Call it a working man’s respect for earning a living, call it a blue collar vacation, Jim Jackson of International Falls, Minnesota likes to spend vacations meeting new people and experiencing their professions. Jim spent the first six days of vacation hauling three poplar logs 1800 miles from the Canadian border to Cedar Key for a friend he made last year - local furniture maker Herman Wells.
“I can‘t sit on the beach or anything like that,” Jim said of his taste in vacations.
Uninterested in traditional tour-led packages to popular destination sites, Jim would rather spend a day working side by side with a clammer than visit a theme park. “He’d love to go clamming with somebody and just work it,” said his wife Maureen. “That’s Jim. He likes to do these kind of things. He likes to have an adventure. I can’t get him to Orlando and he’s never been to Las Vegas.”
Upon his arrival to the islands - before even delivering the logs - Jim befriended a local soft shell crab farmer and spent several hours learning about the process. “It was lovely because it wasn‘t organized. It’s neat to see how other people live.”
Jim started out as a TV repairman before working his way into electronics. “That was back in the days when the TV was full of tubes. I was a household name in Fort Francis. You didn’t call the TV repairman, you called Jim.” He retired last year from working in his store Sight and Sound Audiotronic after more than 30 years. His son Derek now runs the store.
The couple met through work 10 years ago. “I sold radio advertising and called on Jim at his business,” Maureen said. “This is an international relationship,” the US citizen said of her marriage to a Canadian.
Jim and Maureen met Herman last year on their first visit to the islands. “We just went wandering around Cedar Key and discovered his shop/store,” Jim said. “I’m a chatty guy and we just started talking. As soon as he found out where I was from he started talking poplar.”
“Poplar is a wood I’ve never sawed,” explained Herman. “I’ve never used poplar before. I’m always game for whatever new comes around.”
Herman estimated the load at about a ton of wood. “I’m sure it would be over 2,000 pounds, maybe 2500 pounds of it.”
Herman and his nephew Brian Groo made short work of the logs, employing a chain and tongs to slide them out of the bed of the pickup, strapped it to the bucket then carried them to the ramp where they were ready to cut. Changing hats from front end loader driver to sawyer, Herman proceeded to peel then cut the logs into planks with his band saw.
Jim’s interest in wood dates back to childhood and his dad’s sawmill. “My dad used a tail saw. A band saw is very efficient because the blade is very thin on it and you don’t waste a lot of wood.”
Herman plans to build folding tables out of the poplar wood. “Out of these three logs I’ll probably make 10 or 12. It might be a little bit more.” The tables will measure 16 by 20 inches and will stand 27 inches high.
Born in Georgia and raised in Cedar Key, Herman Wells has spent his life living and working on the islands as a commercial fisherman, boat builder and furniture maker. “I commercially fished for 35 years and raised a family.” Herman didn’t plan to become a boat builder. He just wanted to make one for his own use. “People saw my boat and said, ‘we gotta have one.’”
His saw mill is located on 10 acres of land down CR 347 just past the turnoff for Shell Mound. His furniture store is located in the old church behind the Episcopal church. “I went to church in my shop before it was my shop,” he said.
For the past 17 years Herman has built wood furniture. He enjoys his work and people notice his love for wood. “I like to see the lumber come off (the mill). I’ll be rubbing the wood with oil and people will say, ‘you can tell he likes wood.’”