trot lines on the Mississippi River to catch catfish.  James Heiskill also purchased some carpentry tools, specifically a hatchet and a drawknife. Other carpentry tools sold at the estate sale included two frows (also spelled froe), a hand saw,  2 pairs of compasses, 1 axe, 2 augers, chisels, a gimlet, and several whet stones for sharpening tools.

     Our pioneer ancestors used tools such as are listed above to build their homes and make all kinds of furniture and other useful items.  It was a lot easier to carry all of the carpentry tools in a wagon than it would have been to carry a load of furniture. Clearing land in a new location always provided a good supply of wood.

     If words such as froe or drawknife were featured in a modern day trivia test, I suspect that most people wouldn't have any idea what they were. Some people might figure out that an auger bit is used for drilling holes. Most people outside of the south also would have no clue as to what a trot line is. The autocorrect feature of my computer keeps trying to change froe to fore, but it seems ok with drawknife and trot line.  For the education of the small handful of friends and relatives who read my blog, I'm going to include a few photos and brief explanations as to the use of these tools.

    Let's start with the froe.  This is a tool used to split wood.  It was commonly used to make shingles. It consists of a long heavy blade attached to a handle. The blade is driven into the wood to be split with a heavy mallet.  The handle of the froe is then used to apply leverage to force the wood to split as well as to provide some control of the direction of the split.  I watched a really interesting show on Netflicks a year or so back. It was called "Happy People, a Year in the Taiga".  It told about the lives of fur trappers living on  the Yenisey River in Siberia. My favorite part of the show was watching this trapper manufacture a pair of cross country skis from a tree. He used a froe to split a small diameter log into two boards.  He then shaped the boards into skis primarily using a drawknife.

    Drawknives are used to shave off wood. Heavy duty drawknives can be used to remove the bark from a log.  Smaller drawknives can be used to shape wood to make things such as chair or table legs, or the skis mentioned above.  Drawknives were often used in conjunction with a shave horse, a type of workbench which also functions as a clamp to hold the wood being shaped with the drawknife.  The woodworker would sit on one end of the shave horse and push against a foot brace in order to hold his work piece firmly in place.  I'm planning to build a shave horse to use at our cousin camp.

The drawknife is at the bottom of the photo

    An auger bit is a primitive drill.  It consists of a long drill bit and a handle which fits down over the top of the drill bit.  As the handle is rotated, the bit drills into the wood.
Auger bit with handle

   I found the medium size drawknife, the auger bit, and the two hand planes on craigslist.  The froe was a gift from a good friend, Duncan Biddle. I also bought a pair of smaller drawknives at a local hardware store a larger drawknife from Grizzly Tools.

     So, you're all probably wondering what we are going to do with all of these wonderful old tools.  My plan is to saw down a Red Alder tree,  cut it into sections of appropriate length, and split those sections of trunk with mauls and wedges or possibly with the froe into two equal halves. We will drill holes for legs and shape those legs using the shave horse and drawknives. Then we will pound the legs into our benches using a heavy mallet. Last of all welwill use the jack plane to smooth out the surface of the bench. It sounds like a wonderfully fun time to me. I'm hoping the older grandkids will enjoy it as well. I can only imagine the consternation of the parents as they try to fit their child's camp project into the car at the end of cousin camp.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Visiting Grand Children

   We've been pretty busy grandparents the past few weekends.  Several weekends back we traveled to Ellensburg to attend a production of Fiddler on the Roof with my son James and his sweet family.  We left for Ellensburg right after I closed the store on Saturday afternoon.  That two hour drive to visit the Tunnells will soon be increased to about five hours after they complete their move to Pullman. It was hard for us when they moved from Monroe to Ellensburg and went from 15 minutes away to 2 hours away.  Now we have to get used to a greater distance from loved ones.

