The August Reddemann Cross-cut Saw
Brian Wayne Wells
As published in the May/June issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine
“As the old saying goes: “Firewood warms you twice; once when you cut it and again when you burn it.” (Allan A. Swenson, Wood Heat [Fawcett: N.Y., 1979], p. 95.) In recent years, firewood has taken a backseat to other forms of fuel, e.g., heating oil and natural gas. However, there once was a time when wood was the only source of fuel available to farm families across the United States.
The job of putting away enough wood for the winter was an onerous task for our ancestors. In the days before power saws of any sort, families would have to cut and store completely by hand sufficient wood to last out the winter. Once a tree was felled, the work had only just started. The farmer and his family would then begin the task of cutting off the brush and small limbs, sawing all the limbs into pieces 16″ to 24″ in length and loading them into a wagon or sled to be hauled to the woodpile near the house. Gradually, the tree would be reduced to larger limbs and the trunk itself. This was the point where bowsaws were no longer big enough for cutting up the remainder of the tree, and the family would have to start the hard, tedious process of cutting the large limbs and trunk into manageable pieces with a large two-person saw.
Farm families were constantly striving to find labor-saving methods for performing their farm work. It is not surprising, then, to find that they were receptive to newer and easier methods of sawing firewood–especially an easier way of sawing the big limbs and the trunk of a tree. In answer to this need, the Ottawa Manufacturing Company, of Ottawa, Kansas, developed the Ottawa crosscut log saw.
The Ottawa crosscut saw was outfitted with a two and a half or a four horse-power, single-cylinder Ottawa “hit and miss” stationary power unit. Mounted on two wheels with a frame attached to long handles, the operator would simply use the handles of the Ottawasaw to move the entire unit, just like a wheelbarrel or a two-wheeled cart, to a log lying on the ground, rather than requiring the operator to drag the log to the saw. Securing the handles on the log at the proper location by the use of cant hooks, the operator would position the blade of the saw to cut off a piece of the log to the desired length. Next, the operator would turn the wheels of the saw 90 degrees from the transport position to a position parallel to the log. Then the engine would be engaged, the blade would start moving, and the operator only had to stand back and watch. The flywheel and pitman of the “hit and miss” engine would push and pull the saw blade back and forth across the log at a rate of up to 140 to 170 strokes per minute. This certainly was an improvement over crosscutting the entire winter’s supply of wood by hand.
The Ottawa Manufacturing Company was born in 1904 out of the consolidation of other companies owned by the Warner family. One of these companies was the Warner Manufacturing Company, formerly Warner Fence. As the name suggests, the company was first involved in making woven wire and barbed wire fencing for all uses. Indeed, Charles E. (C.E.) Warner was the inventor of the “interlock tie” style of woven wire fence and many other improvements in wire fencing which would become popular over the years. It is often alleged that the Colt 45 caliber six-shooter pistol “tamed the west.” A more accurate statement might be that barbed wire fencing really did the job of taming the west.
The Warner family had long been involved in promotional activities. C.E.’s father, Emery Warner, was born in Rochester, New York, to Mr. and Mrs. Hiram Warner. Emery’s cousin was H.H. Warner who was celebrated as the discoverer and proprietor of a patent medicine called “Warner Safe Cure.” Just as many of his generation did, Emery Warner set out in 1840 to seek his fortune on the American frontier in Illinois. He purchased a farm in Tazwell County, Illinois, and married a local girl–Priscilla Ireland. On July 2, 1850, Emery and Priscilla’s eldest child was born–C.E. Warner. The couple had four other boys and a daughter before the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861.
Despite the southern sympathies of his in-laws (Priscilla Ireland was a distant relative of the future General Price who would become one of the ablest military commanders for the Confederate States of America), Emery Warner enlisted in the United States Army under General Ulysses S. Grant. Tragically, in 1863, Emery died after being struck with a fever while his unit was in New Orleans, Louisiana. Left to fend for herself on the farm with her boys, Priscilla and her eldest son C.E. kept the farm operating until 1871 when they packed up the whole family and moved to a farm in Coffey County, Kansas.
