October 8, 2007

Winsted man works on the cutting edge

By Linda Scherer
Staff Writer

In 1963, Jerome Thiemann of Winsted realized a need for a saw sharpening service in the Winsted area.

He set up a shop in his garage on the north side of town, located off of Linden Avenue, and called his business The Thiemann’s Saw-Service.

“I didn’t know the first thing about sharpening saws. It just takes lots of mistakes,” Thiemann said. “You also have to keep your head together or you can lose your fingers.”

In a shop that is very neat and orderly, there is a stool just for the customer. One of the benefits of getting saws sharpened at Thiemann’s is being able to watch him at work.

“If I am not busy, I will sharpen saws on the spot,” Thiemann said.

While the customer waits and watches, conversation can be shared about a whole range of topics from world news to Winsted history dating back to the Indians living on Pontas Point by Winsted Lake.

And, maybe a little advice, too. Thiemann grew up in Winsted and, at 76 years of age, has a wealth of knowledge on many subjects.

His first piece of equipment was purchased for $475 from the Foley Saw Company of North Minneapolis. It was a device to sharpen handsaws, a profession that Thiemann calls a lost art.

“It is a good piece of equipment. I have never had a bit of trouble with it. It is getting kind of worn out, but it will outlast me,” Thiemann said.

When he first opened his saw sharpening business, he would get many, many handsaws.

“Guys would bring me five or six at a time, but not so many anymore,” Thiemann said. “Now, most people use circle saws, but you almost need a handsaw, otherwise you would be afraid to cut too far.”

Just purchasing a new handsaw does not mean it will come sharp. Thiemann warns that today, when you purchase a new handsaw, it is dull because people can cut themselves and dealers are afraid of being sued.

Thiemann is not only able to sharpen the handsaw; if the teeth are broken off, he uses his power setter and just recuts all new teeth for the entire length. He is also able to sharpen miter saws.

Another saw that was very popular when he first opened his business years ago was the buzz saw used by farmers. He would sharpen about 15 to 20 a year. Now, he gets very few.

As the cutting tools and accessories have changed over the years, so has the machinery Thiemann uses for sharpening.

In 1985, he purchased equipment to sharpen chain saws, which can be sharpened by hand, but according to Thiemann, his machines do it better.

Over the years, something he has learned about sharpening chain saws is the importance of buffing down the gilt edge on the blade after grinding it.

“When you grind, it turns up a little piece of steel on there. The blade is sharp, but as soon as you get in the wood, it breaks off and dulls the blade on the other side. It needs to be buffed off,” Thiemann said.

It takes him about half an hour to sharpen one handsaw or chain saw.

There is an Acme grinder that he uses to sharpen circle saws, but he prefers not to sharpen carbide blades.

He explained that in order to sharpen a carbide blade and do a good job, he would have to purchase a machine that would cost over $15,000.

“There is no way in heck I would buy it at my age. Before, I couldn’t afford it, and now I don’t want to spend that much money,” Thiemann said. “It is pretty expensive to sharpen carbide blades. You are almost better off to just get a new one.”

If he is asked to sharpen a carbide blade, he tells the customer that the blade will be sharp, but if you want that real fine finish needed on certain types of carpentry, it needs to be sharpened at a place that just handles carbide blades.

Another saw that has become quite popular is the hole saw. It is used for plumbing, heating, and electrical projects to cut holes in walls and beams so pipes and wires can be threaded through. Thiemann has a special device that sharpens them.

He also sharpens meat saw splitters, weed whips, has a machine that just sharpens ice skates, and, of course, lawn mower blades.

In addition to sharpening lawn mower blades, Thiemann is an expert when it comes to keeping lawn mowers running and in tip-top shape.

“If you take good care of them, they will last forever,” Thiemann said. He suggests:

• changing the oil once a year;

• do not cut the grass when it is wet. Grass, when it is wet, turns to acid and causes the deck to rust;

• keep the air cleaner open so the mower can breathe.

“If you don’t keep it open, it gets plugged and it starts choking all of the time. This causes it to get too much gas. The gas washes the oil off of the rings and pretty soon, the motor is worn out.”

• sharpen the blades. If they aren’t sharp, the mower tears the grass off, making the lawn uneven.

Thiemann has lived in Winsted his entire life

If you have a question about Winsted’s history, Thiemann can probably provide the answer. If he can’t, he will know whom to contact.

His current home on Linden Avenue is just a couple of houses down from the home he grew up in.

He was born in 1931 to Carl and Lucille Thiemann. When he was 16 years old, he left Holy Trinity High School and started working for farmers in the area.

