Blind woodcutter wins new log splitter in radio contest

Bob Sigler, 58, of Edinburg, stacks wood onto a pile outside his home. Sigler, who has been blind since age 12, doesn't let his disability stop him from much, including his part time wood splitting business. Rich Cooley/Daily

EDINBURG – One perk of being a blind woodcutter, according to Bob Sigler, 58, of Edinburg, is that he can work at night without putting lights on.

To answer the immediate question: Yes, he has all 10 fingers. In fact, his woodcutting hobby has evolved into a chopped wood-delivery business for area homes, and two neat, five-foot piles stand in his driveway — one of sawed logs, and one of chopped wood.

On Christmas Eve, his log splitter’s motor died and Sigler stormed off to his wife, Cary Sigler, 52.

“I went in the house, madder than a hornet, and I told Cary, ‘Well, I’m going to find out if there’s really a Santa Claus.'”

“‘Why?'” Sigler remembers her asking him. “I says, ‘All I want for Christmas is a motor for my wood splitter.'”

Bob Sigler, 58, operates his wood splitter outside his home in Edinburg. Rich Cooley/Daily

Sigler didn’t know that his wife had entered him into WGIS’ “take care of Your Mountain of Work” competition, which asked entrants to submit photos of themselves alongside their massive wood piles. The winner was determined by whoever received the most votes from the community.

Sigler was scrolling through Facebook one night (by using iPhone’s “VoiceOver” accessibility tool) and asked his daughter, Julia, “What’s this everybody’s saying to vote for?”

“You’re not supposed to know anything about it,” Sigler remembered her saying back.

It turns out Cary Sigler and others had been sharing the competition on Facebook, which Sigler credits for him even having a shot.

And it worked. Sigler won the grand prize, an Echo Bear Cat log splitter, courtesy of Shrock Saw & Tool in Harrisonburg. The splitter was already coated in a healthy layer of sawdust Friday.

Bob Sigler moves a log through his wood splitter at his Edinburg home. Rich Cooley/Daily

“The night before, I said, ‘There’s no way I’m going to win a wood splitter,'” Sigler said. “Then the telephone comes Friday morning, and then I was speechless.”

Sigler hasn’t always been blind. He was born with congenital glaucoma, a rare condition affecting young children that damages the optic nerve. He always had trouble with his vision, especially when it came to reading.

“I got to read a newspaper, I had to hold it like THIS,” he said, pretending to bring a newspaper close to his face.

He lost everything but light perception sometime between the ages of 12 and 13 until that also fizzled out.

“It was frightening, because, you know, at the time, you think, ‘What am I going to be able to do?'” Sigler said. But he quickly came to terms with his situation, and it could never bring him too low. “A person has to have a sense of humor. If you don’t have a sense of humor, I think that’d make life rough.”

Sigler picked up woodcutting later in life, offering to help his sister-in-law’s husband cut wood to line the driveway up to their home in the woods.

Sigler doesn’t use an ax to chop wood anymore, since he broke too many handles. Nowadays, he uses a mechanical log splitter that slices through wood like butter.

To split a log, Sigler feels along the pile of sawed-off sections for a loose piece. Gloveless, he hoists the log and fits it between the splitter’s wedge and a metal back plate, wrapping his left arm around the wood in a one-armed bear hug. He pulls the control handle with his right hand, and the wedge moves slowly but unstoppably towards the log.

Sigler’s hands never stop. With his right hand firmly on the control lever, his left thumb scurries between the log he’s hugging and the wedge, tracking where it is at all times.

One time, Cary Sigler remembered, she glanced outside and saw Sigler driving their truck out of the way of his woodpile. He’d back it up a little, get out, feel around the truck to see where it was, go back in and back up a bit, until he was satisfied.

“There’s just no fear with him,” she said.

The two got married in 1990, and by now Cary Sigler is no longer concerned when her husband operates chainsaws and log splitters and other powerful tools on his own. But that wasn’t always the case.

“I was nervous at first, because I was working 3 to 11 at the hospital, and he would call and he’d say, ‘Hey, I cleaned out the chimney.’ And I’m like, ‘You got up on the roof and you didn’t call anybody? You didn’t tell anybody?'” she said.

Cary Sigler is an essential part of the log-splitting operation. She drives the truck for the deliveries, but Sigler handles nearly every other step of the business.

First, a local logging company drops off 18-23-foot logs in the yard, then Sigler slices the logs with a chainsaw, chops them down to size, stacks the cut wood neatly, and when he’s ready he loads them into the back of the truck.

On a good day, Sigler said, he can finish a full load in four and a half hours.

Sigler said his business is still, at its heart, a hobby. He’s not about to quit his job working phones at the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office and chop wood full-time.

But splitting logs isn’t the only activity Sigler does that a blind man typically couldn’t. A couple of years ago, Sigler told his family that he wanted to learn how to waterski.

“Someone said, ‘You’re not going to be able to waterski, because you have to be able to see to do it. No way you’re going to do it,'” Sigler said. “And I tried and I tried. We went on Lake Anna one day, and I said, ‘We’re not going home until I learn how to waterski.'”

Sigler laughed. “About a tank and a half of gas later, this old boy was waterskiing!”