Once in Kansas, young C.E. took up carpentry as a means to earn income for the family. However, as he and his brothers were all thinking of other ways to make money, they saw the crying need of the farmers of Coffey County for strong fences to contain the growing number of livestock populating the county. In particular, there was a need for good hog fencing. The hogs would root under and crawl out of fences made of boards, barbed wire strands, or even traditional woven wire. The Warner boys, therefore, developed a woven wire with a barbed strand at the bottom that made the fence effective at containing pigs and obtained a patent in the name of one of the younger brothers–W.H. Warner. Needless to say, the fence became very popular. The family formed a corporate entity called the Warner Fence Company and began to make the fence on a large scale for the burgeoning farm market of the 1880s.
By the 1890s, the Warner Fence Company was well established in facilities at two locations in Coffey County–Melvern and Waverly, Kansas. Nonetheless, the brothers–principally C.E., William H. (W.H.), and Richard E.–along with C.E.’s son, Eugene L. (E.L.), remained active in the inventive process. In 1895, C.E. invented a machine which improved the manufacture of the Warner woven wire fence with the barbed margin. Later, he invented the “interlock tie” style of woven wire fence to solve the problem of slipping knots common with traditional woven wire. Later still, young E.L. would make even more improvements to the fence-making machines and would patent those machines. Eventually, the patents would be sold to Steel Trust of Joliet, Illinois, and to National Steel Company of DeKalb, Indiana.
The Warners also became active in the community of Melvern. For six years, W.H. was president of the Citizen’s Bank before he gave up the position to devote more time to his growing wire business. The Warners also tried to develop a merchandising business. For the promotionally inclined Warners, merchandising seemed like a natural fit. However, the venture did not prove successful, and soon the Warners were back to concentrating on their fences.
Not far from Coffey County, in neighboring Franklin County, the town of Ottawa, Kansas, was looking for a way to develop their small town. The town’s citizens saw the Warner Fence Company as an excellent candidate for relocation. However, Ottawa was not alone in the courtship of the Warner Company; Emporia, Kansas, also was sending out feelers to the Warner Company suggesting that the business move to their town. With a larger population and good rail connections on the main line of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, Emporia had a lot to offer a new business. Realizing this threat, the Ottawa Business Mens’ Association, in 1903, straightforwardly offered the Warner Fence Company $3,000 dollars to relocate to Ottawa. The Warners took the offer and moved their operations from both Waverly and Melvern to a new location on King Street in North Ottawa, Kansas, in 1904.
Soon the new plant was up and running, turning out 22 miles of woven-wire fence per day. Orders came into the Ottawa facility from all over the nation. In 1908, the Warner Company submitted an order for wire to their supplier in Pueblo, Colorado, that was so large that the shipment required 20 railroad cars filled to capacity. This was not the normal course of business for the Warner Company, but was done more for the purposes of gaining publicity.
With the move to a new community came a new line of products for the consumer (powered post hole diggers, powered weed and grass cutters, windmills and power saws) and a new name–in fact, several new names. From 1904 until 1915, the gasoline powered engines that were manufactured by the Warner Company were sold under the name Union Foundry and Machine Company when the engines were marketed through independent franchise operators. However, when the same gasoline/kerosene engines were sold by the company directly to the customer, or end-user, the engine was called the Warner. Then in 1915, the name Union Manufacturing Companydisappeared and the engines that were sold to franchises were all known as The Ottawa engines. The Warners also sold manufactured goods under the name Ottawa Steel Products.
