The New Era - All about Sweet Home since 1929

By Scott Swanson
Of The New Era 

Local chainsaw artist Milton Dodge found his muse in the woods


July 26, 2016

Milton Dodge carves an alligator out of a bar of soap.

Milton Dodge learned he was an artist one day on a logging job.

It was the late 1970s and he was working on a road-building project for Weyerhaeuser.

“We had to cut some danger trees off the bank,” recalled Dodge, 85, last week. “The stump on one of them would be a little high. I had to wait for the cat skinner to make a cut in the grade, so I thought, ‘I’ll just make a face on that thing.’”

He grabbed a chain saw and went to work.

That was the beginning of his career as a chainsaw carver, which lasted about 20 years, until his health forced him to quit. Then he took up an alternate hobby, carving soap.

Dodge grew up in Oregon after moving from a little south of Sioux City in Iowa in 1936, when he was 5.

His father was a blacksmith.

“He saw those cowboys and Indians and he decided to come out where the cowboys are,” Dodge said.

As it turned out, there weren’t many horses, but his dad also did welding.

“People had Caterpillar stuff going on, but he never did any horseshoeing.”

Instead, his father got a job in the woods. After initially moving to Halsey, his family bought a farm in the Brush Creek area, then another on Old Holley Road. His father ran a welding shop in Crawfordsville. He attended schools in Brush Creek and Crawfordsville before his family moved to Old Holley Road, where Dodge went to school in town.

In 1938 his dad traded 56 acres on Old Holley Road for two acres near the river, “right by Santiam Mill,” where Ulex Street currently is located, “so we’d be closer to school.

“His old Star Durant (automobile) wouldn’t climb that hill on Old Holley.”

Dodge recalls riding a cow, leading a calf, from the farm to town during the move.

He finished 11th grade, but his mother had died and he had a full-time job at the mill, so he dropped out.

He served as a military policeman in the Army from 1951 to 1953, alongside Nino DiMaggio, baseball star Joe’s brother, at one point on town patrol in Pittsburg, Calif.

During his service he was among the participants in an atomic test at Yucca Flat, Nev., which lasted from the early 1950s through 1991.

“They marched us down a long ditch that was chest high, then told us to get down on our hands and knees and shut our eyes,” he remembered. “You could tell when that thing went off. There was a white flash, like when you’re striking an arc welder. The ground started moving.

“Airplanes started going across, above us, after the blast. It was kind of neat, but scary too.”

After his discharge, he and Joanne Mumey were married, in December of 1953.

“I could have been a police officer when I came out, but I didn’t,” he said. Instead, he went back to work in the woods, working for Nick Melcher and his sons from 1954 into the ’70s and then joining the Tack brothers.

Along the way, he and Joanne had 13 children – eight boys and five girls: Larry, now of Keizer; Carlene (Lyons) of Petersburg, Alaska; Fred, of Sweet Home; James, formerly of Sweet Home and currently incarcerated; Mike, Tim and Rich, all of Sweet Home; Ken, of the Albany area; Lori (Pearson) of Sweet Home; Paula Dougherty of the Salem area; Dawn Hilburn of Sweet Home, Dan of Albany; and Kathy Kiel of Sweet Home.

Joanne died in January 1996.

Dodge’s early chain saw carving efforts were strictly for his own amusement, he said. Logging, particularly choker setting, didn’t allow a lot of down time.

He progressed from carving that initial face on a stump to carving horned owls on stumps during slowdowns.

“I think I made about 100 of those owls on landings,” he said. “But the cat skinner must have hauled it home because it wasn’t out there when I went back later. Guys would say, ‘I like that one.’ I gave away more than I ever sold. I gave a lot away.”

Once he started chain saw carving for fun, people started asking him to carve speciality projects – lots of bears, and other Northwest wildlife, Indian warriors, totem poles, loggers and gold panners, and many other figures.

He carved the statues of loggers that stood at the entrances to town, Shea Point and near the East Linn Museum, for years. He did the pioneers that stand along Main Street in Brownsville. He created a wood carving for the headstone of Lady Liza, the last known local Calapooia Indian in the area.

“Willamette (Industries) sponsored me for last timber carnival at Benton County Fair and I was one of last timber carvers in the Albany timber carnival in 1995.”

He said the piece he is most proud of was a pretzel-shaped chainsaw carving about 15 inches square based on a design by a local woodcarver, Ted Porter.

“He came up to me when I was carving and said, ‘I’ll give you a challenge: I’ll carve one and I’ll bet you can’t with a chainsaw. I did it.”

He showed it at the Holley Fair, “and some kid sat on it. Oh man, I had to glue it.”

It now hangs on his son Larry’s wall, he said.

Dodge said that chain saw face in the woods was his first experience in art.

He says it’s a God-given gift.

“I have no idea how I did it,” he said. “I’ve got a couple of sons who are good artists.”

Dodge’s last chainsaw carving was in 1996. All those years in the woods took their toll on his body and he has had surgery on his back and replacements of both knees and an ankle.

“Too many jumps off the logging outfit,” he said. “It’s kind of slowed me down a bit.”

Dodge can walk with a cane, but he spends most of his time tooling around town on his three-wheeled Ewheels motorized scooter these days.

He was in a nursing home in Columbus Junction, Iowa, following one of his surgeries, when he launched a stint of a different type of carving – soap.

MILTON DODGE works on one of his chainsaw carving projects in the 1980s.

“I wasn’t supposed to have sharp instruments, but I had a little pen knife and I thought maybe I could carve soap,” he said.

“I carved a bar of soap and people said, ‘hey, that’s neat.’ They’d bring bars to me and I’d carve them. I probably gave away 85 of those.”

Nowadays, he doesn’t carve regularly any more, he said. A bout with staph infection in his right hand, which required surgery has made it more difficult.

“I can still do a few, but not like I used to. Don’t have feeling in my fingers like I should have.”


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