Emil the Woodworker

Emil Borreson (born 1872) was a farmer first of all, from the days of his youth into the 1940s when he began renting his farm to sons who wanted a start in the farming business. We’ve seen how he appreciated the latest inventions, how it was a matter of pride to be “modern.”

Like many immigrants and next generation folk, it appears that Emil did carpentry work as his back-up job. Not only did he do cement work for others, according to his daughter Clara, but he also “made sleds, skis, furniture, and brooder houses” (Homestead, 35). These latter buildings were for raising chicks to maturity. So, awhile back when cousin Conrad mailed me the photo below, I got really excited: maybe we have an actual photo of Emil at work. No, Sid tells, this wasn’t Emil, but most likely is Ole Stendahl with whom Emil sometimes worked as a carpenter.

I love the photo details of the large plane, handsaw, cigarette, and especially the hat. I think the farm had more than one of these brooder houses and, very likely, Emil had his hand in building them. Perhaps Emil and Ole had just completed the one in this photo. (About the chickens… that’s another post.)

This coming Saturday, October 1, one of Emil’s projects comes up for sale at Uncle Sid and Aunt Irene’s auction. This handmade oak desk (below) is probably over a hundred years old, a wonderful example of the furniture Aunt Clara said her father made. I hope it ends up in good hands where it will be treasured.

In an old album my mother had kept, I located the gem below: Emil hard at work splitting fence posts – I think it’s winter, there appears to be snow on the ground. Maybe it’s the 1930s; we’d don’t seem to have snapshots any earlier. When I was a child in the fifties, I remember my dad Garven doing the same work using an axe, a steel wedge, and a heavy maul. I loved watching Dad take a swing that would cause the ice-cold wood to snap and split apart. I thought it made him look like Superman! A full day of this, of course, and the woodsman earned his keep!

This photo catches a corner of the brick house on the right as well as the Fitch Coulee School in the left background. If classes had been in session, Emil was close enough that the pounding of his axe and the crack of the splitting wood might have led a few students’ eyes to stray from their lessons.

I wonder how much work of this kind Emil did – and how much in the woods itself. His sons after him who had farms with woodland spent many hours there, including my dad Garven and especially Odell who, as I recall, gained recognition for his woodland conservation work on the home farm in Fitch Coulee.

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