ALLAGASH, Maine — Anyone who has spent any time at all in the Maine woods is familiar with the sounds of a gas-powered chain saw.
The constant buzz of a saw is the soundtrack to timber operations, woodlot maintenance and firewood gathering.
It’s also music to the ears of Louis Pelletier Jr., and with a collection of chain saws numbering in the hundreds, he has more than enough for a full orchestral symphony.
“At the last count I had around 350,” Pelletier, 70, said during a recent interview from the shop of Allagash Wood Products where he and his son, Louis Pelletier III, produce furniture from locally milled wood.
There are chain saws of every shape, style and color imaginable spread among several buildings on the Pelletiers’ property.
Saws line the wall above the furniture shop’s entry, hang from the walls inside the shop and fill almost every square inch of shelf and floor space in a nearby garage.
Pelletier’s love affair with the mechanized workhorse of the woods began in 1969 when he operated a business selling and servicing chain saws from his Allagash house.
At the time Pelletier was dealing primarily in saws manufactured by Partner and Jonsered.
“The guys would come out of the woods on Fridays and leave saws needing repairs on my porch,” Pelletier said. “I’d work on them all weekend and put them back out on the porch and they’d be gone before 4 a.m. Monday.”
For men more accustomed to using muscle to work the cumbersome bucksaws and axes used in felling timber, the coming of the chain saw did not necessarily mean their jobs got any easier.
Anyone who has ever used a chain saw knows they break down and in those early days very few people knew how to repair them.
“The guys found those early saws not all that dependable,” Pelletier said. “I can remember being in the woods and seeing a chain saw on a pile of logs and the guy working with a bucksaw.”
While the bucksaw — a single blade within an H-shaped frame — was certainly more labor intensive than its gas-powered counterpart, it also was far lighter and less cumbersome.
Take the Sally Saw, for instance.
Produced by Cummings Machine Works in the 1940s, the Sally Saw used a gas-powered motor to operate a circular saw at the end of a drive shaft.
Designed for one-person use, the saw weighed in around 75 pounds.
Still, according to Pelletier, “Anything was better than pushing those old cross-cut saws.”
Today’s chain saw operators are able to use modern equipment to cut trees, delimb logs and saw downed trees to length by simply holding the saw at the desired angle.
“The first saws had a ‘float’ carburetor like you have in a lawnmower today,” Pelletier said. “If the engine gets tipped on its side, the carb floods with gas and the engine quits.”
That meant those saws could only cut when held at the one correct angle.
Older saws, he said, had chain bars and blades that would rotate while the motor remained fixed upright.
McCulloch introduced the first chain saw with a “diaphragm” carburetor, allowing the motor to operate regardless of its position, Pelletier said.
Gear driven, cantankerous, noisy and producers of massive amounts of fumes, those original chain saws presented tremendous learning curves for woods workers.
“Those old guys had to relearn how to cut wood and to let the motor do the work,” Pelletier said. “It couldn’t have been easy for them [and] there were times you could not see the guys through the smoke.”
Many of the saws in Pelletier’s collection have what is called a “scratch chain,” similar to the toothed-blade of a bucksaw.
It worked, but required constant filing and maintenance.
In the late 1940s, according to the website www.chainsawcarvinghistory.com, Oregon logger and inventor Joseph Buford Cox observed a timber beetle larva chewing with ease across the grain of a log.
Cox was able to engineer a chain duplicating the beetle’s alternating, C-shaped jaws and revolutionized chain saw production with his “Chipper Chain,” still used in modern chain saws.
“Isn’t that something how we can find the answers just by looking at nature?” Pelletier said. “The chipper chain design has not been improved on much.”
Ironically, it was when Pelletier got out of the chain saw business in the 1990s that his collection really began to take over and has been growing ever since, sometimes at the expense of family unity.
As his collection grew, Pelletier was hanging saws on his garage walls — inside and out, scattering them around the house and stashing them in the garage alongside a vintage car and truck.
“I had to tell my wife she’d have to park her car outside,” Pelletier said.
About five years ago, after apparently having enough of being crowded out by her husband’s chain saws and other mechanical devices, Patty Pelletier took action.
“While I was gone one day she put all my saws, the old car and truck outside in the driveway and put a ‘free for the taking’ sign on the whole pile,” Pelletier said with a laugh. “So I knew I had to pack it all up and move it.”
So he moved everything to his garage across the road. That might have been the end of Pelletier’s efforts to collect more chain saws, but then he discovered the Internet.
“I thought I was the only nut out there doing this until one day I got on eBay,” he said.
The online auction site connected Pelletier to chain saw collectors from Maine to California and in several European countries.
Over the years Pelletier has developed a knack for tracking down old and unusual saws and said he once traded a pair of boots for a desired saw.
He figures about half his collection would start right up and run and, with a little work he could get that up to 85 percent.
One of his recent finds is a 1970s-era Poulin saw still in its original box.
“This saw is in mint condition,” he said. “It’s never been started.”
Back in the early days of chain saws Pelletier said just about every manufacturer was putting one out.
His collection includes saws sold by Homelite, Wright, Allis Chalmers, Massey Ferguson, John Deere, Montgomery Ward, Sears, Remington and even Chrysler.
The collection also boasts an old military saw that ran off air pressure and was capable of cutting underwater.
“I remember hearing about ‘chain saws’ when I was a kid and I thought they were talking about using a regular chain to pull a tree,” Pelletier said. “One day when I was eight or nine I was on the school bus and saw this guy walking down the road with a chain saw on his shoulder [and] that was when I first learned what one was.”
Close to six decades later, the only thing Pelletier finds more exciting then locating a
new saw for his collection is showing that collection off.
“Wouldn’t it be great to have a special heated building just for all my saws?” he said.