The Sawmill: Joys and Frustrations

One of the ways Gale makes money for himself is saw-milling mesquite.  There’s a guy with heavy equipment bulldozes cedar and mesquite off ranch land, and he pushes big mesquite off to the side instead of burning it.  We go pick it up in a trailer, haul it back here and stockpile it for cleaning up to be saw-milled.

These are mesquite boles waiting to be sold to a woodworker or for Gale to work them down into something tasteful and useful:

Here are a few larger ones stockpiled by the sawmill waiting for sawmilling.

But when Gale bought the sawmill he din’t actually have an enviable shelter to put it in.

We plotted, planned, watched and horse-traded when they were putting in new power poles to acquire enough for a new sawmill barn:

Even laid out the footprint for the new pole barn and got the holes drilled:

We’ve got the design put together by us two geniuses.  Those poles need to be measured and cut to length, then dragged over to be slid into the holes, set vertical, tamped into place, first off.  Then everything that doesn’t look like a pole barn needs to be removed from that airspace sitting there empty.

But the fact is, Gale’s an old guy.  Claims to be older than me even, by an imaginary year.  He’s got a bad hip and too many other things troubling him to have any business out there trying to do work ought to be reserved for a younger guy, namely me.  I can’t afford to be losing an old friend and the man who owns this place because of some silly notion he might have about getting out there doing any heavy lifting and sweating.

So that barn of the future’s been sitting there waiting to happen for a year now.

If I had my new truck running I’d be up there now, while they’re gone and can’t do anything about it, measuring and cutting those poles, dragging them somewhere they can become something better than what they are now.  I’d be getting those poles up pointing at the sky the way the Coincidence Coordinators intended when they delivered them.

All while they’re off in New Mexico at the Hatch Chili Festival doing what’s best they do and they do best.

It ain’t going to happen this time, because I don’t have anything to pull them with.  But that new truck’s going to be running next time they leave.

On the other hand, I think he might be edgy about me doing it.  They’ve both seen the things I’ve built, or am building down here:

White Trash Repairs: Throwing Down the Gauntlet

Thumbing Rides on Throwaways

News from the Middle of Nowhere

Disclaimer and apologies – I posted this accidentally when I went to save the draft.    But there’s been too much deleting of accidental posts here lately, so I’m leaving it up.

Old Jules

8 responses to “The Sawmill: Joys and Frustrations

  1. I like that mesquite best when it’s used to smoke brisket at Louis Mueller’s in Taylor or Smitty’s in Lockhart.

  2. Brought to mind my first trip to San Francisco, circa 1975.

    I drove out there in a 10 year old Chevy with no air conditioning. Through the desert to San Diego, then north. I kept cool by buying cold sixpacks of beer at every stop, chugging them down, and throwing the empties in the back seat. Had quite a collection rattling around back there by the time I got to Arizona, where I picked up a hitchhiker who helped out with the gas and beer. John somethingorother, who was headed out to fix up a friend’s sailboat in LA.. About 6 months on I got a post card from him from Panama.

    Hey, it was a different age, and so was I. When I finally got up to San Francisco, I took the ferry out past Alcatraz to a little place called (I think) Tiburon and back. Just for the heck of it.

    Where I got off to let the ferry turn around there was a number of small shops. One of them was called Nautical Antiques. What they did was sell salvage fixtures and accessories from ships that were headed to the breaking yard. Stuff like plates, silverware, big compasses, old electronic equipment, ship’s wheels, wooden tables, brass plates, etc. Anything off an old ship they thought might sell got unscrewed, minimally cleaned and polished up, and stacked around the building for the discerning customer.

    I was waaay too cash short in those days to buy any of the good stuff, but it was interesting to look at. At some point in the tour I passed by an open back door, and out there next to the dumpster and taking up half the parking back there was a pile of wood circles maybe 8-12 inches thick and 3-5 feet through. Just irregular slices of tree trunk, rough sawn and weathered. Looked like some of them had been sitting in water for a while.

    Interesting. I went back in and looked up the owner. Turns out those were Walnut Burls, and had been taken out of the bilge of some ship from the Phillipines. They had been used for ballast.

    Walnut Burls. So little valued as to be used for ballast back in the Phillipines, they washed up in this parking lot in 1975 to be sold for 10 bucks apiece (or make an offer).

    I still had a couple hundred dollars of trip money left. I thought hard about carrying one back to Texas to make tables out of. Or even renting a Uhaul. But those babies were HEAVY. One of them in the trunk of that old Chevy, assuming I could get it up in there, would probably break a spring or blow out a tire at just the most inconvenient moment. Probably while I was roaring back across the Great American Desert in the moonlight, tossing back cheap beer. Heck, it might even lift the front tires off the ground.

    Wouldn’t I feel the fool then?

    I got back on the ferry. But I’ve thought about that moment with some regret over the years. Dense old growth walnut burls, hundreds of them, carried in the bilge of a ship for who knows how many decades, cut thin enough that a couple of stout men could roll them around to balance the load. Some were ruined with water, but most showed an interesting grain if you looked past the rough saw marks and the weathering. Nothing a belt sander wouldn’t fix.

    Ten bucks apiece, you haul, and we don’t wanna see you again. Amazing. Well, as I said, it was a different age. And so was I.

    Bob G.

    • Morning Bob. Good seeing you. Hope you’re enjoying the high country. Nice story about those walnut burls. I gather you left them there. Timing just wasn’t right. Someone got a buy, anyway. I don ‘t know what walnut weighs compared to mesquite, but I’d guess there’s not a lot of difference. These are definitely heavy. There’s a dry creek bottom a few hundred yards east of the meadow with a dozen or so dying black walnut the drought is killing. We’ve been pestering ourselves for a couple of years about getting them out of there and taking them up to sawmill, but there’s no access except on foot, so we’ll be manhandling them out when we do it. Maybe next lifetime.

      Hope you catch a lot of trout. Good country you’re in. Gracias, J

  3. dang…wish I was closer…I’d come help ya.

    are the poles close enough and on flattish ground to try rolling with pvc pipe under them? Or similar roller things?

    I guess a come-a-long would take years of ratcheting to move them very far, w/o a truck to drag them huh?

    Enjoy your blogs…thanks

  4. Hi Bill: Thanks for the read. We’ve got a hydraulic lift capable of lifting one end once they’re cut to length, a donkey, more-or-less needs mounting on a trailer or the truck. Once one end is in the air I think the truck will pull it. I’m figuring I’ll have that truck into the shop in town within a week or so, so it should be doable after I get it back. A comealong would definitely be a job with a time element.
    I appreciate you. Thanks for the suggestions. gracias, J

  5. Wood burls are really neat, it’s always good to see them harvested and not just left to rot.

    Those logs look pretty intense, I certainly wouldn’t want to be caught between one of those and the general direction of gravity. They do look like they’re dying to be used though.

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