     Fiddler on the Roof is one of my favorite musicals and this particular production was very well done.  They had brought in a professional Tevia who was marvelous.  Our grand children were very well behaved and attentive throughout the performance.  Even little Nora managed to at least make it through to the intermission.  The only serious fly in the ointment was the late night drive home to Snohomish after the performance.  Fortunately, with my recent release from the Bishopric, I no longer have an early morning meeting on Sunday.

   The following weekend we traveled to Oregon to watch our grand daughter Chloe perform in a Shakespear comedy, As You Like It. She has been involved in a home school group which studies Shakespear for the past year.  Chloe played the part of Adam, the elderly servant of one of the main characters.  Obviously from the photo below, its hard to make a pretty twelve year old girl look like an old man.  Chloe did a great job on her lines and hobbled and shuffled as well as any old man of my personal acquaintance.They put on a pretty good show and we had a great time.
Chloe Kang as Adam from As You Like It

Family History Friday #15

   This past Sunday morning I was looking at family The pedigree chart was in portrait mode and I noticed that it didn't show a photo for my maternal grandmother, Lillian Mae Rolo. I was sure we had photos of her uploaded into the memories section so I investigated further.

    As it turns out there were a number of wonderful photos of Lillian I could chose to display on the pedigree chart. However, I found something much more important than the photos. I found eight letters she had written to her children, just a few months before she died in a sanitarium from tuberculosis. I had known about one of the letters which was addressed to my mother, but I didn't know about the ones to her siblings. 

      It just so happened that Mom's younger sister (Macel Arlene Sinor) was visiting us at the time. I walked downstairs and introduced my Aunt Arlene to family As it turned out, she didn't know about the letters. She was such a small child at the time of her mother's death that she doesn't remember her mother at all. It was a special moment for her to be able to read her mother's last expression of her love for her children and to her specifically.

    Later that day, as I was sitting in church, I pondered what had gone into the preservation of those very special letters. First of all, Lillian's mother, Ann Lee Stromer (married name Rolo)  had chosen to save the letters after Lillian died just a few months later. Later, when grandma Rolo died, the letters came to the custody of Lillian's older sister, Elsie Rolo (married name Shuck). When Aunt Elsie died, the letters came into the possession of Elsie's daughter Patty. When Patty found the letters, she passed them on to my mother, Cozette, who shared them with other family members, which lead to the letters being uploaded onto I couldn't help but think of the sacred nature of a mother's last expression of her love for her children and it moved me to tears. Linda was sitting next to me and kept asking me if I needed a tissue.

  There were so many people who possessed the letters and each of them could have easily thrown them away or simply misplaced them among all of the other stuff we all carry around. I am convinced that the dead are very much involved in preserving the records that are important to their story. I also believe it was no coincidence that I found the letters on family search while my Aunt Arlene was here.

    Among the letters from Lillian, there was also one letter from my grandfather, James Wilburn Sinor, Sr.  My mother has some issues with her father and has been pretty critical of him. In this letter he wrote about his love for his children and how much he missed them. He also expressed regret for the decision to leave their children with Lillian's parents in Klickitat, Washington while he took her to California to get treatment for her tuberculosis. A good part of the letter was devoted to expressing concern for Lillian's health and happiness. He may not have been the perfect father, but it was clear that he loved his wife and children. After reading the letter I was a little more inclined to cut him a little slack.

    I would like to have included some of the letters and photos of Lillian and her husband, James Wilburn Sinor, but I was unable to figure out how to transfer the photos from family search. When I figure that out I will do like a congressman and revise and extend my remarks.

Grandma's Cuckoo Clock

     We have eight of our twenty-five grandchildren visiting this week. They were really intrigued by Linda's new cuckoo clock. They would get really excited whenever they heard the cuckoo, but somehow never managed to arrive in time to watch the event. This morning they were determined not to miss the cuckoo and all gathered in anticipation of the clock striking eight.

Rapt attention

     They had a lot of questions regarding the workings of the clock.  They were intrigued by the fact that the clock works off a pendulum and a system of weights and gears and has no battery.