My Dad, Ken Bolton, owned a sawmill. A place he worked in from the age of 14 until his 60’s. I worked there during some uni breaks and I know a little of how hard and hot the work was.
The mill consisted of a big shed, with no walls, no heating, no cooling and only pretty basic dust extraction. It was cold as ice in winter and hot as all else in summer. In winter everyone would huddle around a single oil burning heater during smoko. To beat the heat in summer they would start at 5:30am. Mind you this was the routine only after the donkey engine burnt the place down and they subsequently rebuilt with electrical motors and flouro lighting. Before that 1960’s rebuild Dad was up at 4:00am to fire up the steam engine so it was ready to go when everyone else rolled up a couple of hours later.
Before the steam era, for the first 15 years of Dad’s career, the mill was located 14 miles out of town in the middle of a forest. Accommodation then consisting of a tin cottage with a dirt floor.
Dad liked a routine - morning tea was at 9:15am, lunch at 12:00 and afternoon tea at 3:15pm. Those times changed only once a year – on Melbourne cup day afternoon smoko was at race time. The shed floor was a combination of dirt and oil from the log skids and the only chairs were a couple of seats out of an old Morris car.
Even though Dad was the owner he was also one of the men who physically pushed and shoved logs around until they became something useful like a wall stud, a floor board, a noggin or a fancy cabin profile weatherboard. Each evening he’d come home, reeking of cypress sawdust, with bits of timber under his arm – each with an order he’d written down during the day. After dinner he’d do the paperwork in his office, have a port and go to bed around 9:30.
Dad finally sold the mill in his 60’s after it had been on the market for some years. He then took up a job as a school bus driver, clocking nearly a 1,000 kilometres a week on a long country run. He loved it - the kids, the parents, the driving and finally being able to fulfil one of his wishes – to be a mechanic. Something he’d been pulled away from by his family when he was 14 and the mill needed an extra set of hands during the war.
He retired from bus driving when he felt that his reactions were no longer as sharp as they used to be. Handing his licence in voluntarily because he didn’t want to be the cause of an accident.
I got my love of making things out of timber from Dad. For him, any construction or design problem could be solved with a 4 x 2 piece of cypress and some 3 inch nails. Dad’s design genre is probably best described as a cross between early industrial, steam punk and “just get it done with what we’ve got”. Not always pretty – but it never fell down.
But most importantly, I’ve got Dad to thank for my love of God. After all it was his good mate who told me about Jesus when I was 13 and Dad who showed me what serving Him looked like by how he cared for others.
Dad was the classic “chopping wood for widows” type of bloke. A bit of a rough diamond - he hated wearing a tie but loved flannelette shirts, towelling hats and t-boots – he had a loving heart. I could wax on for ages, but maybe some other time.
Jeanette and I had the honour of being with Dad when he passed away on Sunday. He was nearly 84.