Reliving the past

Rudy Norman
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Former sawmill worker still loves the craft

The sound of a sawmill’s engine and the smell of a freshly ripped pine timber is still something Jack Noseworthy longs for, even at the tender age of 90 years.
Some days, the Middle Arm man can often be found outside sitting next to his shed, and, when the wind is just right and the harbour is quiet enough, he can hear the gentle roar of the only remaining saw mill in town, about a kilometre away from his home.

Jack Noseworthy, right, slides a log through the old saw mill like he’d done countless times before. Jack was a saw mill operator for Henry Thomas (left) before retiring three decades ago. Now, for Jack’s 90th birthday, the two reunited for old time sake, and to cut a few sticks while they were at it.

“I loves it – I just loves it,” he said. “I don’t know why, and I can’t explain it, but I spends hours out there listening to that old mill.”

The mill he’s talking about is owned by the Thomas family – Conway being the principal operator these days, since the retirement of his father, Henry, who ran the business for several years.

Jack is one of Henry’s old employees – back when the young budding entrepreneur relied on his already several years of experience to get him off the ground and run the operation, which is still successful today.

He started in the mill when he was 12. The young age was normal then, he said, since working was a necessity the moment a person was able.

“Me father worked in the saw mill back then, you know – we had four (mills) here in Middle Arm at the time, so there wouldn’t no trouble to get work.”

Jack went with his father to the mill every day, and started out keeping the steam engine running that powered the entire operation.

“I would get it going, and keep it running and that through the day – no power or nothing back then, so you only had the old steam engine to keep it going.”

Even though he was a child, Jack put in a day’s work in hours almost equal to his years. Ten hours a day he and his father laboured at the mill, for wages near inconceivable today.

“I got 50 cents a day,” he said. “The ol’ man got $1 because he was foreman, but then the other fellers started kickin’ up a racket because they didn’t think it was right for the one house to get a $1.50.”

Nevertheless, the love for the sawmill got etched into the young Jack, and he stayed there until he was 18 – that’s when opportunities came knocking as a logger, cutting the supply for the place he loved to be most.

“I went in the woods and worked for a bit, and then I went at carpenter work. I did a bit of it all, you know,” he said with a chuckle.

His carpentry career saw him build over 40 houses single-handedly, including many in his hometown that are still standing today.

Later in life, Jack found himself, once again, next to the blade and the roar of the mill. For the nine years late in his career, sawmill operators in Middle Arm relied on his knowledge of the craft to get the job done.

“We’d saw probably 3,000 feet a day back then,” he said. “You’d sell it then for $15 for 1,000 feet. I ’spose you wouldn’t get a piece of two-by-four for that these days.”

Jack’s last sawmill job was with Henry Thomas. The family operation in the cove employed Jack as their main sawer, with a little help from a few hands around.

Thirty years have removed Jack and Henry from those days. Henry is retired as well now – with the operation now being run mostly by his son.

For old time sake, though, last year Henry told Jack he had an idea.

“He came up one day and we was talkin’, and he said that if I made it to 90, then he wanted to take me up and saw a couple logs.”

This week, Henry came through on his promise. He and Jack met at the old sawmill, and Jack picked up where he left off.

“I can still remember it for the most part,” he said. “But things are a lot different than they was back when I was at it.”

Hydraulics have made it a lot simpler to feed the beast, he said – and his 3,000 feet a day would pale in comparison to what the veteran figures he would accomplish these days with the new way of doing things.

Nevertheless, Jack says those days have gone, and no matter how much he wishes he could live it again, it’s been over 30 years since Jack last handled the timber and slide it through the blade.

While his days in the mill are behind him, though, the love for the work he spent much of his life at is never lost.

“I’d go back at it tomorrow if they’d let me,” he said.

His wife Doris, overhearing the comment, immediately shuts that idea down.

Jack chuckled slightly, and tipped his head back – no doubt imagining the sound of the steam engine roaring, and the fresh smell of pine.

Geographic location: Middle Arm

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