Sunday, December 30, 2007

Poets' Corner

The Ballad of Blasphemous Bill (mild profanity; morbid humor)

I took a contract to bury the body of blasphemous Bill MacKie,
Whenever, wherever or whatsoever the manner of death he die --
Whether he die in the light o' day or under the peak-faced moon;
In cabin or dance-hall, camp or dive, mucklucks or patent shoon;
On velvet tundra or virgin peak, by glacier, drift or draw;
In muskeg hollow or canyon gloom, by avalanche, fang or claw;
By battle, murder or sudden wealth, by pestilence, hooch or lead --
I swore on the Book I would follow and look till I found my tombless dead.

For Bill was a dainty kind of cuss, and his mind was mighty sot
On a dinky patch with flowers and grass in a civilized bone-yard lot.
And where he died or how he died, it didn't matter a damn
So long as he had a grave with frills and a tombstone "epigram".
So I promised him, and he paid the price in good cheechako coin
(Which the same I blowed in that very night down in the Tenderloin).
Then I painted a three-foot slab of pine: "Here lies poor Bill MacKie",
And I hung it up on my cabin wall and I waited for Bill to die.

Years passed away, and at last one day came a squaw with a story strange,
Of a long-deserted line of traps 'way back of the Bighorn range;
Of a little hut by the great divide, and a white man stiff and still,
Lying there by his lonesome self, and I figured it must be Bill.
So I thought of the contract I'd made with him, and I took down from the shelf
The swell black box with the silver plate he'd picked out for hisself;
And I packed it full of grub and "hooch", and I slung it on the sleigh;
Then I harnessed up my team of dogs and was off at dawn of day.

You know what it's like in the Yukon wild when it's sixty-nine below;
When the ice-worms wriggle their purple heads through the crust of the pale blue snow;
When the pine-trees crack like little guns in the silence of the wood,
And the icicles hang down like tusks under the parka hood;
When the stove-pipe smoke breaks sudden off, and the sky is weirdly lit,
And the careless feel of a bit of steel burns like a red-hot spit;
When the mercury is a frozen ball, and the frost-fiend stalks to kill --
Well, it was just like that that day when I set out to look for Bill.

Oh, the awful hush that seemed to crush me down on every hand,
As I blundered blind with a trail to find through that blank and bitter land;
Half dazed, half crazed in the winter wild, with its grim heart-breaking woes,
And the ruthless strife for a grip on life that only the sourdough knows!
North by the compass, North I pressed; river and peak and plain
Passed like a dream I slept to lose and I waked to dream again.

River and plain and mighty peak -- and who could stand unawed?
As their summits blazed, he could stand undazed at the foot of the throne of God.
North, aye, North, through a land accurst, shunned by the scouring brutes,
And all I heard was my own harsh word and the whine of the malamutes,
Till at last I came to a cabin squat, built in the side of a hill,
And I burst in the door, and there on the floor, frozen to death, lay Bill.

Ice, white ice, like a winding-sheet, sheathing each smoke-grimed wall;
Ice on the stove-pipe, ice on the bed, ice gleaming over all;
Sparkling ice on the dead man's chest, glittering ice in his hair,
Ice on his fingers, ice in his heart, ice in his glassy stare;
Hard as a log and trussed like a frog, with his arms and legs outspread.
I gazed at the coffin I'd brought for him, and I gazed at the gruesome dead,
And at last I spoke: "Bill liked his joke; but still, goldarn his eyes,
A man had ought to consider his mates in the way he goes and dies."

Have you ever stood in an Arctic hut in the shadow of the Pole,
With a little coffin six by three and a grief you can't control?
Have you ever sat by a frozen corpse that looks at you with a grin,
And that seems to say: "You may try all day, but you'll never jam me in"?
I'm not a man of the quitting kind, but I never felt so blue
As I sat there gazing at that stiff and studying what I'd do.
Then I rose and I kicked off the husky dogs that were nosing round about,
And I lit a roaring fire in the stove, and I started to thaw Bill out.

Well, I thawed and thawed for thirteen days, but it didn't seem no good;
His arms and legs stuck out like pegs, as if they was made of wood.
Till at last I said: "It ain't no use -- he's froze too hard to thaw;
He's obstinate, and he won't lie straight, so I guess I got to -- saw."
So I sawed off poor Bill's arms and legs, and I laid him snug and straight
In the little coffin he picked hisself, with the dinky silver plate;
And I came nigh near to shedding a tear as I nailed him safely down;
Then I stowed him away in my Yukon sleigh, and I started back to town.

