So how much time and effort is some beautiful Walnut worth? Apparently a ton if you are me. Here's my story.
This past winter, I got a call from someone who was referred to me by a friend, saying that a Walnut tree fell over in their yard during a big snow storm. I went over and took a look, and was amazed at the size of it. I know there are much larger trees and logs out there, but it was the first time I had access to one of this size.
The tree was pinned on top of an old iron fence and the base was still half-connected to the ground. I feared that trying to cut it free would sling-shot it up into the air or at least, throw it in an unpredictable manner. I referred the homeowner to QuinnCare, a local tree service, that could clean up the tree, get rid of the branches, and prepare a main section of the trunk for me to pick-up.
Once the tree was cleaned up, and the main branches cut into firewood for the homeowner to use for years, the main trunk was ready. But there was one main obstacle, the fact that the trunk was sitting at the top of a hill, behind the house, and 80 ft from the neighbor's driveway at the bottom of the hill, which unfortunately, was the only realistic location we could bring a trailer.
I ended up working with another local guy who had been assisting me in picking up some smaller logs over the last couple of months. We had a strong pickup truck and recently installed a 10,000 lb. winch. I had him rent a 6'x12' 2-axle U-Haul trailer to transport the log. So between him and I, a cant hook and a breaker bar, we started to try and move the log.
This thing wasn't going to budge easily.
I brought a little sled I made from 2x4s and plywood that would assist in dragging the log without really digging up the homeowner's yard. I significantly underestimated the diameter I had in my head, from the first time I saw the log. So instead of being fully seated on the sled, we were only able to get the front of the log onto the back lip of it, which ended up being enough to help it skip along the grass.
We had to use a combination of winching it down with a cable and chains from the truck, and rolling it with the cant hook and breaker bar. Another challenge was going downhill. The log wanted to take off every time we were able to roll it over. So we had to constantly keep throwing other rounds from the tree in front of it to use as a brake.
We finally got it down to the trailer, and all lined up. The next obstacle was this nice stone wall that the homeowner had lining the driveway. The wall was about a foot tall, and the trailer's tailgate was able to sit on the grass over the wall. The problem was when we started pulling this estimate 3000 lb. log onto the trailer. The trailer kept going down, because the weight was close-to, if not exceeding, the weight capacity of the trailer. Once again we took extra branches and remnants of the tree, and stuck them under the tailgate to hold up the trailer until we got the log completely on board.
At this point, the log was on the trailer. It was time to hook the trailer back up to the truck's hitch. But we realized there was no way we could lift the front of the trailer to get it hooked up again. We grabbed a car jack that my buddy brought along, thank God. We jacked up the front of the trailer and we were hooked again.
The next obstacle was then to actually pull away and drive the trailer away.
As soon as we started to pull the truck away, the trailer start bottoming out near the tailgate, and was then touching the stone wall that we absolutely could not damage, as part of the agreement with the homeowner.
We were 5 hours into this move already, and we weren't going to give up. We took the car jack, raised up the back of the trailer, and drove away with the jack still engaged.
Well, whatever, it worked. Ha! We were able to finagle the jack out from under the trailer and we were good to go.
Once we got the log back to my shop, there was no way that we could get the log out of the trailer manually. We had to disconnect the trailer again, drive the truck around to the back of the trailer, and hook up the log directly to the truck hitch with chains. We wedged the trailer with some lumber, and pulled the truck away, pulling the log with it and off of the trailer. The icing on the way was when the last few inches of the log got to the bottom of the tailgate, and once cleared, leaped up into the air and caused the front of the trailer to crash into the street. As you could imagine, it wasn't the best noise to have rattling in the street at what was then, 11:30pm.
I paid the man for his time, effort, and energy, and covered the log with a tarp. I mean, after all that work, I wasn't going to have some passer-by take my precious Walnut log. Then again, I'm pretty sure I would have heard them..
A few weeks later, my buddy, Alfred Kopp, with his Woodmizer came over and we milled this into some spectacular slabs and dimensional lumber. I like to mix it up, cut some live-edge, some full width slabs, some 8/4, 6/4, 5/4 planks. It allows me to use the right board for the right project. I also had some Ambrosia Maple logs from a few weeks earlier to mill up, as well as some rounds that I had milled into cookies for tables.
My neighbor volunteered to help me stack the lumber, which was super generous of him, considering I'm not sure he knew exactly how much I had back there. I not only stacked the newly milled Walnut and Ambrosia Maple stacks, but also moved a stack of Sugar Maple and a stack of Black Locust that I had milled back in December.
Now it's just a matter of waiting until these boards are under 20% moisture, before I decide whether or not to pay per board-foot to have the wood dried the rest of the way in a kiln. I think the Walnut may be worth the extra effort and cost to finish it off and to be able to use it quicker, as well as sell some of it for full-price.
It was so much work, but totally worth it. Don't ask my wife though, she probably thinks I'm a nut-job, and she wouldn't be too far off.