Friday, December 5, 2008

The Tan Oak came back with a vengence.

Ben Said:
"Redwood Forest Foundation (RFFI) is looking for ideas on how to remove tanoak and have the trees pay for the removal. They have 50,000 acres from Piercy/Legget to the coast. Any ideas?"



Ben as you know, the forest/timber industry considers the Tan Oak to be a weed. Back in the sixties and seventies, Mal Coombs spent a lot of big bucks hoping to find a use for Tan Oak. He had thousands of acres of them choking out Redwood and Fir trees. He brought many of the oak logs into his mill and experimented with them. He already had a steam powered drying kiln for the kiln-dried Redwood products that he sold. He did a lot of experimenting in drying the lumber for high quality furniture. The tan wood proved to be too unstable for furniture. I think that people nowadays would be glad to have it. We have forgotten what quality is.

He developed a baseball bat out of the Tan Oak. There was something wrong with the wood where it wasn’t strong enough, or something like that. I’m not sure what was wrong with the wood, but they even made a bat that was laminated with fiberglass to make a wood quality bat, but it was not approved by the baseball industry. I think that he was just not one of the baseball “good old boys”.

After the bat thing failed, they tried to manufacture various small board flooring options. The only flooring that Mal would approve of, that he would put his name on, was the small wood pieced Parquet flooring. The flooring was beautiful, but it was not as successful as a product as he had hoped it would be.

An interesting story: When Mal was just going into full production with the Tan Oak flooring, the Humboldt County Airport in McKinleyville was just being built, and Mal negotiated a deal with the county to put his Tan Oak Parquet Flooring in the main terminal. Somehow a piece of Chinquapin Oak, that he was also experimenting with, got mixed in with the Tan Oak. It was not noticed until the Varnish was applied to the floor, then the different colored Chinquapin stood out like a sore thumb. Mal had to stand the cost of re-flooring the whole main terminal. He was not a happy camper!

The flooring was in the main terminal of the airport until the recent remodel. It would still be beautiful today if it had been taken care of. Unfortunately, the way the county takes care of things is smear wax on the dirt over the top of the floor until it becomes unrecognizable, then replace the beautiful oak floor with concrete.

Now back to the question that you asked me…
The Tan Oak can only be used for small piece lumber due to the fact that it is unstable, but it might be practical to chip as hog fuel for all of the co-generation plants that are going to run out of fuel with all of the mills closing. The plus there, is that there is a bunch of already trained woodsmen that could do that work if they get right on it. If not they will be leaving for somewhere else, because there is just no work for them here.

Rogan Coombs tried manufacturing firewood out of Tan Oak in piercy. I’m not sure why that failed. One thing that Rogan did was sell logs and put them on a landing for peole to cut firewood out of. I think that it was also an attempt to to get rid of them out of the conifer forest.

I've been told that it makes high quality paper products, but that is kind of a moot point with all of the pulp mills closed.

Sad ain’t it? Such a beautiful wood to be so totally worthless.

24 comments:

ross sherburn said...

ernie,you sure bring back some memories for me,when you mention mal coombs.of course,my dad logged quite a bit for him in the late 50s!but on my way to school in the mornings,mal would drive past me and wave at me with his right arm.my dad said he lost the hand in a mill in blue lake???

Ernie Branscomb said...

I'm not sure where it happened, but I'm sure it was a saw accident. Today they probably would have reattached it.

ben said...

Ernie... I saw some nice tanoak board floors when Wild Iris Forest Products was making it in Briceland. I did buy flooring for a place in Salmon Creek tho someone else laid the floor. It looks great today. The best looking one I have seen is out at the Wilson's in Briceland. My understanding is that the chrome tanning process put tanbark out of business and that it had something to do with World War II. I made the tongue in cheek suggestion to Art Harwood that we go back into the tanbark business and make organic (green) leather. Maybe there's something to that but not in this economy. How about charcoal? Don't know much about it but it's probably not a process Air Quality would approve of. Maybe there's a clean way to make it. I think the firewood business will suffer from the Bay Area Counties banning fireplace burning several days a week. They just announced that rule. This old liberal feels like we're getting a little over regulated around here.

Indie said...

Ernie, just letting you know I'm reading. But I don't have anything intelligent or witty to say about wood.

Kathie said...

There IS a successful tanoak business in Bonny Dune, CA called 'Out of the Woods.' It is owned and managed by Dave Merchant.
You can see the beautiful floors on the website and some furniture and accessories in the gallery on the website at http://www.californiaoak.com/

Milling and drying tanoak wood has advanced in a big way. John Shelley of UC at Berkely has worked closely with Dave Merchant to research and advance the opportunity to utilize local forest products.

Ernie Branscomb said...

Kathy, thanks for the link and the tip. I will refer to them if anyone needs Tan Oak Flooring.

ben said...

P.S.... That Chinquapin is really pretty and incredibly stable. As I recall, it's pretty light colored. They used to mill flooring out of it in Blue Lake. The trees came from South Fork Mountain.

Kathie said...

