His real name was Jimmy Richards but I never knew anyone who called him anything but Buzzsaw Jimmy.
It’s a nickname he earned for the unsafe but effective contraption he used to cut cord wood.
By looking at Jimmy, you could tell the machine got the best of him – more than once. He had hundreds of stitches on his body, a missing finger, and a missing leg that he lost – twice.
Jim Richards left home in Saint John, New Brunswick in 1898, bound for the Klondike Gold Fields.
The wonder is that he ever made it to the Yukon at all. First, the train he was riding derailed on the Prairies killing two of his fellow passengers. Then, the backup train derailed near Canmore, Alberta and the car he was riding in left the tracks.
When he reached Vancouver, he hired on as a deck-hand for passage on a steamer heading for Alaska. During the voyage, the rickety ship was damaged in a storm.
He finally arrived in St. Michael, Alaska, near the mouth of the
Yukon River, and boarded the paddlewheeler James Domville for the journey up the
Yukon River to Dawson City.
Like others who arrived in 1898, he found all the gold-bearing claims taken so got back on the James Domville and worked for passage to Whitehorse by chopping wood along the way.
He still had gold fever when he arrived in Whitehorse in October, so he built a sleigh and headed for Atlin, where he spent the winter working for wages on small claims.
Thus, he began a career of doing odd jobs. He worked on the
Yukon River as a jack-of-all-trades, and then settled in Whitehorse where he built his strange, but effective, mobile woodcutting machine with parts salvaged from an old tractor and Model T Ford.
Wood cutting in a land of almost perpetual winter could be profitable. With his homemade gizmo, Buzzsaw Jimmy could cut ten cords an hour.
He had regular contracts to cut wood for businesses like the Whitehorse Inn. But it was dangerous work. In 1911, he almost lost his right arm to the open buzzsaw.
Things got worse when, a few years later, he fell off the seat, caught his leg in the gears, and made a beeline for the hospital where the doctor amputated his leg.
Fitted with a wooden replacement, the irrepressible Buzzsaw Jimmy was quickly back on the job. But accidents continued. During his cutting career, he cut his arm, back and leg… again. Buzzsaw was becoming a regular guest at the tiny Whitehorse hospital.
Then came his most famous accident when again he fell into the rotating saw blade and severed his right leg.
But this time, he picked up the leg, shook it at the wood sawing contraption and said: “Fooled you.” He had severed his wooden leg.
Sometimes, if someone new happened to be watching him cut wood, Jimmy would deliberately pretend to cut through his wooden leg. The ploy never failed to evoke gasps or worse… a fainting spell from the onlooker.
How much wood could a woodcutter cut with a wood-cutting machine like Buzzsaw Jimmy’s? Good question.
Countless cords, I am sure, in a wood-cutting-career that lasted fifty years.
Sometime in the 1950s, he retired and his machine was dragged away to the dump. Buzzsaw Jimmy left Whitehorse and his colourful career in 1963 when he moved to Vancouver, where he died at age 94.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin
Ralph Hudson was at home on two courts. The basketball court and the court of law. Born and raised in Victoria, he was better known to his many friends as Buzz. On the basketball court, he played for the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds, where he did his law degree and graduated in 1959.
Buzz moved to the Yukon in 1960 when he took his first job as a lawyer with Eric Nielsen's firm, where he practiced criminal, corporate and mining law. Hudson moved back to Vancouver in 1974 and joined a friend's law firm. However, he returned to the Yukon from time to time as a judge after he was appointed to the territorial court in 1976.
He was appointed to the B.C. provincial court in 1982 and sat as a judge in Vancouver and Victoria until he became the senior judge of the Supreme Court of the Yukon in 1993.
But Buzz always enjoyed sports. He was on the team that represented the Yukon in the first ever Canada Winter Games in 1967. Yukon athletes were badly outclassed by the more numerous contingents from the provinces and the Territory decided to stage a games of its own at home. These are now called the Arctic Winter Games.
During his Yukon basketball days, Hudson often travelled to Alaska for games. The Yukon teams travelled to Skagway by train to play the American game. Often on these trips, friends in Haines would pick up the team in a fishing boat and take them to parties. A great life, said Buzz.
In 1970, Hudson ran for the Whitehorse East seat on the Yukon territorial council, finishing third behind Norm Chamberlist and Don Branigan and ending a promising political career.
Throughout his legal career, Hudson was an active volunteer as the president of the Law Society of the Yukon and a director of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce. He also organized a number of continuing legal education seminars for Yukon lawyers.
Buzz Hudson loved jury trials because, he said, it was an opportunity for the public to be involved in the judicial process. He retired from law in 2003, after ten years as the Yukon's supreme court justice. He and his wife Jan moved to Salt Spring Island, a beautiful property with a magnificient view of the Pacific Ocean.
When Buzz Hudson passed away in January 2005, he was remembered as a fair-minded, active Yukoner who loved the quiet serenity of nature and made a valuable contribution to life in today's Yukon.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin