Thursday, October 22, 2009

Archimedes v. Newton

It's raining here, again. However, the clouds that had incessantly drizzled liquid sunshine across the kudzu-clad hills here at the northern end of southern nowhere for the past three months, dissipated long enough this week to allow the gooey clay to solidify back to its confederate concrete consistency and erase the standing excuse the Colonel had leaned on to delay turning a couple of massive southern red oak logs into lumber. Earlier this summer, Semper Field (my trusty red tractor) and I had dragged the two behemoths up to the vicinity of Semper Filet (my trusty orange saw mill). Before I could start wrestling the logs on to the mill, the rains began and the ground in my lumber yard assumed, and maintained for weeks on end, the sort of muddiness through which I slogged more often than I care to recall during my time in the Corps and now slog only on cherished trips to resist the annual waterfowl invasion. So the logs sat there, taunting me--until yesterday.

These particular logs came from two hundreds year-old southern red oaks felled at the back end of my yard two years ago by the tornado that roared through this neck of the woods. They needed some trimming with a chain saw in order to fit on my mill and I sculpted them so that they would roll, as easily as something weighing half a ton will roll, up the ramp to the rails of my mill. Applying a little bit of leverage, and not a little bit of strain on my infantry-ravaged lower back, the Colonel cajoled the first log up and into position. A couple of runs of the saw down the log provided the all-important first flat edge. I then unclamped the log and attempted to spin it, applying the aforementioned combination of leverage and strain, to put the flat edge against the supports on the far side of the mill rails.

Half-ton logs do not spin.

I backed off, pried the log jack pole from the clenched and cramped fingers of my left hand, laid it carefully in its ready position, lightly removed my headgear, and scratched my head thoughtfully with the unafflicted fingers of my right hand. Had you been there to observe this sequence you might have believed that what you saw was the Colonel stomping around flinging pole and hat in widely separated directions at great velocity. You would have been mistaken--every action undertaken was well thought out for the effective period of a nano-second and with the purpose of maintaining extraneous materials at sufficient distance so as to eliminate trip hazards around the mill.

By the time I regained use of the formerly clenched and cramped fingers of my left hand, and recovered my ball cap from its primary ready position twenty feet up in a nearby pine, a solution to my problem had taken root in the amorphous goo lying fallow in the recesses of my brain-housing group. I retrieved my log jack from its primary ready position twenty yards out in the weeds, applied copious amounts of the aforementioned leverage and strain to each end of the log, and moved it, one millimeter at a time, back toward the near side of the mill rails. When satisfied that the log was positioned appropriately, I prepared to roll the log.

For some reason, during the six and a half hours spent millimetering the log into its present position, I had lowered the log supports on the far side of the mill rails. They had probably gotten in my way as I circled the mill applying leverage and strain to each end of the log--can't remember; the excruciating pain in my lower back has the curious effect of inducing amnesia. And since I didn't remember lowering the log supports, I can't possibly be expected to remember to raise them again, now can I?

With a mighty heave and a pain-diminished war cry, that, although meant to sound more like a rebel yell, came out closer to a whimper, I levered the log...and it rolled...and it kept rolling. Had I not been suffering from lower back pain induced amnesia and remembered to raise the log supports that I had forgotten that I had lowered, the log would have rolled nicely into place with the newly-sawed flat side snugly against them. My arms-raised cheer of exultation as the log began to roll, discontinued as the log continued. Unchecked by the aforementioned forgotten and unraised supports, and propelled by a combination of old man umph and Archimedian leverage, the log demonstrated that Newton's first law of motion still governed. The concussion caused by the log's impact with the ground on the far side of the mill separated the Colonel from terra firma by an estimated three inches and set off car alarms as far away as Holly Springs.

The time spent retrieving my log jack and hat from their secondary ready positions provided sufficient opportunity for a thorough after-action review and development of an acceptable course of action for repositioning the log from its resting place alongside the far, and wrong, side of the mill to its appropriate place on the mill rails. For the sake of brevity, said course of action involved rolling the log farther away from the mill, moving the log ramps to the other side, and a reapplication of leverage and strain. Oh, and remembrance of the critical nature of the log supports.

I now have some beautiful oak boards. If it doesn't stop raining, I may be building an ark with them soon.
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