Thank you, Ernie. It does make a beautiful floor. Have people tell Dave that you sent them.

Note: I misspelled John Shelly, Ph.D, in my first comment.

If interested people want a peek before they buy, they can visit Dave's home where 3 rooms have different versions of the plank flooring. Some local homes in which Out of the Woods flooring were installed may also welcome a visit.

In case anyone is in Ft. Jones, CA, the Town Hall has two rooms with beautiful tanoak wood floors.

This website shows the work of a master flooring installer. One home's flooring is tanoak, beautifully done, at this link: http://www.balentinewoodflooring.com/projects/tanoak_rongey_tnail.htm (I have no affiliation with this business...discovered the link using a Google Alert for tanoak.)

Also, I've been told that there are few hundred tanoak floors installed in homes in San Francisco that were built about 100 years ago. Would love to hear from anyone who has seen or knows of one.

Thanks for this great history about tanoak. Best Regards.

Anonymous said...

While we're dropping names about loggers, who knew (or even remembers) any of these mill owners from days long past:

John Dimmick
Chuck Dugan
Axel Erickson

And who remembers the name of the Union 76 bulk plant owner who would deliver fuel to each of their mills from Benbow to Island Mountain to Usall? (Anyone remember the town of Wheeler? Where'd it go??)

By the way, we used to hit up the Coombs house every Halloween over & over again because his wife, Melba, would treat us to huge, warm, homemade popcorn balls.

Ernie Branscomb said...

Tom Dimmick the lumberman is John Dimmicks dad. John dimmicks son is also named Tom.

Was it L.I. Stewart?

Anonymous said...

"And who remembers the name of the Union 76 bulk plant owner who would deliver fuel to each of their mills from Benbow to Island Mountain to Usall?"

"Was it L.I. Stewart?"

I think it was Mr. Van Hoy, who sold his bulk plant - along with his house in Redway - to Mr. Renner in the mid-60's. A wooden bridge over Chemise Creek collapsed as his fully loaded fuel truck was making a delivery to a logging camp near Island Mountain. The truck landed upside down in the creek below. Although he was unhurt, Mr. Van Hoy went sour on the business and sold out soon thereafter.

Ernie Branscomb said...

You are right. So which bulk plant did L.I.(Stew) Stewart run?

Ernie Branscomb said...

Ernie Totten was also a fuel distributor wasn't he?

Ernie Branscomb said...

I meant Ernie's dad Totton, I forget his fisrt name right now. I suffer from CRS.

Anonymous said...

"You are right. So which bulk plant did L.I.(Stew) Stewart run?"

I'm not sure. The only 'Stew' Stewart I knew was the husband of the dress store owner in Garberville, Goldie. And I believe a Bob Stewart owned the Brass Rail for a number of years. I don't know how or if they may be related.

I left southern Humboldt in '65, so Mr. Totten/Totton is unfamiliar to me.

Ernie Branscomb said...

Totten, my bad.

Yes Stew was Goldies husband. Bob was their son. He and his wife at the time, Mary Ann, ran the Brass Rail. Back in the days when Bob played the honky-tonk piano. Mary Ann later married the Drummer, Jimmy Rassmussen. She still lives in Garberville.

Casey Casebeir sang a damn fine rendition of "Franky and Johnny".

Ernie Branscomb said...

Mary Ann Rassmussen is a fine lady!
Just in case she reads this blog.

Anonymous said...

Now you have ME wondering which bulk plant Mr. Stewart ran. I'm also trying to recall the name of the Blue Star Gas distributor back then.
Bob Stewart had a sweet little '63 or '64 Buick convertible that would be parked at the Rail when my family would go there for dinner. After we were seated, I'd ask my parents to let me go into the bar to see the live music but they'd just point to the "no minors" sign. I think Ted Tucker played drums there occasionally too. At least I had a nice collection of those little "medium rare" wooden signs the cook would stick into our steaks.

Anonymous said...

I'm currently managing a large stand of tanoak with an eye to long term value. The stand started with several thousand stems per acre primarily sprouting from rings, suggesting that old growth stems were harvested when the big douglas fir was cut. We have pruned the rings back to leave the dominant stems, generally no more than 4 per clump. I've been harvesting the firewood and chipping the smallest stems and tops onto the ground deepening the soil. Over the next few years we will selectively cull out stems with firewood harvests to leave the tallest and straightest stems for high end lumber.

It doesn't make sense to me why anyone would trade a perfectly straight 80 year old hardwood for a pine seedling. In 40 years when that pine might yield a few 2x4's that tan oak is going to be 120 years old and worth 10 times as much in a niche market.

Ernie Branscomb said...

Anon

I agree that using the Tan Oak makes more sense than killing it. They did a lot of chipping the Tan Oak for electric co-generation plants for awhile.

Mostly, I think that everything will be in turmoil for awhile. Maybe next time around we will be more clever.

Matt B said...

Getting back to the original question...does that mean that the RFFI would be willing to GIVE the tan oak away? I have a number of good ideas but they all require economies of scale. I think 50,000 acres would qualify. Who do I need to contact about this?

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