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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

A Kind Of Safety

There is only one kind of real safety: The wisdom to know where danger lies, and the ability to balance the return on risk with the exposure to that danger.

At its most elemental, danger is easily espied. Hey, look; there’s a giant, spinning metal wheel covered with raggedy teeth. Ahoy! There are straps running hither and yon and spoked wheels spinning and begging to take a digit. Everything from splinters to a head staved in is in play. That’s if the boilers don’t explode first.

Everyone in the video looks unruffled. “Don’t touch the hot stove” is easy if you’re of a serious mind. The boards that marvelous machine is spitting out are valuable and useful and worth the effort, and worth the effort to keep safe, too. Risk/reward at its most elemental.

These are anachronistic machines, which I adore. Simpler is better in almost all things. If they were more up-to-date, there would be a great deal more safety devices in use. What would come of the improvements? The users would get inured to the presence of danger. Blase. They would begin to stick in waxy earbuds and concentrate on organized noise instead of paying attention to what they were doing. Maybe they’d have a snifter or three at lunch and think nothing of it. They might pass the time in skylarking instead of sticking to it. And all the guards in the world will not save those that think that all forms of danger must be made safe –even from attempts at voluntary harm — and whatever downstream effects of danger ignored must be unquestionably and munificently ameliorated by others.

All that “safety” is before you even get to the Gates of Barrister Hades, guarded by the hellhound with three heads: paranoia, hypochondria and fraud. When suffering harm is a winning lottery ticket, the only way to lose is not to play. And the loser always pays. But you knew that. Stay safe!

23 Responses

  1. And then…. at the end…. he jumps up on the last log with a chain saw just to make me feel small and weak and all girly.

    Here's a gedanken experiment: Try watching the video and imagining women as the crew. No offense ladies but I think you'd bail.

  2. I went to the NC State fair this past Sunday and spent some time watching the steam engine powered sawmill demonstration. Very nice.

    I have sawed a lot of logs and hired portable millers to saw boards from some of them.

    My great-grandfather, a veteran of the Civil War, managed to saw his arm off while running his own sawmill. Despite that, he lived to an age that I will probably never see. What can I say – I am tough, but those guys were real tough.

  3. Twice during this video a fellow appears in the foreground with a watering can and waters something. Somehow I'm not thinking it's posies. What's he up to?

    Each time a new log is mounted, the operator at one point walks between the spinning blade and the front end of the log to make some adjustment to secure the log. Me, I think I'd walk around the other end. Mind you, I'm sure he knows what he's doing. But ….

  4. The A. D. Baker Co built what are called traction steam tractors – basically engines powered by steam draw a load behind it. In the case of these tractors, they also are also used as PTO using a reduction gear and flywheel arrangement (as you can see in the picture). Baker tractors were the first to use automatic stoking and water regulation.

    The guy with the watering can is cooling down the leather belts on the power take off and keep them supple and loose.

    Mr. Baker is famous for the Baker Valve Gear which even to this day, is the best valve gear ever designed.

    Sorry – I'm a tractor nut. :>)

  5. No, no, tell me more. I've decided I want a Baker for my commuting vehicle in downtown Seattle. It should flatten out all those traffic jams.

  6. Comment from the video:

    "OSHA can go pound sand for all I care.

    Safety´╗┐ is dictated by common sense, not bullshit regs."

    What a throwback! Doesn't he know that lawyers figured out away to prevent work sites from relying on common sense years ago?

  7. Have either of you been to Greenfield at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborne? They have a huge barn of a mill, all run off one big steam engine, with belts and spindles everywhere!! It runs all sorts of milling tools. Lots of lathers, as I recall.

    Definitely unsafe, and a lot of fun!

  8. @vanderleun – Well, for that you would need a "steam" roller – which, oddly enough, is also a form of steam tractor engine – well not so much in today's world, but the term has stuck even for diesel powered road rollers. A lot of steam tractor manufacturers built varying types of steam rollers, sometimes called ground or gravel compactors.