Nearly all engines marketed by Warner were water-cooled, single cylinder “hit and miss” engines; however, in 1915, Warner marketed two models of air-cooled engines–a 1½ hp. engine and a 2 hp. engine. By 1917, there were 15 different sizes of gas powered engines, ranging in size from 1½ hp to 22 hp. Some of the engines sold by Warner under the various Warner names generally had two gas tanks: a small tank for gasoline and a large tank for kerosene. The engine would be started on gasoline and then switched to cheaper kerosene for operation. However, the Warner Companywould become more well-known for the machines that they manufactured, rather than for the engines themselves. In particular, it was The Ottawa crosscut saw (or log saw) that would create fame for the company.
In about 1913, E.L. Warner was on a train to Kansas City, Missouri, when he saw some men laboring to cut up a log with a two-man, cross-cut hand saw. He instantly recognized that there might be a real market for a power cross-cut saw. Upon his return to Ottawa, he set his employees to work developing a power cross-cut saw. Out of this grew The Ottawa cross-cut log saw which the company then began offering to the public. Although the log saw came in different styles, it was basically a two-man hand saw mounted on a frame and powered by a small engine and a pitman. The engine and pitman would push and pull the blade across a log in the same way as two men would if they were using a hand saw. When introduced, the log saw was always referred to as The Ottawa.
The Ottawa was a very popular item for the Ottawa Manufacturing Company: from the very beginning, crosscut saws were sold to individuals across the United States and around the world. One such individual who became aware of the advantages of The Ottawa cross-cut saw was August Reddemann. August and Albertina (Preuhs) Reddemann owned and operated an 80-acre farm in Tyrone township in of LeSueur County, Minnesota, that had originally belonged to August’s parents–Karl and Fredericka (Yanke) Reddemann–who had immigrated to the United States from Germany in the 1860s. They had one son and were expecting a second when they crossed the Atlantic. During passage on the ship, Fredericka delivered the baby, but it died. Once in the United States, they made their way to Milwaukee, where they lost all their money to thieves. Consequently, they were required to work in Milwaukee for a while to earn enough money to continue their journey to Minnesota. Once in Tyrone township, Karl and Fredericka became one of the township’s earliest settling families. Other children were born to the couple, the last of which was August Reddemann born on November 6, 18 .
August Reddemann grew up on the farm and gradually took over more of the farming operations from his father. On July 31, 1909, August married a local Tyrone Township girl, Albertina Preuhs, and together they settled into the house with Karl. Every year, just like so many other families in the United States, the Reddemann family had to store up firewood for the winter. This was a tedious and time-consuming job which occupied the entire family, both in the early spring and late fall.
Following the birth of their son, Orbe, on February 18, 1910, Albertina would no longer be available to help collect wood for the year. It was no wonder, then, that when August read about The Ottawa crosscut saw he was intrigued by its labor-saving possibilities and decided to buy one. To pay for the Ottawa saw, he intended to use his “Liberty Bonds.”
Liberty Bonds were sold to citizens of United States as a means to help finance the increased government spending incurred when the United States joined the First World War in April of 1917. In the atmosphere of patriotic zeal that swept the nation just after the intervention of the United States into World War I, purchasing Liberty Bonds became a means by which people could demonstrate their patriotism. Eventually, the purchase of Liberty Bonds became nearly mandatory. This was especially true for German-American communities like Tyrone and Sharon townships in LeSueur County, Minnesota, because of the anti-German feeling that accompanied the patriotic zeal. Like many of his neighbors, August Reddemman had purchased a sizeable number of Liberty Bonds during the war. Now, in June of 1920, he wished to redeem these bonds and use the money to purchase an Ottawa saw. August Reddemann was not alone in his wish to cash in his war bonds. All across the nation, citizens were purchasing goods which they had been denied during the war, and they were cashing in their war bonds to finance those purchases. (John D. Hicks, Republican Ascendancy [Harper Bros: N. Y., 1960], p. 5.)
