Pushing limits

Reader Contribution by David Boyt
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“Will that be to go?” the girl at the fast food counter
asked hopefully.  “Naw, I’ll eat it
here,” I replied.  I was hot and sweaty
and ready to sit down in the air conditioning for a few minutes.  She just sighed and took my money.  Driving “Scotty”, my ’87 Chevy Scottsdale
flatbed is often an adventure in itself. 
Without the usual amenities found in its more contemporary
counterparts–such as air conditioning, working radio, or automatic transmission–Scotty
is a no-nonsense 4×4, more suited to the trails out in the woods than to
highways.  He seems to get 15 mpg, no
matter how I drive, or what I’m pulling. 
Still, when it comes time to haul hay or logs down the road or move the
sawmill to a customer’s location, he is a reliable, hard pulling truck.

The 16′ gooseneck trailer behind Scotty carried my recent
acquisition–a 10′ long, 44″ diameter black oak log which had blown down during
the Joplin, MO tornado last year.  While
Joplin has been largely cleaned up, the rebuilding continues, and I still get
occasional calls to pick up logs from the disaster.  Sometimes, the homeowner wants to keep the
lumber to build furniture from the wood–something from life before the storm,
when everything else had been lost.  The
owner of this log, however, just wanted it removed.  It is surprising how differently people react
to a situation.  By my calculations, the
log alone weighed about twice as much as the old truck.  The extra margin of safety provided by
electric trailer brakes was reassuring, but grinding up hills in second gear
was no picnic for me or for the growing stream of cars backed up behind me.  As I pulled over to let them pass, I mentally
apologized for delaying them.  By the
time I got to the fast food place at a truck stop on the way home, I was more
than ready to sit in one place with some ice tea and cool off for a bit.

Back home, Scotty seemed to give a sigh of relief when I
rolled the log off the trailer.  I felt
like I should give him a bucket of water and a cool-down walk after the extraordinary
effort.  I’m not given to thinking of
machines as living, breathing creatures, but sometimes it seems like they know
when to push a little harder to get a job done.

Pushing equipment and yourself to the limits can be a good
thing, and help you learn where those limits are.  Out in the woods and on the sawmill, I am
constantly testing my limits and those of the equipment, and learning ways to
extend those limits to get the job done. 
How much side lean can a tree have, for example, and still fall in the
desired direction?  Last week, I was
asked to cut down a tree with a slight lean toward a new house.  The only place to fell it was a small opening
uncomfortably near the house.  My best
guess was that there was a 97% chance that I could do the job safely.  Not good enough, so I left the task to
someone with more experience.  If I
hadn’t tested the limits out in the woods, I might have been foolish enough to
attempt it near the house.  Testing the
limits where others’ property or personal safety is at risk is something I just
don’t do.

I love picking up new skills that extend my limits.  Years ago, I took a professional logging
class where I learned a technique called “directional felling”.  It changed the way I cut trees and not only
vastly extended my limits, but gave me the confidence that I was cutting the
tree in the safest way possible.  It is
more than just putting trees on the ground, though that is considered the most
hazardous part of the job.  Spring
poles–saplings that are bent by the tree when it falls straighten with
incredible speed and enough force to break a leg if you don’t cut them in the
right place.  After taking the training
(and refresher courses every year), I seldom get a saw blade pinched in a log,
and can quickly free it when I do. 
Safety gear, saw maintenance (including chain sharpening), first aid,
and working around other loggers are all covered as well.

The directional felling courses also include precision
felling.  A tree dropped in precisely the
desired location does minimal damage to the trees around it, and is less likely
to get hung up, though that still happens from time to time.   There are some YouTube videos on directional
felling and, while they give a good idea of the method, they are no substitute
for having a trained professional explain, demonstrate, then critique your
technique.  It is intimidating, at first,
to take the training in the company of experienced loggers, but everyone is in
the same situation, and novices often learn more quickly, because they have
fewer bad habits.  After I quit trying to
impress anyone, and focused on learning, I realized that the loggers respected
me for my willingness to learn, and shared their experiences (including
mistakes).  There are also special
courses for landowners.

As a side benefit, it gave me the opportunity to evaluate
the loggers and their attitudes toward the woods.  Some are respectful, and others just want to
whack down every tree.  If I hold a
timber sale, I will have a better idea of which loggers share my values.  If you would like to give it a try check
www.gameoflogging.com.  The web site
lists dates and locations of the courses. 
Every year, each state holds a competition where loggers can demonstrate
their skills in a number of chain saw events. 
For me, competing has been humbling, if not downright humiliating,
though I did win a chain saw a few years ago.

Hopefully, when I make my next blog, I’ll be able to post
some photos of the cutting of the big oak log. 
Until then, please be careful out there.