    Aren't you glad you asked?

  9. My husband was brought home from the hospital by his boss. The boy nearly sawed his arm clean off. He has a mighty long scar where the saw met the skin. I swear he's going to kill me with heart attacks or something.
    There were kids in the foreground. Are they some kinda Amish?

  10. The Baker would definitely smooth out the lumpy cars in Seattle, Gerard, but it would be more satisfying to level a few bicyclists as well.

  11. The Henry Ford Museum houses the Fairbottom Bobs. A Newcomen pumping engine tha pumped water from the mines at Park Bridge, Oldham Lancashire.
    Regards, Nigel.

  12. Hi everyone- Thanks for reading and commenting.
    Leelu- I've never been to the Ford museum, but I'd like to. I've made a table copied from on one in the Ford museum. It's a big, shaker work table.

  13. I have a photo of my granddad in his late 60s at the controls of a mill in the NC mountains as he sawed a Chestnut log about four feet across. He looked like he was on his porch spitting Bull-of-the-Woods juice into the Hemlocks: calm and peaceful, unconcerned that one moment of inattention could result in disaster. He was unconcerned because he controlled his surroundings and understood the consequences. He was a man, you see. An adult. Scarce as Chestnut logs, these days.

  14. I lived on a farm, where the oldtimer had one of these. It used an old car, I think a Packard, to power it. Any time he fired it up, the border collie would be driven insane and run around barking at full speed. Johnny also had every car and piece of machinery that he'd ever owned. He was a bachelor and would sometimes have calves in his living room. If you went over for a visit, he might fire up an ancient chainsaw in the living room, just for fun. You would have liked him.

  15. My father used to joke, "that's funnier than being in a card game with a six fingered sawyer."

    Do I need to mention that's a true story?

  16. Fun to watch, can be sorta-fun to help out with…back about 30 years ago, I had the opportunity to help run a smaller and somewhat-cruder version of this, in rural Michigan, sawing up logs taken from a woodlot I then owned. Still own a couple of pieces of furniture I made later from some of the lumber…

    "The guy with the watering can is cooling down the leather belts on the power take off and keep them supple and loose."

    Sorry, but – wrong answer. Watch the video again. Neither guy (yes, there are two involved) using the watering can goes anywhere near the drive belts (which are at the rear of the sawyers' whole setup anyway). It's a warm, sunny day, and the logs they're sawing are only part-cured; as the planks come off the saw conveyor, they are being stacked, the ones needing edge-trimming going into a pile to the left of the picture (watch the men carrying them over there, crossing from right to left) and the ones that are already square-edged by the saw being piled to the immediate right. Both piles get sprinkled periodically, in order to keep the now-exposed (still-only-partly-cured) interior of the fresh-sawed planks from drying too quickly in the warmth from the sun and the open air, since it would tend to warp and develop checks and cracks if it did. Probably also helps flush off some of the inevitable grit/dirt from sawyering logs that still have most or all of the bark on them.

    Love those Baker engines, BTW – the little country setup I helped with used a somewhat-rusty but vigorously useful Chevy V-8; not nearly as attractive, though possibly easier and quicker to start up.

    Very nice operation. The gent doing the actual sawing really knows his stuff – as stated, he's pretty unlikely to do anything that's really unsafe. Of course, if he should happen to do so, it seems unlikely he'd have the opportunity to repeat the error…

  17. I stopped at a small sawmill about 25 years ago in rural Arizona to inquire about some hog lumber. That mill made this one look safe. It had both a band saw and a circular saw, when the band saw was in use, the circular saw (about the same diameter as in the video) was spinning full speed about 5 1/2 feet off the ground. The operator had to duck to operate the band saw. One millisecond of inattention and body parts would be flying. All for making pallet wood.

  18. Teri, your story is more proof that Border Collies are the best dogs evah!

    My uncle used to wait until all was quiet in a room then pull out his .38 and shoot through the floor. That was always good for a chuckle…

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