Many hands set this wood chore on fire

By Sam Venable
You're familiar, of course, with barn raisings, house warmings, quilting bees, crop plantings and fall harvestings.

These are community-wide efforts of the many-hands-make-light-work variety. Everyone turns out to help a friend and has a grand ol' time in the process. This is Americana 101, as traditional as fiddle music and bib overalls.

But have you ever heard of a community-wide log-hauling, log-sawing, log-splitting and log-stacking party?

That's exactly what occurred the day before Thanksgiving in the Loudon County hamlet of Philadelphia (pop. 533).

"It was an outpouring of help from all sections of the community from farmers to business executives, teenagers to retirees," said Ruth Henderson McQueen.

This marathon took place on the farm of Walter and Betty Longworth.

"The Longworths are salt-of-the-earth, hardworking, good people," said Ruth, a neighbor who has known the family for decades.

The Longworths heat with wood. Thanks to a series of ferocious spring storms, they were blessed with an abundance of raw materials.

Walter had been meaning to render everything into stove wood. But fate intervened in the form of a brain tumor that landed him in surgery.

"I was sitting in the waiting room with Betty and some of her family members when she told me the story," said Ruth. "It's one of those things that renews your faith in humanity."

Seems the Longworths' adult son, Mark, had taken off from his job and was going to devote the entire day to hauling, sawing, splitting and stacking firewood for his parents.

Little did he realize help was on the way: Close to two dozen folks abruptly descended on the farm.

"It was a regular tribe," laughed Ruth.

"There was his brother-in-law, Rich Walker; Rev. Brian Courtney of First Baptist Church; neighbors Tim and Regina Koeshall and their three kids; John Simmons, our local diesel mechanic and a whole crew of his workers; Josh Cornelius from Cleveland; John Harrison from Sweetwater Valley Farm; Gary Kimsey, the retired president of Gemtron in Sweetwater, plus a bunch of others whose name I can't remember."

They arrived with chain saws, two pneumatic log-splitters, gloves and strong backs. Before the sun set, a winter's supply of fuel was ready to burn.

"When Walter is able to come home from the hospital, one of the first things he'll see coming down the road is all that wood stacked beside his chicken house," said Ruth.

"It's wood to warm their house but also wood to warm their souls because of the care, concern and love of others."