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Friday, April 12, 2013

Sawdust and Rocks



Sawdust used to be free. The local mills generated big piles of it and had difficulty getting rid of the stuff. People could have as much of it as they wanted for the price of hauling it away.

In the days before refrigeration ice houses used sawdust to insulate big blocks of ice cut from the local ponds. It worked surprising well for that.

Then refrigeration came into common use and nobody used sawdust for that anymore. Farms used some as absorbent bedding for animals, but they hardly made a dent in the supply. In fact farms still use it, but it's not free anymore.

When I was a kid I knew a man who heated his house with sawdust. He'd invented a fairly sophisticated furnace that even had thermostatic control. All he had to do was to load sawdust into the hopper and the furnace pretty much ran itself. Being able to heat a house for free in northern New Hampshire is a big deal.

Of course, now there are markets for sawdust. Big piles of anything are worth money. Sawdust is used in everything from manufactured lumber to compressed pellets for home stoves. No more heating for free. In fact, old sawdust piles are now dug up to feed biomass power generators.

When I was kid my dad told me that the most sure way to have a shortage of anything is to find a use for it. He demonstrated that principle with rocks. New Hampshire has more rocks than just about anything else. When my dad bought the land my house now sits on, it was no exception. I thought there was no way we could ever have a shortage of rocks.

Then we started to use them. We built retaining walls, fireplaces, used them in wells and built foundation piers with rocks and cement. It wasn't all that long before the best rocks were gone. Rocks that could be handled by one person were soon used up. Then rocks two or three people could move ran low. Small rocks were mixed with cement until those were gone.

My dad had me digging up the hillside for more rocks. I used sledge hammers and rock drills to turn huge rocks into usable sized rocks. Before long we were hauling rocks in the old pickup truck. There were old gravel pits nearby that had a lot of good sized rocks just lying on the ground -until those were gone. We were traveling further and further for good rocks. Fortunately, we moved on to other projects that didn't require rocks.

At a young age I learned lessons in resource depletion in a manner I'll never forget.

-Sixbears

12 comments:

  1. Guess your road to wisdom was a rocky one! (Sorry, I just couldn't help it!)

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    1. You are forgiven. :) Sometimes they are too good to pass up.

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  2. Sad but true, my friend. The old story of supply and demand!

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    1. Indeed. There's no getting away from it.

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  3. I remember the ice house! As kids we used to go there with a folded paper cup and the owner would fill it with chipped ice. It was a great, free treat on a warm summer day.

    Phyllis (N/W Jersey)

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    1. Wow, that's going back a bit. I remember the ice house here on the lake, but it was no longer in use.

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    2. Yeah, I DO go back a bit! Also remember it being delivered to the house. Mom would put the 'ice card' in the window when she needed it for the icebox.

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    3. My dad had restored a really nice oak icebox. Too bad he sold it to the antiques dealer. Would have looked good in the house. Who knows, I might need one again someday.

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  4. another shortage be used cooking oil, down my way it all has to go to an "approved recycler" to be sold as "biofuel"

    and a lot of independent small sawmills are no longer about

    Wildflower

    fortunatly there are no shortages of tasty texans

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    Replies
    1. Yeah, I've run into that problem while on the road. Good thing I can still get it locally.
      Texans . . . right . . .

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  5. I remember when I was a small lad that my grandmother got ice delivered. The delivery guy had these great big tongs that he carried the ice with. Am I showing my age?

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    1. Yep. I feel young at 55. :)

      Now those big tongs are huge sellers in antique shops or displayed on the wall in country restaurants.

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