Saturday, September 24, 2011

A ballet of logs

Yesterday afternoon was exciting -- we got our firewood in for the winter!

Over the years it's become harder and harder to obtain the wood we need to heat our home by scrounging half-rotten logs from forest floors or old slash piles. Plus -- and boy, it's hard to admit this -- Don and I are getting older, and scrounging firewood is darned hard work. So this year we bit the bullet and ordered a logging truck of pulp wood to be used for firewood. This is a common practice here in north Idaho.

Yesterday was the big day! The logger, a very nice fellow named Mike, came in the late evening just before sunset.

Mike is an independent logger, and his truck has a self-loader, meaning he can load his own truck.

We had to decide where to yard the logs. We ended up peeling back some of the fencing in the pasture to make a landing.

Here he is coming up the driveway...

You don't really appreciate how big these trucks are until you're standing next to one of them.

Mike climbed into the seat of the loader.

First thing he did was extend the side legs that brace the truck. The loader will be swinging logs wide to one side. Without this brace, the heavily-loaded truck could easily tip over.

Next he yanked the T-posts which held up the fence we peeled back earlier.

Here Don is wrapping the post with a chain...

...and the loader arm yanked them up effortlessly.

He was so skilled in the use of this loader arm that he could perform the most delicate tasks with amazing precision. At one point he lifted a drip irrigation hose out of the way so it wouldn't get crushed. Unfortunately I missed getting a photo of it, but it so impressed me that I asked him to do it again later on so I could get a shot (it was almost dark by then, so I had to use the flash).

At this point the sun went down.

Mike went under the truck to loosen the chains that held the logs together...

...and then he began unloading the logs with the loader arm. He was truly astounding with this tool. Watching him in action was like watching a ballet of logs.

First he laid down four logs (here's two of them) to use as a foundation for the rest of the load. This way the majority of logs won't rot from lying on the ground.

Then he unloaded and unloaded and unloaded, performing a ballet of logs in the twilight.

These logs are salvaged pulpwood. This photo is a bit blurry, but can you see how split up the log is? This log wouldn't be suitable for a lumbermill, so many independent loggers supplement their living by salvaging such logs and selling them for firewood. Those of us who heat exclusively with wood are grateful.

Another split log.

All of these logs have something "wrong" with them, unsuited to mill work, perfect for firewood.

It took about forty-five minutes to unload the whole truck.

(Hamming it up for the camera.)

After it was empty, he used the loader arm to lift the back half of the truck and piggyback it on the front half. This is the standard procedure for empty logging trucks.

Here's the final pile, all twelve cords' worth. I've been doing little happy-dances all day long, thinking about the security of having two years' worth of firewood practically on our doorstep.

After Mike turned the truck engine off and it was quiet once more, Don and Mike and I sat on some logs and chatted for twenty minutes or so as the evening deepened into night. It made me realize once more just how much I appreciate and admire the hard-working blue-collar men and women of this nation, who do their jobs without fuss or fanfare, but without whose efforts life in America would be much much different.

Logging is dangerous work. Mike related how he fell off the loader earlier in the year and landed on his shoulder, necessitating surgery. But he told us this as a matter of fact, not to garner pity. He's typical of the kinds of men I admire, men like my husband who work hard to provide for their families and don't look to the government for a handout every time they get a splinter.

We paid Mike $1100 for that truck load of firewood. It will give us about twelve cords. Worth every penny.


  1. I can relate to aches and pains coming on in the middle years of life. Which begs the question have you and Don given consideration to how you would gather wood in a SHTF situation when a Mike and his logging truck might not be available? Just tough it out? Considered other forms of energy?

  2. That's so cool! Really, if that's two years worth, that's a deal. I wish my good old electric coop heating bill was that low, and we only have 3 or 4 months of (what we loosely refer to as) winter.

  3. We'd use a two-person bucksaw and lots of aspirin. No other alternative.

    - Patrice

  4. We are blessed to still be able to cut our own firewood. Hopefully as we get older our children and grands will take pity on us and cut our firewood as we have plenty to cut. Heating any other way just doesn't feel right. I love our woodstove! I enjoyed reading about Mike though as I never knew this was done.