So I buried him as the contract was in a narrow grave and deep,
And there he's waiting the Great Clean-up, when the Judgment sluice-heads sweep;
And I smoke my pipe and I meditate in the light of the Midnight Sun,
And sometimes I wonder if they was, the awful things I done.
And as I sit and the parson talks, expounding of the Law,
I often think of poor old Bill -- and how hard he was to saw.

from BALLADS OF A CHEECHAKO by Robert Service

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Weekend Steam

On the cover of the July-August 1967 issue of The Iron Men Album we have a nice photo of Sam Osborne, Dover, PA, with his 1893 Single T Peerless. It is adorned with its original wooden spoked wheels. Sam located this engine in West Virginia, where it was being used to operate a moonshine still.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Bore Cut

The bore cut is a technique that every chainsaw operator needs to understand. It is used in creating a hinge, both for falling and in bucking trees. Your ability to perform this cut allows you to handle dangerous situations safely, such as falling a tree with forward weight or lean, without it splitting and making a barber chair. The key to doing a bore cut is to bury the nose of the bar with the attack corner. If you try to drive straight into the wood with the tip of the bar you WILL have a kickback. Burying the nose first makes it safe and easy. Watch the video a few times and you should be ready to go out and practice. Be sure to wear your safety gear. The next video in this series will demonstrate a kickback; check it out. Click on the label for chainsaws at the end of this post or in the sidebar to see other videos about chainsaw techniques.

A big Thank You to Engineering Johnson for his help with this video.

Wooden Rain

A very important part of every tree falling plan is your escape from the stump area. As I have told before on this blog, nearly all injuries and deaths related to tree falling occur within a 12 foot radius of the stump. You need to move out of this zone on a pre-established escape route as soon as you set the tree in motion. You should move 20-25 feet, and use other trees for shields if that can be done easily. The escape route should be 45 degrees off of the fall line of the tree, and the opposite direction from which the tree is falling. After the tree is on the ground you need to stay back for a few seconds until you are sure that no more woody debris is going to rain in on the stump area.

The United States Forest Service still teaches the old falling methods which finalize your hinge while the tree is beginning to fall. The reason I have heard from Forest Service chainsaw instructors is that boring a tree to make a hinge is a difficult skill to learn. One of the safety problems with the Forest Service method of falling trees is that your escape from the stump area is delayed or prevented because you are still cutting with your saw deep in the tree.

The picture below is the site of a snag I cut in my woods. Note that the chainsaw is on the stump, and the wood in front of me is part of the treetop which fell backwards as the tree went down. It landed 10 feet from the stump. One of my landowners was nearly killed in 2006 by the same type of incident. He was knocked down 12 feet from the stump, and spent several months in a hospital and rehab facility.

 Dropping dead trees is always a bit more risky than working with live trees, so use the open face and bore cut method when you are working on snags; it will allow you to escape from the bullseye more quickly, and may save your life.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Poets' Corner


Up in the morning's no for me,
Up in the morning early;
When a' the hills are cover'd wi'' snaw,
I'm sure it's winter fairly.

Cauld blaws the wind frae east to west,
The drift is driving sairly;
Sae loud and shrill's I hear the blast,
I'm sure it's winter fairly.

The birds sit chittering in the thorn,
a' day they fare but sparely:
And lang's the night frae e'en to morn,
I'm sure it's winter fairly.

Up in the morning's no for me,
Up in the morning early;
When a' the hills are cover'd wi' snaw,
I'm sure it's winter fairly.

Robert Burns

Weekend Steam

From the cover of the September-October 1958 issue of The Iron Men Album we have a Phoenix log hauler, owned by the Smolik brothers of Osage, Iowa. I saw this engine operating at Cedar Falls, Iowa many years ago. Photo by Ray Ernst of Wayland, Iowa, one of the founders of Midwest Old Settlers and Threshers Association.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Killer Stumps

Mistakes made by other people are valuable learning tools. Some of them are so valuable that I take a picture so I can pass them on to others. These stumps illustrate the phenonenon known as "Barber Chair".

The first stump also shows a strange misconception that I run into frequently. The cutter of this tree cut across the stump at an angle, ostensibly "So the stump will push the tree over!" Stumps do not push on a tree; gravity can pull it over, wind can push it over, you can wedge it over, you can pull it over with a cable, you can push it over with a skidder, but the stump DOES NOT PUSH!

