Days Gone By - stories from the past

Work at a sawmill was hard in the good old days! Can you imagine the strength it took to do this?

Work at a sawmill was hard in the good old days! Can you imagine the strength it took to do this?




I grew up in Walker Co. Alabama between Carbon Hill and Nauvoo. My Grand Father John Thomas Nix had a sawmill on his property and one of the things he cut was Rail Road Cross Ties.railroad ties

Walking out of woods with cross tie on shoulders

One of the stories that were passed down to me was that my Dad, Grady Chester Nix, could put one of the Cross Ties on his shoulder and walk out of the woods with it. That was quite a feat for a man only 5 foot 8 inches and about 155 lbs.

Learn more about the difficulties our ancestors faced in this historical fiction series, Tapestry of Love, which is inspired by true events and an actual colonial family who settled on the Eastern Shore of Virginia in 1638 and migrated to Alabama in the 1800s

I also recall that when I was about 6 years old my Dad had a saw mill and on occasions he would allow me to ride on the carriage and set blocks. Setting blocks is the act of moving the log sideways and this determines the thickness of the plank you are cutting.cross saw

Two men cut trees with cross cut saw

There would be a couple of men who would cut the trees down with a cross cut saw; no gasoline powered chain saws then. They would also cut the logs to length so they could be skidded to the mill using a team of mules handled by another worker.mule pulling logs


Couple of men rolled the logs up the ramp

There was also an ax man that trimmed the limbs off before the skidding took place.

Since it has been over 75 years I do not recall all of the crew but at the mill there would be a couple of men who rolled the logs up the ramp and onto the carriage and an off bearer who caught the slabs that were to be discarded and another worker to catch and stack the plank that we were keeping plus my dad who was at the controls moving the carriage and the log thru the saw. It is good to remember the old time and to remind ourselves how good we have it today.Skyline Farms sawmill 1935

Check these books by Alabama Author Donna R Causey

RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America: Tapestry of Love Series

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  1. Both of my grandfathers owned sawmills in south Alabama.

    1. This is very interesting. Where in south Alabama were your grandfather’s sawmills located?

  2. My mother was Ruby Lee Thomas, born in 1912, in Walker County. Suspect we might have had the same grandfather Thomas -who owned a sawmill in the old days…

  3. My grandparents were born and raised in Nauvoo (Fred Mansel Comer, born 1895, died 1955) and (Margaret Elizabeth Annie Knight Comer, born 1900, died 1974). So was my Mother, Elora Mabeth Comer Elmore, born 1931, died 2005. Spent many summers there and have alot of good memories.

    1. My grandmother Dora Knight delivered Elora.
      Mansel Comer was my grandmother Maude Keetons, brother. Annie Knight was my grandmothers sister in law, Bryan Knights sister.
      I was born in Nauvoo in 1935.
      I met Elora at the old Harbin Hotel in Nauvoo.

      1. I knew that the Keetons were kin to us but wasn’t really sure. I remember Great Uncle Bryan. His wife’s name was Minnie? About a year ago, my granddaughter, wife and I made a day trip thru Nauvoo. We visited Flatwoods Cemetery to see Mama Comer’s grave and all the rest buried there, including my Mother’s sister, Era Comer Martin. It was sad to see the shape of all of the graves. Lot of memories there of decorations and singings and dinner on the grounds.

        I assume that Gene and Earline McDaniel still own the Harbin Hotel? Thank you Olivia, for sharing with me. I live in Orange Beach, Alabama and visit my Grandfather’s grave at Bayview Cemetery in Pensacola, Florida on occasion. He died the year before I was born.

  4. My grandmother was Maggie Nix, who was married to Lee Darty. The were in this area so I wonder if this was my great grand pa. I was also in the sawmill and timber business in my younger days.

  5. Jim Darty, Alada Schnake do you have any knowledge of these people?

  6. I just know the name …….

  7. I think his name was John Presley Nix, He lived on the hill just north of Mill Creek and another family of Nix lived right beside Mill Creek east of the bridge and another family lived north of us about 1/2 mile south of Nix school. I went to school there 1’st -3’rd grade. I’ll talk to my sister and see if we can come up with more imfo.

  8. A lot of my family worked one

  9. My grandfather, Garl Jones, had a saw mill. My daddy said they logged with mules and hand tools. My dad’s occupation on his enlistment papers, lumberjack.

  10. Mennonites still do this, mostly with children. Tough work.

  11. I work at sawmill when I was12 in ALABAMA I remember those hot days we were burning those slabs at the mill it was hard work that what you did!!! ROLL TIDE ROLL BAMA FAN FROM WISCONSIN!!

  12. My grandfather sawmilled around Fall Creek Falls, north of Jasper, and later around Sipsey in the mid 1930s, before going into coal-mining at Empire, where I was born.

  13. There is a saw mill on top of pea ridge, belongs to Donald Crowe. He will cut lumber for you if you ask him right. WIG.

  14. My grandfather had a saw mill in North Carolina

  15. Now just for fun, try to imagine how those timbers get loaded in the boxcar for shipment…(Dallas County memory)

  16. My father did that, and he had one leg, I am telling the truth ,he walked on a crutch.

  17. And the pay where my uncles worked was $1.00 a day in late 40’s – 50’s. Many men and boys were injured,and there was no workers comp. remember a sawmill injury was how Johnny Cash’s brother died.

  18. My grandmother was born in the Kaul Lumber Co Camp near Sylacauga in 1903.

  19. Thought you might like this.

  20. That’s my Uncle Talmadge Hopper running that saw mill! He put my father to work – taught him to be a fine carpenter. He put a lot of men to work back then taught them a trade. After all, he worked for President Roosevelt!!

  21. Looks like he’s making crossties.. This is how a lot of people survived during times between harvests. My grandad did this. Oak and popular were very common logs to use

    1. Jimmy Terry taught my grandfather that he wanted to be a

    2. Clem Clapp my grandad was doing this at 10 or 11 years old in the 1920’s. Hit his foot with the ax and went through life with wire spliced tendons in his foot. They called them piano wire. One snapped and his step father said they had more money in him than he was worth already so he went through life like that. He passed in his 90’s

  22. This is what Trump won’t to have Slave labor make America great again what a joke

  23. Yes. And after all that hard work the rail road might just accept 2 or 3 out of the 6 you worked to hewn out.

    1. Steve Farrow There were still some hand hewn ties in the track when I started in 76.

  24. That’s not a sawmill. That’s a young man hand hewing logs into cants.

  25. Remember my grandfather talking about cutting cross ties when I was growing up

  26. Hacking crossties using a broadaxe. My brother In law used to do that in the late 40s.

  27. I have done this. it was work cutting the tree down, hewing out the cross ties with a broad ax,either right or left handed, loading them on an old international log truck and unloading them on a railroad car at Eoline Al. Most people don’t know what the word work means these days.

  28. Splitting railroad ties yes was very hard and you can you imagine whenever the Chinese immigrants came here but they built pretty much 90% of the railroads

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