This sudden increase in demand for goods caused prices to rise dramatically, causing an inflationary spike in the economy. By the fall of 1919, inflation was running at 15%, which meant that Liberty Bonds suffered a decline in value. (William Greider, Secrets of the Temple [Simon & Schuster: N.Y., 1987], p. 290.) Consequently, when August Reddemann attempted to finance his purchase of The Ottawasaw and sent the Liberty Bonds to the Ottawa Company in payment for the saw, he received a letter back from the company on June 9, 1920, stating, “On account of the decreasing value of Liberty Bonds, we are unable to give you full par value for your bonds.” The company went on to inform him that $13.50 remained due on the total $86.50 price of the Ottawa saw and would be payable when the saw was delivered to the railroad depot in LeSueur. On July 26, 1920, an Ottawa crosscut saw (engine serial no. 26924) was loaded into railroad boxcar HV 9012. Then, boxcar HV 9012 along with other boxcars loaded with other Ottawa Company products were picked up from the side track adjacent to the Ottawa Companyfactory in Ottawa by a northbound Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad train. The train’s destination was Kansas City, Missouri. Once in the large freight yard located in downtown Kansas City, some boxcars were taken to a siding near the Ottawa Company“branch house,” or warehouse. From there, the products would be distributed to dealerships served by the Kansas City branch house. Boxcar HV 9012, however, remained sealed and was transferred to a Chicago, Burington and Quincy train headed to Omaha, Nebraska. Arriving in Omaha, Boxcar HV 9012 was opened and some products removed and transferred by horse and freight wagon to the Ottawa Company’s Omaha branch house. The Ottawa saw (No. 26924), however, remained on board the boxcar and was transferred to a train on the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha line. This train followed the “Omaha Road” tracks nestled in the Missouri River Valley until the train reached Sioux City, Iowa. After a short pause in Sioux City to pick up some new rail cars and to leave others behind, the train continued on its journey by climbing up out of the valley and out onto the flat plains of northwestern Iowa. The train moved along the tracks, passing fields of tasseling corn and ripening wheat and oats. Even as the train passed, farmers were in the fields with their horses and grain binders, binding up the small grain crop of 1920. The train passed through the small towns of LeMars, Alton, Sheldon, and Sibley, Iowa, stopping at each local depot to pick up or drop off freight. (In modern times, the picturesque depot in LeMars has been converted into a restaurant–the Depot Steakhouse and Lounge. Additionally, the Iron Horse resturant in Sheldon contains much railroad memorabilia and the original flavor of a typical depot.) Just beyond Sibley, the train passed an insignificant hill located to the east of the train tracks which is noteworthy only for the fact that at 1,670 feet in elevation it is the highest point in Iowa. Soon after passing this point, the train entered Minnesota. The train continued across the prairies, making stops at Worthington, Windom, Madelia, and Lake Crystal. In Lake Crystal, the train followed the Chicago Northwestern Railroad tracks through Mankato and St. Peter before arriving in LeSueur. (This is the same route that was described in the article “Custom threshing on a Large Scale” contained in the July/August issue of Belt Pulley [Vol. 10, No. 4, p. 31], only this time the trip is taken in reverse.)
Arriving at the depot in LeSueur Minnesota, depot agent G.N. Larson took the bill of lading and The Ottawa saw No. 26924. Total freight charges for the trip came to $6.97. When August Reddemman was notified that the saw had been delivered to the LeSueur depot, he and 10-year-old Orbe got into his new Chevolet pickup and rode to town to pay the costs of freight and the $13.50 which remained on the saw.