  5. I'm a Florida girl so please forgive my ignorance when it comes to firewood, but I always see people saying firewood has to be seasoned. Since you're using this wood this winter, I'm guessing it's not a necessary thing. Or does it not take that long?

  6. I'd like folk to get the chance to see how much wood would be needed to heat their home. Last winter I used 6 cords for a 900 sq ft home. These 4000 sq ft monster home would need two truck loads just for one winter. Or roughly the equal of one full grown pine every week just for heat. Maybe to really get the feel they should get to cut, haul, and split the wood. Enough to make anybody feel old.

  7. Patrice, Don, A couple of questions for my education. How long will this supply last you guys? And; is this wood "cured", as in ready for burning? I thought that so called fresh trees were not good for firewood as it it is too damp. Oh, and are you guys going to cut all that wood with a two person bucksaw?

  8. Patrice,

    Please share your method of finding this arrangement. How did you go about it? I don't know a soul in Sandpoint, even after two years so I am clueless.

    Also. what is the average length of the logs-ie...smallest length and diameter as well as log size diameter.

    I am thinking of building a cabin, old style from a couple/several truckloads of these logs.

    Thank you for including the price. I had no idea what the price was.

    Thanks for your posts

  9. Answering some question:

    Michelle: the logs are already seasoned, having been cut some time in the spring. The logger salvaged logs that were probably cut in March or April, perhaps a touch later, so the wood is quite dry already.

    Dennis: our home is about 2400 sq ft but we don't heat the upstairs in the winter. We use the woodstove about eight months out of the year -- start using it in October or so, and finish in May, though by May we only light it in the morning to take the chill out of the air.

    PACNW: We use about six cords of wood in an ordinary winter. Sometimes winters are exceptionally long and/or cold, in which case we may go up to seven cords. So these logs will last us two years max, or 1 1/2 yrs at minimum. The two-person bucksaw is for SHTF use, not regular use. Don cuts the logs into rounds with a chainsaw, then we split the wood with a log splitter or (sometimes) by hand with a maul. LOL -- we truly live by the adage, "When you split your own wood, it warms you twice."

  10. Streamwalker: We opened the phone book and started calling logging companies to see if they had logging trucks of pulp wood they could sell us. If they didn't (and they all didn't!) then we asked if they could recommend an independent logger. Took about ten phone calls but we gradually started connecting. We're also buying a truck of tamarack (which has the highest BTU rating of all the soft woods, almost on par with oak) for $1600, but we'll have to wait for awhile because we don't have enough moolah.

    Log diameters -- hmmm -- without actually going out and measuring, I'd say we had some smaller lengths that were about two feet across, but most were in the eight to ten inch category. Length? Between 30 and 40 feet (lengths varied).

    I would NOT recommend building a structure with these logs. These logs are discards, suitable only for pulp or firewood. They have splits, sap rot, sometimes dry rot, or they're crooked or kinked. Bottom line, they're not structurally sound. Better to do it right and pay the money for sound mill-quality logs.

    - Patrice

  11. We watch "Swamp Loggers" when its on.(Discovery Channel)A real eye opener. We loved to have camp fires back home. We miss them a lot. Maybe next winter when we return home.

  12. Rather than trying to cut wood by hand after TSHTF, you could use dried cow patties. They can be gathered and dried in the summer sun. It will take a lot of them, but sure beats double-buck sawing. Also, I've read that sawdust cubes work well. You'd have to order a pile of sawdust and use a manual press to form the cubes. This is labor-intensive, but isn't as hard as sawing all that wood when you are older. Plus, you could do the pressing (of the cubes) in the barn or a shed, out of the weather and even after sunset.

    The thing that most preppers don't think much about is what happens when they get old. Will they be able to continue to do all that needs to be done? Now is the time to plan for old age, not when old age is here. Believe me, I left the farm because I got too old and arthritic to manage all that had to be done. It happens to all of us, if we live long enough.

    BTW, those legs that brace the truck when it's loading/off-loading are called outriggers.

    Anonymous Patriot

  13. .

