I wrote previously about my Thanksgiving in Hiawassee, but I left out some details.

One detail I left out is that it was cold. Because of this, I built a big fire every night, which I slept beside. But, one night it just smoldered. The smoke settled low in the campsite. Cold and curled up in my sleeping bag, I couldn’t escape it. It was like sleeping in a burning building and I coughed and sneezed and hacked all night long. I ended up with a sinus infection. (Related? I don’t know.) And, I left a day earlier than originally planned.

How not to move a heavy log

The second, previously unmentioned event, is the partial destruction of my mill track. With friend Rico’s help, I had previously painstakingly constructed a track of twenty feet made from angle iron and set upon ties milled with the Granberg chainsaw mill. The picture below shows a portion of the track with my tent set up in the background. However, this was the first time that I sought to load a log by myself a log for milling. In the past, I had always worked with a partner. Using two peavey hooks and taking turns, my partner and I would roll the log onto the mill. One partner would roll the log perhaps ninety degrees up some ramps, then the other would hold it in place while the other’s peavey hook was replaced lower on the log. Obviously, this technique could not be deployed single-handedly.

To overcome this handicap of being but one man with two hands I rigged a system involving a (gas-powered) winch, snatch block, and a nylon strap (shown below). The problem is that the winch simply moved too fast. Yes, it readily dragged the log up to the mill, but when the log reached the angle it did not simply roll over the lip of it, as I had envisioned. Rather, it grabbed the iron angle and pushed in the direction of the snatch block. The cross ties, heavy as they are, were no match for the winched log. Before I could stop the power winch, the entire track had been wrecked. The cross ties were now at odd angles to the track, which itself had become loose as the screws holding it to the ties had sheared.

In addition to a broken mill track, I now had the further complication that said track lay underneath a thousand-pound log. For once, I was saved rather than condemned by ingenuity. In this case, I retrieved the hi-lift jack from the ATV, which I then used to lift the end of the log. It was precarious business, but there was no reason that I needed to get near to where the rig might fall on me if it should fail. Indeed, it held well enough for an hour or so as I repositioned the ties, and then the rails, and then screwed the whole thing back together.

The argumentative Lumbersmith

The final unpleasant detail, which I can only now bring myself to write about, is that the Lumbersmith chose this week to do battle.

Knowing I had nearly an entire week, and wanting to make that week as productive as possible, I purposed as soon as I arrived to get the mill in tip-top shape, so fine-tuned that it would hum away all week long, sawing the boards and timbers I had long sought to mill.

The starting point for this tune-up was to fabricate a new blade guard from a piece of plywood I had previously carried and then stashed. At times the band wheels had not been exactly aligned, causing the blade to slip. When it slipped, it would bite into the aluminum guard, which served well to protect that sawyer, but equally well to dull the blade. In fact, fabbing the guard went without a hitch. I used the damaged aluminum blade as a pattern and with the chainsaw carved out an artful arch that would match exactly the portion of the sawmill to be covered.

My next step was to align the blade. Here’s where the trouble started. On the Lumbersmith, the idler wheel of the bandsaw is mounted on an axle welded to a steel plate. The plate is nestled within the cast aluminum frame and adjusted along two axes with set screws. Even after adjusting the screws, I could not quite get the blade aligned under tension as the wheel seemed to deflect inward toward the center of the saw. Perhaps, I thought, the plate is in backward. I henceforth disassembled the saw, rotated the plate 180 degrees, and reassembled it. Imagine my surprise to discover that, once under tension again, the idler wheel again deflected inward. If it was bent it should now be deflected outward. This was fishy! I thus disassembled the saw again (a fourth time, I think) for a closer look at the plate-axle assembly.

Turning the thing over in my hands, I wondered whether or not the axle was bent. Expecting nothing, I tried to push the axle in the opposite direction and was surprised to discover that I could move the axle vis-a-vis the mounting plate with nothing more than the ordinary force of my fingers. As it turned out, the axle (or the weld, it’s not clear which) had corroded and, in a short time, the entire thing came apart in my hands. The reason I had not been able to align the blade was not my poor skill and lack of calibration (though those may have contributed), but because every time I put the blade under tension it bent the idler wheel axle.

This all occurred in the early afternoon the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. What was I to do? Everything I had planned for this week (my one precious week!) depended on operating the sawmill.

Supposing I might somehow repair the Lumbersmith, I frantically called my friend Reese (he of the log arch). Unfortunately, Reese was already gone to Chattanooga for the holiday. I then proceeded, unhappily and with little expectation, to call all of the welders Google could locate in a two-county area. Imagine my surprise (and delight!) to reach Steve Arusa, of Steve’s Welding in Blairsville, Georgia. Yes, Steve was in the shop. Yes, Steve was trying to finish a job for another customer, and, yes, if I came right now he could help me before closing up for the day.

Of course, right now is relative. I suspected that right now might mean something different for Steve, at 3 pm on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and me, with a thirty-five-minute hike just to reach my car (and another half hour after that to get to Steve’s shop). Needless to say, I threw the piece in a rucksack, tightened my boots, tidied camp just a tiny bit (i.e. stowed the food and hung it from a tree in case some animal might notice my brief absence), and took off. An hour later I was in Blairsville. Thirty minutes and eighty dollars after that I had a newly welded axle-plate assembly. (It was fortunate I had put those five twenty-dollar bills in my wallet just the day before.) In another hour and a half, just as the dark was descending, I was back at my camp. A day of milling had been lost, but I was feeling good. I still had four more days before I was expected back at work and the broken mill components had been repaired. The trip was rescued after all.

Eager to make use of the waning daylight and excited to begin milling in the morning, I decided to reassemble the mill then and there, to align the band wheels, to run the engine up just enough to be sure that everything was operational, and to set my mill upon its track where it would be ready for work first thing in the morning. Step one, of course, was to insert the repaired axle-plate assembly, install the band wheel and blade, and perform the alignment. All seemed to go to plan until I again put tension upon the blade and… PLINK. It was the unexpected and unwelcome sound of metal under stress at the point of fracture. Despite all Steve’s efforts (and my eighty dollars), the idler wheel axle once again was not square to the mounting plate. This time, it was not the weld that had broken, but the axle itself.

As it turned out, the Lumbersmith was not to be used on this trip, or possibly ever again, at least by me.