The Wood That Keeps Us Warm

Hector Chaloux running the processor. Photos by John Lazenby

Chaloux Brothers Firewood has been providing hardwood to central Vermonters since 1979. That adds up to a lot of firewood, probably more than 30,000 cords, according to Roger Chaloux, 62, who runs the business with his brother Hector, 53, from their adjoining properties in Williamstown, Vermont.

While there’s plenty of manpower involved, the heart of the operation is a 1988 CMC Technology wood processor that can cut and split logs into 16- to 24-inch pieces, roughly 2 cords an hour, and send them clunking down a conveyor belt into a dump truck. In the spring, Chaloux Brothers delivers green wood to customers immediately after it is cut and split. Wood processed over the winter is dumped in the wood yard behind Roger’s house and stacked by hand into 24-foot-long rows four feet high to dry for six to nine months. That way a cord of dry wood can be easily measured out for delivery starting in late August.

These days, the Chalouxs produce 700 to 850 cords of firewood a year. They once sold as much as 1,200 cords a year, but that was when they owned the only wood processor in the area. Now there are several, increasing competition at a time when fewer people are burning wood. But they have survived largely due to a reputation for providing sound, solid hardwood.

It’s a hard-working way to make a living. Even with the processor, there’s a tremendous amount of hand labor stacking the wood and then loading it for delivery. It can be dangerous and it can take a toll on backs, but, says Roger, “It’s what I know.” He’ll retire one of these days, but not yet.

Over the decades there has been a cast of Chaloux brothers involved in the business. Tony, the oldest, is a logger and he (often working with Hector) has supplied most of the wood for nearly the full 40 years; John and Jerry worked in the business in the early days. Now, it’s mainly Roger and Hector, although this year Hector took a job in a Barre granite shed and works on the wood on Saturdays, evenings, and days off. Roger’s wife Jo-Anne plays a big role in keeping things going, and his son, Eric, helps out on weekends. As Tony, nearing retirement, has cut back on his logging, Roger and Hector have also been buying wood from Gabe Freitag of Central Vermont Logging in Brookfield. The brothers own two skidders and also do some of the logging themselves when weather and time permit.

In this era of heat pumps and natural gas, the Chaloux brothers continue to provide the wood that keeps many Vermonters warm. “We’ve still got some of our original customers we started out with about 40 years ago,” said Roger. “That’s gotta tell you something.”

John Lazenby is a photojournalist based in Montpelier, Vermont, who photographed the Chalouxs over the cycle of a year’s work. A full gallery of these photos can be seen here under “Projects.”

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