Working with wood

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 4, 2002

Fount Beard, above, splits a piece of wood in his back yard at his home off Oak Ridge Road Thursday. At left, the 77-year-old who chops wood five days a week throws a piece into a pile.(The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[01/04/02]Twenty years ago, Fount Beard retired from LeTourneau after three heart attacks blamed on high cholesterol. Now 77, Beard said he feels better and gives credit to the trees that keep him active.

“Doctors said the best thing I could do was chop this wood and stay busy to help keep my cholesterol down,” Beard said as he cranked the engine of his wood splitter in the yard behind his home off Oak Ridge Road Thursday.

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His wife of 53 years, Betty, 71, shook her head and added her opinion on the theory. ” He loves it but stays sick all the time with this cold weather.”

Moving into a home with a wood-burning heater 40 years ago with his wife and five children, Beard supplied the family with heat for many winters. After retiring from the Vicksburg company that builds offshore oil rigs and floats them down the Mississippi, he stepped up the pace and started selling wood to friends and neighbors. He split each piece of red oak with an ax until two years ago when he bought a mechanical splitter. It has sped the process considerably.

Dressed in flannel, topped with an insulated camouflage jacket sprinkled liberally with sawdust, Beard kneels to start what he says is now an “easy” five-hour routine each weekday. Splitting is toward the end of the process. Beard also spends hours in the woods loading tree trunks into his Ford pickup.

Betty said she worries about her husband working so hard all the time, but she admits, “As long as he is in the back yard, I’m all right.”

With three tin sheds filled to capacity, Beard has a stockpile ready for customers, even when there is no profit to be made. “If they ain’t got the money, I’ll let them have it,” he said, his eyes tearing as a shield against the cold wind. “I won’t turn anyone away.”

For those who can afford to pay, the price is negotiable, depending on quantity and how well you know the rosy-cheeked fellow. “I’m a workaholic,” he said. “I have to do something when I’m able.”

Betty said she is proud of her husband. Just one gripe about the inside of her house after his day is done. “Sawdust everywhere,” she said, smiling.