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May 12, 2012

Sawmills & Hot-Shoes

In 1978 I moved to Myrtle Creek Oregon from San Diego to live amongst the hillbillies and work in their sawmills. When I arrived I still had all my digits and all my teeth, which made me a bit of a stand out, but before too long, I fit right in. Here’s a list of swell jobs I performed, all of them paying at least twice minimum wage… Planner Chain Puller, Grade Stamper, Green Chain Puller, Trim Sawyer, Chipper Tender, Lift Truck Driver, Carrier Driver, Off Bearing the Headrig, Edger Operator, (bigger) Edger Operator and finally Bandmill Operator. During these years I learned to dip snuff, chew tobacco, drink (a lot), stay up late & avoid fist fights. I was particularly fond of old Chevy pickups, vintage 1947 to 1953. I owned four of them. One of them I paid $60 for and drove home. Towards the end of my blue collar career I found myself in drug and alcohol counselling and became clean and sober. One outcome of sobering up, was to realize I no longer fit that job and I quit. For years it had been a great deal of fun, but my colleagues and I kept getting hurt and finally I’d had enough.

Here’s a historical photo of a sawmill headrig in action. The headrig consists of a rail-car like device that can clamp and turn the log then move the log through the saw. The saw is a large bandsaw which cuts slices of the log into thick planks. The guy who off bears the headrig makes sure the slabs fall face down, and then with some levers, insures the slabs (called flitches and cants) go to the proper destination. It’s pretty boring until sawyer pushes the log too fast into the sawblade causing it to come off the wheels – the game is to see it’s about to come off, and run like hell! The bandsaw in the picture has 6 foot wheels. The one where I worked had 9 foot wheels. It was a big bandsaw. (what this has to do with motorcyles will be explained soon).


The motorcycle racer in the picture below has a hardened steel ‘shoe’ strapped to the bottom of his boot.


In dirt track racing the course is usually an oval, where only left turns are made. The racer uses his left foot as an outrigger to balance the bike as it’s leaned far into the turn, much like a road-racing motorcyclist uses his knee sliders to aid cornering.  The steel shoe, or hot-shoe is an integral part of flat track racing – it’s fun to be at the race track and hear the riders walk by – step clump, step clump, step clump. There used to be a craftsman who’d follow the professional racers on their tour and custom fit hot-shoes for them, as each one has to be made precisely for your boot. He’s passed on. There are very few outfits that make them anymore. A couple of websites that show up in searches are shut down and the one legit outfit still standing will take over $250 and weeks to deliver, plus you have to mail them your boot.  My friend, the mechanic up the road, is an old timey flat track racer who among other talents can make hot-shoes. He said here in the northwest, riders would use discarded sawmill bandsaw blades for their shoes, as it’s very hard steel and the material was readily available in this tree chopping wonderland we live in. So… where would I find a discarded sawmill bandsaw blade in Corvallis Oregon 2012?  Burcham’s Metals in Albany. They have every imaginable alloy of metal at scrap prices.

Here’s a photo of my treasure which was just what I was looking for and I got it for 40 cents a pound!

Please God… No quick stops.


Here’s a picture of my boot and sawblade, awaiting the craftsman’s handiwork. The boots I have are expensive Gaerne road racing boots that I got for a song on eBay. The old timers wore lineman’s boots, laced up almost to the knee, and a lot the kids out there today wear their motocross boots. Road racing boots were recommended to me because the motocross boots are less flexible and somewhat heavy, where the road racing boots offer good protection but you can still feel the shifter and brake. Interesting story about my boots. The person who sold them on eBay, his next purchase was a baby carriage… Life has its cycles…


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