At 18, he worked at Green Giant doing seasonal work. From there, he went to work with a steel gang that worked on the railroad, laying new rails in Waverly.

He recalls beginning his job on the railroad making about 65 cents an hour greasing angle bars. Jerry describes it as one of the dirtiest jobs there was.

His clothes were so full of the grease he used on the angle bars it was necessary to take gasoline to wash out his mother’s new white Maytag washing machine.

He continued to work for Great Northern Railroad a total of 10 years. Eventually, he was qualified as a machine operator with the company as he went from one machine to another taking over jobs of different men when they did not show up for work.

During an accident working for the railroad, Jerry was taken into a Waverly clinic because he required stitches and it was there that he met his future wife, Margaret.

Although Jerry was interested in dating Margaret almost immediately, she needed time to decide how she felt about him. When he saw Margaret at a dance a short time later, he asked if she would dance with him and she said, “no.”

When he returned to the clinic to see the doctor for a follow-up on his injury and he asked her for a date, again she said, “no.”

Finally, one night at a dance in Waverly, she did dance with Jerry.

“We danced the last dance and I asked her if I could take her home and she went home with me,” Jerry said. “She was one of the prettiest girls in Waverly. I can’t imagine what she ever saw in me. No car, no money, and not much of a job.”

In 1951, he was drafted into the Army and fought for 13 months overseas in Korea. His mom and dad wrote to him often and Margaret wrote to him all of the time. He felt lucky to receive so many letters.

“Some guys never, ever, ever got any mail,” Jerry said.

During the Korean War, he was severely burned on his legs and neck from white phosphorus, and was sent to Osaka Army Hospital in Japan.

He was in the hospital for about 10 weeks recovering from the burns that left him badly scarred to this day.

When he returned to duty, he thought they would send him home, but he finished serving his time in Korea as a military police officer. He stayed in Korea until the Korean War ended July 27, 1952.

“When I got home, I asked Margaret if she would marry me and she just about turned me down,” Thiemann said. “She didn’t know if she was ready to get married.”

Although Margaret kept him guessing for a time, they were eventually married Oct. 6, 1953. She returned with Jerry while he finished his service in the Army.

After serving a total of 28 months in the Army, Jerry returned home January 1954, to find there were no jobs.

“You couldn’t buy a job,” he said.

Jerry worked with his dad hauling milk to Pure Milk in Winsted and eventually bought his own truck and hauled two milk routes to Pure Milk from 1958 to 1961.

It was “backbreaking” work that would begin at 6 a.m. and end about 3 p.m. For the rest of the day, he would work on his truck.

In the evenings, he worked for Henry Kurtz, pumping gas from 6 to 9.

In 1961, he started working for Lesters, where he worked for 33 years. His starting salary was $1.10 an hour.

There, he did maintenance work on vehicles and he would go out to various jobs with a crew of men where he would do some welding.

Shortly after starting work at Lester’s he saw a need for a saw sharpening business in town.

“Lesters had so many saws and they couldn’t get them sharpened anyplace,” Jerry said. He has been sharpening saws for 44 years.

Jerry is very proud of his family. If you ask him about his grandchildren, he will pull out his wallet and show you a picture of each of them, and tell you in detail what each of them is doing.

Jerry and Margaret’s home has pictures everywhere – on the wall, shelves, tables and dressers, in every room. The pictures are of graduations, weddings, and family get-togethers.

“Margaret likes pictures,” Jerry said.

They have six children: Rick, deceased, was married to Lynn Shamla and they have a son, Jason.

Vern is married to Connie and they live in Winsted. They have two sons, Brandon and Aaron.

Mylan is married to Missy and they have a son, Matthew, and live in Winsted.

Curtis is married to Kim and lives in Winsted. They have three children, Stephanie, Scott, and Shawn.

Shelly, the Thiemanns only daughter, is married to Darrell Pool and they have three children, Laura, Tommy, and Mike. They live in Delano.

John is married to Shelly and they live in Atlanta, Ga. They have two children, Blake and Dana.

Today, although past retirement age, Jerry still keeps very busy. Besides sharpening saws, he works parttime at the brush and compost site in Winsted.

The site is open Monday and Wednesday from 4 p.m. until dark, and Saturday from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. Appliances can also be dropped off at the site with a permit purchased from the city.

Jerry is a member of Holy Trinity Parish and a member of the Knights of Columbus. He is usually one of the first to volunteer for church or school projects when help is needed.

He also makes telephone calls keeping parishioners informed during the week about Holy Trinity meetings, wakes, and funerals.

Jerry’s plans for the future are plain and simple, “to keep on until I can’t.”

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