University of Kentucky head basketball coach John Calipari often talks about how important teamwork is for success.
LaRue Countians James Crume and Waller Rock would quickly agree that Calipari’s comments carry over from the basketball court into their sport of cross-cut sawing.
“When your partner’s pulling the saw, you can’t be pushing or he’ll put a crook in it, pinching it,” Crume said. “You’ve got to develop a rhythm.”
The 73-year-old owner of Crume‚’s Monuments in Hodgenville spoke those words about teamwork from years of experience that both he and Rock gained cutting firewood as young boys on their respective family farms: Crume in Grayson County and Rock in LaRue.
Once the two teamed, however, they claimed cross-cut titles during the 1980s in contests in Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri. They were a part of the Middle Creek Team that won the local pioneer games five years in a row.
“We got together practicing for the pioneer games when they were in Hodgenville‚” Crume said. “I sawed with several of the Rock boys – Jerry, Gary and Mark – looking for the best combination, but it turned out to be their dad, Waller.
The two often sliced through a large-diameter log, varying in sizes, but sometimes 20 inches, in as fast as 14.42 seconds.
“It got to where our opponents got jealous and sometimes stacked the cards against us,‚” recalled Rock, an 88-year-old retired farmer.
On one occasion their Lanesville, Ind., hosts required that he and Crume use a saw the Hoosiers supplied them.
“That was the dullest saw I had ever seen,” Rock said, “We still beat them, though.”
Competing against a team in Lincoln, Ill., the two LaRue sawyers slung sawdust in front of 3,000 people.
Rock allowed as how the crowd must not have been accustomed to seeing a team slice through the big log as fast as he and his partner did.
“We were halfway through that log at the same time that our opponents were struggling and pinching their saw near the top of it,” Rock said. “All of the people in the grandstand started cheering us on and gave us a standing ovation, and that really made our old saw go.”
Though some of the teams paid upwards of several hundred dollars for their saws, Crume found one at a sale lying rusted and slightly pitted for $13. After cleaning it, he and Rock used that implement to maintain an unblemished record.
Rock said one reason for their winning ways was that they sawed the entire six-foot length of the saw through the log instead of using short back and forth strokes at the middle of the saw.
“We’d finish each stroke with the handle butting the log,” he said. “We used a belly saw that’s thicker in the middle and bows out to the ends.”
Crume said both men set themselves in position for the cut and then summoned every ounce of strength they had as they alternated pulling the teeth and drags through the wood.
“When we got going, we were cooking with the drags pulling out shavings that looked like snakes,” Crume said.
The two expended a lot of energy during a short pull, however.
“After you’ve put out all you’ve got for 16 to 18 seconds, you can hardly talk,” said Rock.
After garnering many more wins without a loss, Crume and Rock decided to hang up their saw for good while on top.
During this past season’s Lincoln Day pioneer games, however, they teamed once again to a cheering, appreciative crowd.
“Waller (who had broken a leg in May) cut for two or three strokes before his leg gave out, but the crowd started cheering as soon as we started sawing and kept cheering,” Crume said.
“I’m glad James and I got to saw one more time,” Rock said. “I miss it, but I was only about 65 then and in real good shape.”