yesterday's tennessee

Yesterday's Tennessee
People of Action - 1969

From Lillye Younger, People of Action (Brewer Printing Company, Jackson, Tennessee, n.d.).  Special thanks to Constance Collett and the estate of the late Lillye Younger for permission to make this web page.

Arbin McKnight

By Lillye Younger, Sun Correspondent

It Was All Muscle, Eye and Timing

LINDEN, Tenn. - Old-time lumberjacks who made their living in the woods are a part of the bygone generation which carved its mark in the forests and became a legend in its own time.

Arbin McKnight recalls working in the woods with his father, Albert McKnight, who was a lumberjack of the old school and an ax-swinging marvel who worked in the woods in Perry and Hickman counties.

"I started helping my dad in the timber business at the age of eight," McKnight said, "however, I didn't start making railroad cross-ties until I was 12 years old. I learned to hew a cross-tie from any log on which I could get a six-inch face."

His tool was an eight-pound broadax, an ax with a wide blade. He stood on the long log to cut along the sides and square it into tie shape.

 "We trued them up with our eye," he said. "Seems like the broadax got to where it followed the eye pretty close because in a 50-foot log there wouldn't be a half-inch difference in the thickness of the tie."

"I remember cutting a big white oak tree which turned out 50 cross-ties. A peg, with which to bitch mules to, was embedded in the heart of the tree. It had been bored into the tree when it was small and as the tree grew it became embedded in the heart of the tree.

For more years than he cares to remember McKnight made his living with a broadax cutting cross-ties. In a good day he could turn out at least 20 ties.

"It was all muscle, eye and timing," McKnight recalls. "The work was hard but I enjoyed the big out-of-doors and the fresh air. We worked on an average of 10 hours a day."

In this part of the country making cross-ties and farming were the chief occupations in the rural areas. Besides ax swinging McKnight tried his luck at farming. "I made cross-ties from December until time to start my crop," he added. "That way I had an income all the year."

"When I started making ties received eight and ten cents apiece. The ties were graded into three grades. number one, number two and number three grades. A number one was the pole type, number two had a seven-inch face and a number three had a six-inch face. Later in 1942 the price for making a tie rose to 35 cents.

Sudden death struck the broadax business with the entrance of the machine age. Today ties are made at sawmills by gasoline engine power rather than hand labor. The saw is set on a carriage and squares the tie as it is turned with a cant hook.

"I quit making ties about 10 years ago but I still have my broadax," McKnight noted. It is considered an antique now.

I have worked in timber since that time not in making ties. I made ties on Lick Creek Spring Creek. Cypress Creek and Marsh Creek in Perry County and on Piney River in Hickman County.

Since he has quit plying the trade, he has been engaged in the business world. An employee of a Parsons department store, he also is pastor of the Sulphur Springs Pentecostal Church near Bible Hill.

His hobbies are hunting and fishing. He is married to the former Lillie Parrish. They are the parents of two sons and six daughters and grandparents of 28 grandchildren. The couple resides on Spring Creek in Perry County. 12 miles west of Linden.

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