The crosscut saw
PRESERVATIONISTS cry in alarm at the depredations of the chain saw, not just because it deforests but because it makes noise. I smile from one side of my mouth at such protestations, because I know the talker never worked his end of a godendart and has no notion of what a beautiful instrument the chain saw is. I well recall the weary tedium of the crosscut saw, which is a godendart, and remember how my father, on the other end, would say he didn't mind my riding back and forth while he worked, but he wished I wouldn't drag my feet. He and his father had the very same joke when Dad was little, and when I went with them to the woods, for the picnic and to keep a fire going, I would tease to try one end. They told me I was too small, and as I still teased they let me take a handle so I would get tired and stop being a nuisance.
You will not find the word godendart in the archives of the French Academy, but anybody in Quebec will tell you it is a long saw with a large blade worked by two people for felling trees in the days before the chain saw. Because so many Kaybeckers came down to harvest timber in Maine, the word is well known upstate.
Not only was a tree felled with the godendart, but the downed wood was cut to four feet and stovewood lengths with same tool. Two strong men could get a tree ``down and worked up'' sooner than you'd suppose. Every lumber camp had a filer to keep the godendarts sharp, and if he found an idle minute he was expected to make ax handles. Such camps were made up of smaller buildings, each with its own purpose, and the filer's shop would be near the office, probably next to the farrier's, and like as not kitty-corner from the boss's camp.
Thus the filer was in a position to see about everything that went on, and he became a legendary authority on anything. If somebody expressed a doubt about the veracity of an asseveration, the answer might be, ``All right - if you don't believe me, go ask the filer.'' The best way to explain this is to say it was something like ``Go tell it to the Marines,'' or an invitation to jump in the lake. A good filer made one stroke on a sawtooth, down the line, and another to each tooth on the way back. He could look up and out the window while he was doing it. A true art.
When I came to have my own woodlot and worked alone, I had a ``one man'' crosscut. The steel was thicker, so it pushed as well as pulled. There was, on the nether end, a hole where a handle could be attached to make the thing serve as a godendart - for two men. But I also had a two-man, if somebody deigned to help me, so I never used that handle, and it was lost long ago.
I still have the one-man saw, hanging on the shop wall where I drove a nail the day I brought home my first chain saw. But the two-man saw was lost, also long ago, in a puzzling way. I remember we were sitting in the shade on the lawn in the serenity of a summer Sunday afternoon, and an automobile turned into the driveway. They were folks we knew, so they sat and we talked, and the man said a thunder shower had knocked down a great maple tree on his lawn, and he was looking for somebody to come and clean it up. I asked him why he and his boy didn't do the job, and offered the lend of my godendart.
I brought it from the shop and we bent it so it would fit in the trunk of his automobile, and shortly our visitors drove along. It was months after that when I said, ``Who was it borrowed my crosscut saw?'' I couldn't remember, and nobody else could, and that saw never came home.
Along the Maine rivers where timber was ``driven'' on the spring freshets, the godendart was the citizen's answer to the detested ``logwatch.'' Every harvested stick and log in the drive was supposed to have its ``logmark,'' like a brand on Western cattle, and every owner had his private mark registered. At the drive's end, each owner got his own wood.
A stick or log without a mark was his who fished it from the river, and people living along the stream got their winter's wood by standing on the bank and peering at what went by. The logwatch was an officer that made sure nobody stole marked wood. And he was strictly a company man, so he often threw back an unmarked log - a maverick - which he shouldn't have done. Everybody hated the logwatch, but he was an officer of the law, and the best way to beat him was to get the wood in the woodshed before he came by. So every night after supper the men and boys would push-pull the godendart and clean up the day's catch by bedtime. So much for the logwatch. I have asked often, and no Kaybecker has been able to tell me the derivation, but it is pronounced go-don-daw.