A barber chair occurs when a tree goes into motion while the hinging wood is too thick to bend. Since it can't bend, the tree splits lengthwise. This happens suddenly, often explosively. If the cutter is in the way of the butt end of the log when it happens, he will suffer severe crushing injuries when the tree smashes into him. If the tree misses him at this point, the danger is not over. The tree becomes airborne on a springpole, and it is anybody's bet what the tree will do next. You literally cannot get away fast enough.

The stump below was the site of a fatal accident. The cutter had been ruining trees all over this woods with poor cutting technique, and this tree was his final mistake. He cut a small wedge (barely visible on the ground) on the left side of the stump, intending the tree to fall that way. He then bored through the tree where you see the step on the right side of the stump. Next he cut to the left, severing all the wood to the wedge cutout. The tree was heavy to the right, and when he severed the wood on the left, the tree split to the right and stood on a springpole, which you can see lying behind and to the right of the stump. The cutter ran, but the tree rotated counter-clockwise on the springpole, and the butt of the log hit the logger on the back of the head, killing him. His body was lying 12 feet from the stump.

If the cutter had been using a hinge to control his trees he would still be alive. There is a lot of resistance to learning the new methods of falling trees, mostly because we are all reluctant to change methods we have become accustomed to. Most loggers I encounter are still using cutting methods developed with axes and crosscut saws. Modern chainsaws allow us to bore through trees, giving us the advantage of a hinge of proper thickness before the tree is set in motion. This is a skill well worth developing.

If you use a chainsaw, you should seek out a safety instructor who can teach you the latest methods. Your life could depend on it.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Vintage Toys

One of my favorite Christmas presents was a mold for casting lead soldiers. I would use up all my lead making soldiers, then melt them down and make new ones. I doubt that anyone is marketing such a toy today. Putting children and molten lead together today would bring a herd of protesters and lawyers on the run. I suspect that this man received the same toy one Christmas and then started collecting molds when he grew up. The toys pictured above are cast out of a tin-zinc alloy, which is harder than lead, and safe for anyone to handle. It would be interesting to know who is collecting and playing with these toys. I suspect that most of the happy owners are big boys.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Poets' Corner


when the cold weather
comes i always
get a new interest in sociology
i am almost human that way
it worries me as to how
the other half
are going to get through
the winter
last evening i went
into a cheap eating house
and dropped into a beef stew
and had a warm bath
and a bit to eat
and listened afterwards
to a couple of bums
who had begged enough
during the day to get a supper
they were talking
about this new movement
on the part of the jobless
and homeless
to take possession of the churches
and live there during
the cold weather
said the first bum
i dont think i could do it
it would bring up
too many associations
you see i am a minister s son
you too exclaimed the second bum
why i also
am the son of a preacher
my father was a minister
in small towns all his life
he worked himself to death at it
he never got paid enough
to live on
and it was not until i left home
and became a hobo that i ever
got as much as i wanted to eat
at one meal
precisely my experience
said the other bum
have you ever had any temptation
said number one to quit being a hobo
and take a regular job
yes said number two
very often
but i have always had
the strength of character
to resist temptation
it is my duty to my fellow men
to see that they have
material on which to wreak
their passion to be charitable
during the christmas holidays
it makes the well to do
more comfortable and gives
them a warm virtuous glow
when they give me a dime
and i should not feel justified
in taking from them
such a simple and inexpensive pleasure
yes said the other bum
the rich we have always with us
they are the great problem of the age
we must treat them as well
as we can and help them
to have a little fun by the way
so that they can forget at least temporarily
the biblical assurance
that it is as hard for them to enter
the kingdom of heaven
as for a camel
to pass through a needle s eye
well said the other one
sometimes i think i would
be willing to change places with a rich man
and run the risk
oh certainly said the other
i have never had any instinctive
hatred for riches
it is only work that i detest
riches are all very well
if you inherit them
but i doubt if they are worth
toiling for
think of all the millions
toiling miserably in order
to be damned
it is a pathetic sight
but if one inherits riches
he knows that the fates
have doomed him to be damned
before his birth
and it is of little use to struggle
that is far different from striving
desperately all one s life
to lay up enough wealth
to damn one
i perceive said his new found friend
that your early training
has stayed by you
you have a truly religious nature
yes replied the other
at the cost of great
personal sacrifice in many ways
i have kept myself
an object of charity
in order to foster
the spirituality of the well to do
the most passionate piety
could do but little more
but if you had inherited
great riches said the other bum
would you have given them to the poor
i doubt was the reply
that i would have felt justified
in doing that
i would more likely have said to myself
that providence
had by that token
marked me out as one destined
to hell fire
and would have considered it
impious to struggle against
the manifest wishes of heaven
well sighed the other
life is full of terrible problems
indeed it is
rejoined his friend
but i am afraid that i shall
never solve even the least of them
when i am empty and cold
i am not in the mood for meditation
and when i am warm and replete
i go to sleep
the few guiding principles
i learned in father s church
have carried me thus far
and i shall go on to the end
never thinking beyond them
i merely apply them literally
and they work
they have made me what i am
he concluded complacently