Once the harvest was completed in the fall of 1920, the Reddemann family discovered just how handy The Ottawa saw really was. First, the engine on the new dark green twin fly-wheel Ottawa saw was started by using a hand crank. Then the saw was leaned against the trunk of a felled tree and secured to the appropriate location by use of the cant hooks attached to the saw. The moving saw blade, suspended above the log by the hook-up pin connected to the end strap, was then released from the hookup pin and lowered onto the log. Then the cutting began. Occasionally, as the engine began to labor under the work load, it emitted black smoke into the cool air. This meant that the engine was using too much gas. August would then adjust the mixture control on the carburetor so that the engine would once again work at peak efficiency. Under ideal conditions, the log could be propped up above the ground so that there would be some space between the underside of the log and the ground. If this was the case, the chain connecting the blade to the end strap on the frame of the saw would automatically prevent the blade from scraping the ground and becoming dull. Basically, then, the saw could function independently without supervision while the cut was being made. In the case of the Reddeman’s, this meant that August, Orbe and grandfather Karl could be free to remove the brush and small twigs from the tree. On most occasions, however, one of the Reddemann family would watch over the saw to assure that nothing went wrong.
Having finished one cut with the saw, August would then move the saw sidewise 16″ to 24″ along the log to where the next cut was to be made and the process would start again. The Ottawa log saw’s transport wheels were designed to be turned 90 degrees, thus facilitating the movement of the saw along the length of a log. Wedges were sometimes hammered into the cut in order to prevent the blade from being pinched while the cut was being completed. The Ottawa saw also had a slip-clutch which would prevent damage if the blade were ever to become pinched.
During the time that August farmed the heavily wooded 80-acre Reddemann farm, only about 35 acres were under plow. By the time August’s son, Orbe, grew up and took over the farming operation, 78 acres were under plow, with the Ottawa crosscut saw playing a large part in clearing this land. (In modern times, with the concern for ecology, the goal of clearing land for farming has lost some luster as an admirable goal. Nonetheless, in pioneer days, and even well into this century, clearing land remained very much the goal of farmers. Orbe himself, as a member of the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association, has expressed some modern day concern, especially in regard to the preservation of the wetlands on the grounds owned the Association.)
Orbe’s grandfather, Karl, died in 1923, leaving Orbe and his parents on the Reddemann farm. Orbe grew up, and on November 24, 1935, he married Dorothy Braun from the same neighborhood and together they took over operation of the farm. They had two children: Sheldon, born on February 7, 1937; and Corinne, born on April 19, 1943. Every year the family continued to gather wood for the winter, until 1990 when Orbe and Dorothy converted the house to propane gas heat. The Ottawa saw continued to be used on the Reddemann farm only until 1943 when it replaced by a chainsaw bought by Orbe.
In 1976, Orbe’s interest in history led him to become a member of the Tyrone-Dresselville Threshers. That year, at the 1976 Threshing Bee held on the Dave and Carol Preuhs farm, Orbe demonstrated his father’s Ottawa cross-cut saw as an exhibit. (The story of the founding of the Tyrone-Dresselville Threshers is contained in the article “Build it and they will Come,” by Brian Wells, at page 33 of the Summer 1996 issue of the Hart-Parr/Oliver Collectors magazine, Vol. VII, No. 2.) In 1977, the Tyrone-Dresselville Threshers was officially organized into a non-profit organization called the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association, and Orbe Reddemann became its 43rd member. Besides exhibiting the Ottawa crosscut saw, Orbe became identified with all facets of the new organization. As the years went by, Orbe would become so identified with the Pioneer Power Association that he would be called “Mr. Pioneer Power.” In 1979, he was credited with building the first structure on the new Pioneer Power Showgrounds. This building served as the first kitchen from which food was sold to the public during shows. Currently, it is occupied during the annual threshing show by the LeSueur Lions Club who sells bratwursts to the crowd. Even though it is now under different proprietorship, the building is still referred to as “Orbe’s Eat Shack.” When lack of a good foundation threatened Orbe’s Eat Shack, it was lovingly restored in the summer of 1997 by the LeSueur Lions Club under the management of Wayne A. Wells. Orbe also built the ticket booth and many of the benches located on the Pioneer Power Showgrounds. He served as a member of the Board of Directors from 1984 until 1986. In the minutes of the meeting of June 27, 1985, the organization would refer to Orbe as Pioneer Power’s own handyman because of his unselfish service.
