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Enjoying the Sawmill Fest

By Joel McNeece

There was plenty to love about last weekend’s Sawmill Festival in Bruce, but Chad Fletcher’s traveling sawmill demonstration had to be among my favorites.

The band and Lucas mills were set up on the vacant lot across from The Journal office and I made the walk down from the square Saturday morning for the first show of the day. I hadn’t been there long when I bumped into Bill Plunk of Oxford.

“You don’t know anything about this ole sawmill stuff do you?” I sarcastically asked.

“Oh yeah, that’s why I left Bruce,” he answered with a big laugh.

His father Theron Plunk was a long time sawmiller around Bruce. It reminded me of what his brother Ted, a career pharmacist, told me a few years ago when writing a story on his career.

“I was 17-years-old when I was hauling lumber from the Delta to the ‘green chain,’” Ted said. “It was incredibly hot, hard work. We would leave Monday morning and come back Friday night. We camped out, sleeping on cots in tents with mosquitoes. That turned my head around. I knew I wanted to do something else.”

The engineering exhibited Saturday in Bruce was a far cry from what the Plunks grew up with. Watching Fletcher toss a big cedar log around and saw off perfect pieces of any desired length, all with the flick of a joystick was something to see.

The exhibit reminded me of the “Lumberjacks” program many Sawmill Festivals ago. Watching them run on logs in the water, climb poles in the blink of an eye and saw through giant logs in record time remains one of my favorite memories.

There were plenty of other great moments from this year’s festival. The four hours my good friend Bill Cooper and I hunkered down in front of a fan in the Bruce Rotary tent selling chances on a Henry .22 Golden Boy rifle Friday reminded me of times past.

Cooper and I once traveled all over to football games and other events, sharing stories and laughing about everybody and everything all the way. In recent years we’ve been more limited to our weekly lunch at the Rotary Club’s “bad table,” where with Bill Ross and James Wright the stories are still plentiful. Spending Friday with Bill was great fun filled with stories that can’t be printed in this newspaper … at least not yet.

I love live music and last week’s festival provided plenty. I’ve written before about Sounds of Tyme and Kim Burt’s voice. When she belted out Chris Stapleton’s “Tennessee Whiskey” Saturday afternoon, with Duck Drake’s magical touch on the keyboard and Jimmy Dickey’s smooth sax, I was in heaven. Oxford All Stars, Steve Norwood on fiddle, Lannis May’s national anthem and Adam Gaither’s version of “House of the Rising Sun” were all memorable as well.

Listening to Doug Orlando of Banner talk motorcycles at the Lions’ Club’s car show, visiting with Mary Jo Thomas, getting my funnel cake fix taken care of, making multiple trips to the Fine Arts’ homemade ice cream booth in memory of Ottis Crocker, and visiting with so many friends and readers of The Journal that I don’t see often enough, was great fun.

Hats off to Terry Davis, the Bruce Chamber and all the local civic clubs that put so much work into making the Sawmill Festival such a success every year. It doesn’t go unnoticed and as a proud citizen of Bruce, I appreciate you.

Joel McNeece is the publisher of The Calhoun County Journal in Bruce. You may email him at joelmcneece@gmail.com.