The way out here

I see, said the blind butcher

As he picked up his hammer and saw

Posted 8/29/23

Ever had a bad day? Bad week? Maybe it was just uncanny how many things could go wrong all at the same time. Well, this is the tale of one such time.

It all started long, long ago. A time so far …

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The way out here

I see, said the blind butcher

As he picked up his hammer and saw


Ever had a bad day? Bad week? Maybe it was just uncanny how many things could go wrong all at the same time. Well, this is the tale of one such time.

It all started long, long ago. A time so far in the past I can hardly recall the details. It was last Monday. I was just starting to get into the bulk of butchering the hogs we received from the Wayne County Fair for various customers.

It started like any other Monday, butchering hogs, fast and furious, and juggling the preparation of the smoked items along with the processing of the half carcasses. There were lots of moving parts to the whole process and notes to be taken along the way for weights and organizing various cuts.

None of this was abnormal or bad in any way; if anything I went in with excitement that we had so many pigs to process and that I felt prepared for it.

No, there were no problems at all for most of that first day and everything worked as it should. But come day two, it all changed.

One of the most important tools in my butcher shop is the large meat saw that I use to break down the larger sections of each animal. It saves time and makes a cleaner cut than an ordinary bone saw would by hand.

To put it into perspective, I can do the initial process on about two pigs per hour with the saw.

By hand, I’d be lucky to get half of one done, depending on the cutting order of the animal. If it were boneless, for example, I could separate much of the meat with my knife alone and complete the cuts; but for things like pork chops, which are bone-in, it is very difficult to cut straight through the backbone in various thicknesses without making a small mess out of many of the cuts.

Needless to say it also saves me the arm strength required to complete all the work. Can I do it? Yes. Do I want to fight from dawn till dusk? No.

So as you might be able to ascertain, the advent of my troubles came with the death of my saw. It began with a whine, then a buzz, then a flipped breaker in about half as much time as it probably took you to read that.

The old Hobart saw had been in use for well over 15 years before I got my hands on it, and a few modifications have been made over the years to fix or circumnavigate the age and weariness of the trusty workhorse.

I felt I was even prepared for this, however, and quickly recruited my father-in-law to help me retrieve my own saw from storage at my mother’s place. It was a smaller saw, every bit as heavy, but hopefully useful enough to keep the momentum going through the remainder of the week.

We managed to retrieve it, set it up and start the dusty old motor before realizing that although it did work, it was all but dead already.

Fortunately, the motor for my saw was not as hard to replace as the one in his Hobart saw. He pulled the three-quarter HP motor off the old hay elevator and bolted it into the base of my small Biro with some to-do while I prayed and assisted in the deepening madness.

Moment of truth. We flipped the switch and the motor sprang to life, producing a considerably higher amount of force. We turned it off; I cleaned up and pulled out the next pig.

Having seen that it was working, my father-in-law left to mow and bale hay before the impending rain. He no sooner left than I ran the first pork belly through the saw to separate the chops from the ribs and bacon.

I made it through the ribs but not yet through the bacon when the blade suddenly stopped and the motor whirred with a strange sound. I opened up the back to find that the drive belt was popping off the pulley and was twisted as well as frayed.

After a few failed attempts to make this work, it was soon apparent I was going to need to go get parts.

Putting away the pig, I ran to town and got a new belt exactly the same size and a new pulley to amplify the power and better fit the size of the belt.

Store number one: I found the pulley, but no belt. Store number two: I found the belt, quickly checked out and headed out, only to be turned around minutes down the road to go back and pick up another farm order that had nothing to do with the saw fiasco.

A couple hours later I finally got back and my father-in-law came back to help reassemble and fit the new parts. With some aggressive persuasion, it all came together and the saw finally worked well enough to get something done with the remaining time. We finished the day and the week with smaller yet annoyingly haunting incidents of minor catastrophe, including but not limited to bad bearings in the saw, a broken food stamper and miscellaneous personal injuries for both me and my assistant.

The way out here, sometimes you have no doubt the devil is after you and the horse you rode in on, but the only thing we can do is pray and keep moving forward. After all, prayer is better than anything I could do on my own anyway. Perhaps this week I’ll do a little more of that up front to keep the nonsense out of my shop in the first place.


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