FROM: the lives and times of archy and mehitabel by don marquis
doubleday doran & co inc 1935

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Weekend Steam

This photo is taken from The Furrow, a magazine published by John Deere forty years ago. The Russell engine belonged to the Shellabarger Brothers, the Advance Rumely belonged to Harold Jarvis, and the Wood Brothers engine belonged to William Seyb and Dallas Kerr. This photo was taken at the Midwest Old Settlers and Threshers show at Mt. Pleasant, Iowa in 1966.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Carbon Credits

There are a lot of words being flung concerning saving the Earth from global warming. Carbon Credits is my favorite term in this shouting match. Some of my customers are collecting dollars simply because they wanted to plant trees, and then did so. They have since signed up with an outfit in Chicago that deals in this smoke and mirrors project, and are now collecting dollars that seem to be real enough. I wonder how long it will be until the investors in this mess wake up and begin to wonder what happens to all that carbon when the trees die. (See: Trees Are Temporary) The Cerambycid beetle larvae in the persimmon wood pictured above are not commenting about this issue, but they continue to work silently behind the scenes, along with carpenter ants, termites, powder post beetles, and assorted fungi. These mostly invisible flora and fauna are one of the big reasons we need to work overtime growing trees, but real forest aficianodos grow trees mainly because we like them.

Monday, December 10, 2007


Plan writing for forestry puposes has a long list of requirements because of the various bureaucracies involved. One of the unusual parts required in forest management plans is a section on Cultural Resources. This has to be mentioned in every plan that might be in a state, federal, or American Forest Foundation program. The nearest thing to a cultural resource I see are old cemeteries. If I can identify a site used by Indians, I am not supposed to document it in writing because it might cause looting of a grave site. I finally found an old building that I thought might qualify for a Cultural Resource;-)
I mentioned this old shack to the landowner and found that he has burned it down since I took the photo. A meth maker had taken it over to ply his trade, so the shack had become a double liability. Oh well, I will keep looking.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Sunday Service

The Men That Don't Fit In

There's a race of men that don't fit in,

A race that can't stay still;

So they break the hearts of kith and kin,

And they roam the world at will.

They range the field and they rove the flood,

And they climb the mountain's crest;

Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,

And they don't know how to rest.

If they just went straight they might go far;

They are strong and brave and true;

But they're always tired of the things that are,

And they want the strange and new.

They say: "Could I find my proper groove,

What a deep mark I would make!"

So they chop and change, and each fresh move

Is only a fresh mistake.

And each forgets, as he strips and runs

With a brilliant, fitful pace,

It's the steady, quiet, plodding ones

Who win in the lifelong race.

And each forgets that his youth has fled,

Forgets that his prime is past,

Till he stands one day, with a hope that's dead,

In the glare of the truth at last.

He has failed, he has failed; he has missed his chance;

He has just done things by half.

Life's been a jolly good joke on him,

And now is the time to laugh.

Ha, ha! He is one of the Legion Lost;

He was never meant to win;

He's a rolling stone, and it's bred in the bone;

He's a man who won't fit in.

From Spell of the Yukon by Robert Service

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Weekend Steam

Nice Rings

Count the rings on this oak stump and think about what you have been told about trees all your life. This tree popped up in an abandoned pasture sometime after World War II, and is only about fifty years old. Whenever I am visiting a school I can count on the teacher to tell the kids that it takes a long time to grow a tree, and then I have to get on my soap box. The truth is that trees grow faster than most people think. The misconception that trees take forever to grow discourages most landowners from trying to manage their timber. Another misconception landowners have is that their trees are not worth anything. This second idea causes landowners to market their timber poorly; often they practically give it away.

This oak tree grew on an unremarkable upland site, and yet it made a very good showing. It had some physical problems, as old field pioneers often do, so it was selected for harvest. The trees left to grow on this site are all of higher quality. The important point to note is that you can start from scratch and produce timber in your lifetime.

Be sure to look at the slide shows in the previous posts which show the various cuts needed to fall a tree. You will see the cuts being demonstrated on the stump of a pitch pine tree which died due to storm damage. This tree was planted in 1940, and the lady who planted it watched as it was turned into lumber. Here are a few pictures of that event.

