December 20, 2022 at 2:39 p.m.
Ritter passing down favorite pastime
Years ago second-generation woodcutter Steve Ritter received a small McCulloch chainsaw from parents Ed and Lucille, of rural Albany, as a Christmas gift.
Today, a fourth generation Ritter, Theodore “Teddy,” owns a chainsaw, even if it is a toy one.
And 87-year-old Ed Ritter started it all. He is pretty proud that his woodcutting legacy includes son, Steve, and his son, Travis; and Travis’s son Teddy, Ed’s lone grandchild.
“We bought him (Steve) a chainsaw, and he stuck with it. And grandson Travis was with his dad, and he got started on it too,” Ed said Dec. 9 reminiscing about his woodcutting days, dating back to 1953 when he purchased his first chainsaw at age 18, growing up on the farm of his parents, Simon and Josephine.
“On Oct. 23 it’s been 69 years that I’ve been cutting wood,” he said.
At the time, he was one of the only people he knew of that had a chainsaw.
“I just wanted a chainsaw and kept right on going, so I bought 13 new chainsaws and one used one at an auction in Sleepy Eye,” he said. “I just put my 12th chain on the used one. I wore out 11 chains on it.”
Fast forward a few years, and Ed started cutting trees and logging wood with his brother-in-law, Ambrose Gertken, for a sawmill south of St. Wendel. They sold the wood to a woodshop in St. Joseph.
“And we made pallets for Columbia Gear, Fingerhut and Franklin,” Ed said.
He recalls an order of 7,000 32-inch long stakes they had to cut, which increased to 9,000 stakes by the end of the project.
Ed and Lucille, who died 25 years ago, raised their three children, Steve, Debbie and Karen, on the farm between Avon and Albany that Ed still lives on.
“I’ve been on this farm 65 years,” he said proudly.
The dairy barn that stood empty for a few years after Ed quit milking is filled with dairy cows.
“A farm neighbor kid asked if he could rent the barn and started milking, and he’s been here 16 years now,” Ed said.
Ed has cut down his share of trees in 69 years. How many?
“That’d be a pile,” he said.
He started with a Mall chainsaw and when Remington bought out Mall it was called Remington Mall. When Remington dropped the Mall and just went with Remington, Ed switched to Stihl chainsaws.
Chainsaws have improved over the years.
“They got lighter and more efficient, and you could tip the chainsaw upside down and it would still run,” he said.
Ed files his own chains.
“And when I’m done with the chain there is nothing left,” he said laughing.
He loves going into a woods to cut wood, using precautions to ensure he or anyone with him does not get hurt.
“When I set the chainsaw down or crawl over a log, I push the handle (on the chainsaw) ahead so it locks, and I tell my son if you go down a hill or a bank, if you figure you could slip, make sure you have the lock on,” Ed said.
Thankfully, he has never gotten injured while cutting wood. Although he does recall one time cutting down trees near Swanville with his brother-in-law when loading logs he got hit on the head by a big branch.
Years ago he would go in the woods alone but not any longer.
“My son and I go together,” he said, adding, “My legs aren’t what they used to be. When I go through brush I gotta watch it.”
Ed uses wood to heat his home.
“I get along pretty well with the smell of wood,” he said.
He also sells wood he has cut.
“I have 100 chords of wood on the place,” Ed said.
So what does he enjoy about cutting wood?
“When I’m cutting wood my mind is blank, and I’m just concentrating on that and don’t think about nothing else,” he said.
He doesn’t plan on giving up this pastime any time soon.
“We had a guy that took a big boxelder tree down, and I was cleaning up on that Monday and Tuesday,” Ed said.
When he does decide to hang up his chainsaw for the last time, he knows family members will carry on his woodcutting legacy.
“Teddy comes running when he hears a chainsaw,” Ed said.
That lasting link is pretty special to four generations of Ritters.
“I do it because I just enjoy it,” Ed said.