Over the years, Orbe would continue to exhibit and demonstrate the Ottawa crosscut saw at Pioneer Power shows. He also bought another Ottawa crosscut saw from Meinard Megendenz and demonstrated it at various Pioneer Power shows. The Megendenz saw is identical to the crosscut saw owned by Orbe’s father, except that, whereas the August Reddemann saw is a twin fly-wheel version, the Megendenz saw is a single fly-wheel version. Still, both of these saws are fine representatives of the little company located in southeastern Kansas which sought to make life easier for the North American farmer.
On August 28, 29 and 30, 1998, the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association will celebrate its 25th Anniversary. A section of the Showgrounds will be set aside for the exhibits which were a part of the first show in 1974 and other early shows. The public may be sure that Orbe Reddemann will once again be displaying his father’s Ottawa crosscut saw in this historic section.
In 1917, the Ottawa Company suffered a fire which destroyed their plant. Still, the company recovered and continued to grow throughout the 1920s. In 1934, they sustained another fire at their facilities. Once again, the company recovered. The company also changed with the times, manufacturing a full line of service station equipment such as air compressors, power lifts and lubrication equipment. Later, the company began manufacturing thousands of brake shoes for the nation’s railroads. The company even began the manufacture of a garden tractor called the “Ottawa Mule Team Tractor.”
Ottawa, Kansas, is still home to Clifford Fritts, who started with the Ottawa Company in 1926 as a janitor and rose to become superintendent of the whole company. A large part of his remarkable rise was due to his attention to details. This characteristic is best illustrated by the fact that as a janitor sweeping up at the end of the day, young Clifford could not bring himself to throw away the bolts, nuts and washers that he found in the sweepings every night. Not knowing what else to do with the hardware, he began storing them in boxes and barrels in an upstairs location at the Ottawa Company facilities. Over the years, this collection of mismatched nuts, bolts and washers grew in size to become a prodigious quantity. When the Ottawa Company facilities were converted to the manufacture of telescopic gun sights for field artillery pieces for the United States Armed Forces, the company found that raw materials were in extremely short supply–including nuts, bolts and washers. Clifford, who was by that time occupying a position of responsibility in the company, remembered his large collection of waste nuts and bolts, and soon had the company set some workers to sorting the large collection into appropriate sizes. This collection gathered over a period of years helped carry the Ottawa Company through the severe shortages the company experienced in trying to fill the United States Army contracts. For a time during the Second World War, it seemed that the Army might submit a large order for Ottawa crosscut saws to be used by engineering units in jobs like clearing jungles for airports in the Pacific. However, the development of the portable chainsaw during the war put an end to any hope of the crosscut saw ever becoming part of the war effort. There was just no way that the crosscut saw could compete with the versatile chainsaw either for the war effort or in the civilian market following the war. Sales of the crosscut saw declined precipitously and with it the fortunes of the Ottawa Company and all the other Warner corporate holdings. To make matters worse, the factory was inundated under 8 feet of water by the Great Flood of 1951 which struck the entire midwest. Almost nothing remained of the company by the time E.L. Warner died later that same year. Consequently, the factory which once hummed with the activity of manufacturing crosscut saws and other Warnerproducts was sold to the Comfort Equipment Company.
Today, only about 50% of the buildings of the original manufacturing facility remain and these are only partially occupied by various small manufacturing concerns. However, all is not lost, an effort is being undertaken by George L. and Helen S. Myers, organized as The Ottawa Caretakers (Route 1, Box 237A, Blain, Pennsylvania 17006-9723, Tel. (717) 536-3711), to encourage research on all the Warner companies and to encourage the restoration of Ottawa equipment. At the present time, the Myerses own one of the few “Ottawa Mule Team Tractors” which were manufactured by Ottawa. This garden tractor has been lovingly restored by George and Helen, along with six Ottawa crosscut saws and other Ottawa and Warner stationary engines which they have collected over the years