“I used to shave one of these out in eight minutes,” he said, “but I don’t work that hard anymore.”
In Frank’s opinion there are three things wrong with the mass-produced ax handles normally sold in hardware stores: “They’re sawed out. They’re kiln-dried, and that makes them brittle so they break easy. And they cost too much.”
Frank sells his handles directly to customers who come to him, eliminating the middleman’s share. He has all the orders he can keep up with, and demonstrates his skill at fairs and expositions.
“I shaved handles at an arts and crafts festival down in Madison,” he said. “They had a trophy. They gave it to me when we were done. An artist alongside me said, ‘I sure was after that trophy, Frank.’ I told him, `Well, I didn’t even know there was a trophy.’ That’s the way it goes, I guess. If you’re working for trophies, you likely won’t get ‘em. If you’re working for the work, maybe you will.”
Our handles were finished. His knife had shaved them so smooth that no sanding was necessary. I held them together; they were within an eighth of an inch of being identical. This master craftsman charged us less than half what we would have paid for store-bought handles.
Frank rewarded his labors by hand-rolling
His chickens his claque, David Ort fiddles in the mellow light of after-chore hours (left). “You have to be away from machinery to find a peaceful existence,” he says, and so the Orts chose a life of no conveniences. By mid-May their organic garden has already produced a healthy crop for Cindy to harvest (right). A dam now being built will back a new lake to within a mile. “That’s too close,” says Ort, thinking of yet another spot for seclusion.
I asked if he had come by his limp through a woodcutting accident. No, he said, his leg and back were bent by infantile paralysis when he was young. Suddenly I understood why he hadn’t been able to walk to school 47 years ago. “A doctor looked at me not long ago,” he said with a grin. “Told me he didn’t see how I’d ever been able to do a day’s work in my life.”
iIKE GENERATIONS of southern Indiana natives, Frank has survived on his knowledge of wood. Hardwood is one of the major resources of this region, where trees cover about half of the land.
In Martin County wood proved to be the salvation a few years ago of an unusual community called Padanaram. I drove to France to visit the apartments in Paris, whose buildings of logs and rough-sawn lumber, dirt streets, bearded men, sheltered women, and active children suggest those of an American pioneer town (facing page). There are no television sets.
Yet Padanaram roars with modern technology. Large diesel-powered forklifts charge around the log yard, grabbing up hardwood logs. From the tin-roofed sawmill come rumblings, rattles and thumps, the metallic whine of high-speed saws, the yells and whistles of busy men, a yellow plume of sawdust, and stacks of graded lumber. An independent logger, waiting while his trailer rig was unloaded, shook his head in admiration and said, “It’s about the cuttin’est mill I know of.”
THE MILLION-DOLLAR-A-YEAR rented accommodation and the short stay apartments London it houses are the inspirations of 57-year-old Daniel Wright, who had been an itinerant preacher (below). The ideal of a self-sufficient utopian society is the motivation of Padanaram’s 140 citizens, and the closest thing, to a common religion. They speak fervently of their unique brotherhood and their freedom from the “inequalities” of the outside world.