The First Toy Maker to the Loggers0
This feature story was published in the summer issue of The Timber Crier, the quarterly magazine of the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association. Story and photos by Steve Patten
Just off Route 4 near the village of Danbury, N.H., neatly tucked within a manicured stand of northern hardwoods, a small hobby shop hosts a tremendous talent and a remarkable story.
As a child growing up in Chester, N.H., Bob Wason began his long relationship with wood products by cutting sawlogs and firewood with his grandfather on the family farm. At age 18, Bob signed a three-year enlistment contract with the U.S. Army and was deployed to South Korea for 18 months. Though trained as a tank operator, he attained skills in the building trade while proudly serving his country.
“The war was over. Wasn’t much for a tank driver to do there,” he comments. “So I would spend my time helping the combat engineers build stuff.”
After spending his last year of service at Fort Polk in Louisiana, Bob settled in Raymond, N.H., in 1958. That same year, he began a logging career that would span nearly fifty years and a marriage to his wife Lorraine which remains strong today. Operating a Case crawler and a 1941 Sterling log truck, Bob began contract-cutting for Campbell’s Sawmill in Raymond. A few years later, with a new International TD-9 crawler, Bob yarded logs seven days per week for five Lorden Lumber choppers out of Milford, N.H. During this period, he and fellow contractor Ken Frazier (who perished in a logging accident years later) talked about building a machine that would make short-wood logging much easier. In 1965, the two woodsmen made a trip to Franklin, Va., to discuss their idea with the founder of Franklin Equipment, Roger Drake. As a result of this meeting, the first Franklin forwarder was delivered to Ken’s jobsite later that year, and Bob became its operator.
In the early 1970s, with three children at home, Bob went to work as a logging employee for True and Noyes Lumber Co. in East Derry, N.H. While managing daily activities in the woods, he helped True and Noyes build one of the first fully mechanized whole tree harvesting operations in New Hampshire. In 1990, now with three grown children and a recent building boom rendering their quiet Raymond neighborhood nearly unrecognizable, Bob made another move, taking a job as Foreman for Foresthetics Inc. in Wilmot, N.H., and he and Lorraine made Danbury their new home. Meanwhile, the Wason’s eldest son Donnie assumed the role of manager at True and Noyes upon Bob’s departure and, years later, purchased the company.
In 2002 Bob retired from the logging industry and put his talents and passion to use in a well-equipped woodworking shop. Those who have attended the New Hampshire Timber Harvesting Council’s (NHTHC) Annual Loggers and Truckers Convention over the past 15 years have seen Bob’s craftsmanship in the gun cabinets and model log trucks he has generously donated for the live auction event. Most of the lumber utilized in Bob’s projects is donated by Chester Forest Products, owned and operated by his old friend and longtime New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association (NHTOA) director Richard “Dick” Lewis.
“I first worked with Dickey when he was just 17 years old,” Bob recalls. “He chopped for Campbell’s Mill back when I had that old Case. We’ve been good friends ever since.”
In his “retirement,” if it can be called that, Bob, who is now 79, has made many different types and styles of furniture and custom-built kitchen cabinets, and has even built the occasional whole house. I saw a real glimmer in his eyes when we talked at length about the model trucks, trailers, and logging equipment he crafts with meticulous detail. Bob does not build these items with the intention of selling them, though he is not opposed to the concept.
“I don’t keep track of how many hours I spend on each one, but I feel like it’s too many hours to get paid for,” he laughs. “So when I meet someone who I think will really appreciate it, I give them one. That makes me feel good.”
Though I found it slightly difficult to take my eyes off the fleet of wooden trucks and equipment adorning Bob’s shelves and tabletops, I also noted that the walls of the workshop offer a visual tour through Bob Wason’s long career. Near the woodstove there’s a 90mm brass shell casing from his tanker days. Near the stairs hang photos of his early logging days, including photos of the 1941 Sterling, the first Franklin forwarder, and “Dickey” in his younger days. Near the front door, I saw Bob’s NHTHC Professional Logger Program certificate from 1995 (#141), alongside a number of thank you notes from recipients of his generous gifts.
If you find yourself in the Danbury area, or you are looking for a nice day trip, Bob and Lorraine enjoy the company at 18 Wason Drive. Be sure to check out the 8N Ford and the Ferguson tractors which Bob has restored, and ask him to show you his project that’s my personal favorite, a hand-built, working scale model of a water powered sawmill, right there on the lawn!