Wood chopper finds work cold

Jim and Rose Oswald find different ways of enjoying life, the two indicated as they sat in their warm house fed by a wood fire that Jim had just been outside splitting wood for in the cold winter air.

Joel Stottrup / Union-Eagle Jim Oswald, holding a piece of red elm inside the kitchen of his home in Glendorado Township on Jan. 15. Oswald says the red elm is one of the more difficult woods to split.
Joel Stottrup / Union-Eagle
Jim Oswald, holding a piece of red elm inside the kitchen of his home in Glendorado Township on Jan. 15. Oswald says the red elm is one of the more difficult woods to split.

It was the afternoon of Jan. 16 and Jim  had been out in the yard for a spell splitting pieces of logs into smaller pieces for the wood fire. Jim split the wood cheerfully, lifting his big, old 14-pound splitting mall high into the air over his head and then bringing it down hard to crash into the top of a piece of log.

Sometimes, the wood didn’t split, at least not very far. He said that if it doesn’t split right away, then he places a wedge into the top and hits that with the back of his mall and then it will split.

Jim splits five cords of wood in a winter, all by hand. He has no use for the mechanical splitter that is run with a gasoline motor, making the task easy work other than having to move the pieces of log into place.

A full cord of wood, incidentally, stands 48 inches high, and is 48 inches wide and eight feet long. If someone talks about a stove cord, they are referring to a third of a full cord, meaning only 16 inches wide.

Jim says he likes splitting wood by hand because it gives him exercise, keeping him shape and makes him he feel good. He spoke affectionately of his splitting mall, which is beefy and has a steep-angled wedge shape. “I’ve had this mall 20 years,” he said. “I sent off for it to Ohio.”

Jim noted that he began burning wood in his home in 1979 and that he is on his third wood stove. The first stove he got from what was a Princeton Co-op store in town, the second was from Mimbach Fleet, and the third stove was from someplace in Rice. The Oswald couple had been burning propane and oil before they started burning wood, and Jim credits Rose with the idea of burning wood.

Jim Oswald
Jim Oswald

Back inside the Oswald home, the subject of who first suggested they should burn wood, took some twists and turns, like the grain in the elm wood he splits. When Jim said it was her idea, she responded: “I wouldn’t know about wood burning if he hadn’t brought it up.”

Jim, who is originally from Rogers, and Rose, who is originally from Faribault, met in the Twin Cities area.

He was living in Minneapolis, working for Northern Pacific, and she was teaching first grade in St. Louis Park. Their meeting took place at an adult gathering in Central Lutheran Church in 1966.

The couple now has four grown children – three boys and a girl. The oldest boy lives across the field from the Oswalds and Jim and the son help each other out with work.

As the couple took up again whose idea it was to start burning wood, Rose said to Jim, “You had the idea and I said yes to it.”

Jim then said something about the increased cost of heating oil and gas.

Rose OswaldRose noted that she is not completely happy about heating with wood. It leaves a lot of dust on the walls and it gets more tedious as time goes on to clean the walls, she said.

“It does smoke up a little,” Jim admitted.

But it is nice and warm, she added, and then mentioned the work of cleaning the floor when wet feet drag moisture in. “I’m not fond of washing the floors anymore,” she said.

The conversation then went to what the two like to do in their leisure time.

Turns out, Rose has gotten a bug for traveling not just around parts of the United States, which is mainly in the South during the winter, but also to around Europe during warm weather.

“He goes to Santiago every day,” she said, referring to his kind of traveling. Rose noted  that she travels with an old girlfriend from her college days, and that Jim likes to socialize with people at the Santiago store located west of Glendorado. “I’ve got to get away,” she said about her love of traveling afar.

Jim did admit that he wants to travel at least to one more place beyond Santiago in Benton County. “Before I take my boots off, I want to go to Texas,” he declared.

Jim and Rose have done a fair amount of traveling when their children were young, camping with them in their pop up camper as they traveled to various parts of the United States. They included New Orleans, the Gulf coast and other spots in the Deep South, and to historic places out East, and to Niagara Falls. “I think the mice have eaten it now,” Rose said of the pop up camper’s edible parts.

The subject then came up of how long Jim and Rose have been married and the answer was 47 years. But when Jim was asked if he remembered their wedding date, he hesitated.

“I won’t tell him,” she said firmly. Jim then came up with the correct date, May 27, 1967.

“I like him to think about it a little while,” she said.

When the two were asked what they found attractive in one another, she answered that he loves to eat and both loved going on picnics. He was also good with older people in his family, she said.

When it was Jim’s turn to give his reasons, he answered shyly, “I don’t know what to say.”

“I think he saw a housekeeper and a cook,” she said.

A few minutes later she commented on Jim’s sociability. “He knows everybody in a 50 mile radius,” she said. He and some guys like to exchange stories and jokes in the Santiago store, she added.

As the subject of wood heating was brought up, it came out that the Oswald home, besides having a wood stove, also has an oil furnace and a propane fireplace as back up.

“Do you think I’m going to freeze to death?” Rose asked. “When it’s 23 below I turn on the fireplace and sit next to it and read.”

After about 40 minutes in their warm kitchen, the conversation came to an end as Jim announced that he had to go outside before it got dark and gather wood to haul up to the house and she had something to do as well.