Landowners who work with their trees regularly find that it is difficult to keep up with the changes in their timber. I still feel a bit of amazement when I cut trees for firewood that The Mrs. and I planted; we have even cut lumber out of a few.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Falling a Tree: The Open Face Cuts and Hinging

Falling trees and bucking logs are activities that have inherent risks. The methods you use when performing these tasks can dramatically increase or decrease your risk of being injured or killed. The most important step in preventing problems is committing to developing a plan for every tree you cut. If you don't have a plan, everything that happens becomes an accident; so here are your planning steps, and a slide show demonstrating the cuts to make in aiming a tree you are going to fall.

1. Look for safety issues around the tree you are cutting. Downed limbs, vines, brush, dead wood and widow makers overhead, power lines, and anything you can identify as a possible hazard. You have to mitigate your hazards before you start cutting. Sometimes you walk away and leave the tree for someone with a bucket truck.

2. Determine your aiming point. This is done by walking to the spot you want the tree to fall and looking back at the tree. If the tree is vertical in relation to you, you will aim straight on for this spot. You will need to change your aiming spot if the tree has side lean. Point up at a 45 degree angle into the tree and determine how much the trunk/crown lies off a vertical line from the center of the stump. You will move your aiming spot an equal distance in the opposite direction. Put a stick in the ground to mark the spot. The hinge will fail if the tree has significant side lean. If this is the case, find another direction to fall the tree and do this step again. You can handle more forward lean and back lean than you can side lean.

3. Determine your escape routes from the stump you are about to create. Your escape route should be on a line 45 degrees off of the fall line of the tree. (135 degrees from the direction the tree will fall.) Clear out any obstacles that might trip you or block you from making an efficient move away from the stump. You MUST get beyond a 12 foot radius as quickly as possible when the tree begins to fall. Ninety percent of injuries and deaths occur within that 12 foot radius, so distance is your friend. If you can dodge behind another tree, so much the better. Wood often comes raining down from the treetops when trees move, so get out of the circle, and stay out until things settle down.

4. Make your open face cuts to aim the tree. You aim the tree with the first cut, and your aiming aid is the line across the top of the saw. Line up your eye behind this line and point it at the stick you put at the aiming spot. Cut down on the face of the tree until the bottom of the cut is 80% of the tree diameter. If the tree has much side lean, you will want to make the hinge 90% or 100% of the tree diameter. A pocket size tape measure with a diamater scale on the back is a handy item to have in setting up this cut. Your second cut is made by cutting in horizontally and meeting the bottom of the first cut. Remove the wood and inspect the junction of your cuts. The cuts should meet exactly. If either cut passes the other by 1/2 inch or more, clean it up so they match. The angle between these cuts should be 70 to 90 degrees. This wide angle allows the tree to fall to the ground with the hinge holding the tree to the stump.

5. The final step is establishing a hinge, releasing the tree, and wedging if the tree is not balanced forward. Begin your back cuts on the bad side of the tree; that is the heavy side. You will complete your cuts from the good side of the tree. You start by determining your hinge thickness. The hinge thickness should be no more than 10 percent of the diameter at breast height. Begin the cut with the lower corner of the bar and bury the nose of the bar, then rotate your saw until the bar runs parallel to the open face cut. With the saw running wide open you push the saw through the tree while staying on track to make the hinge the correct thickness. When you have the saw all the way in you will then cut toward the back of the tree, but stop and leave a strap of wood holding the tree. If your saw did not reach all the way through the tree you will repeat this operation from the other side. Set a wedge in the back cut unless you are sure that the tree has forward weight. This will prevent your saw being trapped. When you are satisfied with your setup, make sure everyone is out of the way, cut the back strap, and make your escape. Use your wedges to tip the tree if it does not go on its own.

Remember when making these cuts that the hinge should be no more than 10% of the tree diameter in thickness, and should be at least 80% of the tree diameter in length. Boring cuts are always started with the bottom corner of the chainsaw bar. Stop and look around before you cut the backstrap. Make sure no persons or pets have wandered in while you had your head down making your cuts. Make your escape when the tree begins to go.

Always wear boots, chainsaw chaps or overalls, hard hat, ear, eye, and face protection when running your saw. Activate the brake if you are taking over two steps.

After watching this video, click on the "chainsaw" label to bring up other videos about using a chainsaw.

For Extreme Leaners, CLICK HERE.   And HERE.