    Are ya gonna rent a hydraulic firewood processor or start chopping with an axe ? If you're goin' with the axe I know where you can get Ben-Gay in 5 gallon buckets...


  14. AP, we have eleven cows (of various ages) and there's no possible way they produce enough cow patties to heat our home through a bitter Idaho winter. Besides, if we burn up all the cow patties, what would we compost to use on the garden? (wink)

    And in a SHTF situation, there won't be any sawdust to order. No, we'll just have to use a bucksaw and maul. When we're too old to use those, we'll have to pay someone else to saw wood for us.

    Michael Dean, we have a hydraulic log splitter we bought shortly after moving to Idaho. Worth its weight in gold 'cuz fir is much harder to split with a maul than oak.

    - Patrice

  15. Patrice,
    I know what you mean about watching him work the machinery and unload the truck and put them together. During the winter of '07-'08, we had the from of our property logged to clean up the mess. This was during the "snowpocolypse" winter
    #1. These trucks would come up our driveway and stop, then they would unhook the trailers, they would drive up and turn the truck around, and the yarder operator would pick up the trailers like little Tonka toys and turn them around so that they could hook them back up to the truck. It was absolutely amazing to watch.

  16. Oops, I forgot, Streamwalker, pick up a Nickel's Worth newspaper and look under the category of "Keeping Warm". There are usually a couple of ads for truckloads of logs. Although, a lot of loggers have been driven out of business in the last couple of years so it is getting more difficult. Hope this helps.

  17. Loved the story about the logs. I didn't know logging truck could fold up like that.

    Also, I've found that heating with wood heats you 4 or 5 times...finding the wood, cutting the wood, spitting the wood, stacking the wood, hauling the wood.....

    And finally, burning the wood.

    Just Me

  18. I love it when you write blogs like this-and the barn building. It really gives us an appreciation for another part of the country.

  19. .


    If I ever win the lottery, I'll buy ya this for Christmas....

    Or I can get ya one of these for Hannukah...


  20. Great article!

    When we bought our house, the land had not been cleared for 30 years. Needles to say, we had to have professional tree guys come in and take out 4 large trees that were hanging over the house.
    The following day we bought a log splitter. In the 2 years that we have been here, Hunka-Hubby has taken down at least 100 trees. Instead of a new kitchen and bath, we bought a back-hoe. That machine is worth it's weight in gold - hauls the trees to the splitter, digs out the stumps and the bucket on the front fills in the holes. Next spring we will have room for a garden 5 times the size we had this year. We have enough wood split to last at least 4 years and we use it to heat the house although we do have oil heat too.
    We are trying to get all this done before we are too old to do it ourselves. Hubby will be 71 and I'm still on the good side of 70!

    We love reading about your life and we wish we had made the move when we were young like you.

  21. I was thinking about the getting old part of this post and an option occurred to me that may or may not have occurred to others. Assuming in-laws, sons & daughters don't or cant help out aging do it yourselfers, I wonder if a share cropping type of scenario would work whereby you invite some younger couple to share in the work load for a share of the rewards. Just a thought.

  22. Anon 6:26, your ideas are a definite option. In fact, we know an elderly widow (in her mid-80s) whose only (grown) child lives far away. She is quite independent and lives alone, but the fact remains she's in her mid-80s. Recently she invited a family to live in her furnished daylight basement. While I'm not sure of the financial particulars, this family is building a barn and will keep livestock on her rural property. The widow and the family will live separate lives, but I'm comforted by the thought that someone is there in case she has an emergency.

    - Patrice

  23. I'm surprised you had to pay that much; it shows regional differences. Recently my neighbors here in Ohio paid $400 for a similar a truck of pulpwood and a another neighbor got a truck of mill scraps (the outside sections left from making lumber) for about $200.

  24. Hi, I live in North Idaho, the Naples area. I'm wondering if the fellow, Mike, that delivered your wood might deliver in my area. It looks like a very nice, full load of logs. I have gotten a couple logging truck loads delivered to my place before but when they showed up they were not a full loads & the last load was some very, very rotten wood from a fellow with a not very nice attitude. I am hoping to find a decent load for a fair price soon as I need a load soon. Thank you.