The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Morning Start-up

Morning Start-up

From somewhere deep in the sawmill floor, there starts a rumble.  

Good morning, Beastie.  I‘ve missed you these months since I last visited.

It is no mere random rumble that signals the waking day.  I know, from years of listening, exactly what motor was just started.  And can predict the next.  Far across the expanse, a conveyor belt begins its toil.  A floor chain begins to drag its way through smooth-worn races.  The whine of hydraulic systems scream to life.  Like an orchestra warming up and tuning in its pit, the double bass and the oboe thrum, the trumpet blares, the flutes trill.  The saws whisper to life around their wheels.  I stand on a catwalk, waiting for my work to begin, to see how well each machine operates.  My calibration work the previous night will prove itself through repetition.  

But first, I let them warm up.

I listen to their private rituals, the sub-steel begins to vibrate with a complex harmonic, each machine putting some timbre into the growing cacophony.  I smell the air filling with the scent of saw-guide water, lube oil, hot rubber as a conveyor settles into its track, and yesterday‘s dust is disturbed and wafts like yesterday‘s coffee.

But I do not look.  Not yet.  I hear.  I smell.  I feel the pulse quickening through the steel beneath me.  I have no need for eyes yet to know what I sense.

And then, it begins.  From the dark void where the biggest machines loom like monsters in a closet, the mighty bandsaws sing out their first long notes.  16 feet of log is cut into three unequal parts, two dropping off to the sides, the center carried on through till it reaches the end of it run to the next transfer.  With a heavy, lumbering thud it roll onto its infeed toward the canter.

From my place between the edgers, the scent of green pine sawdust wafts and flows with Life, spreading over the mill like a morning mist.  The newly-opened wood has announced its arrival.   I still wait, still hearing the rhythm of motors, knowing where each mechanical thud indicates the arrival and passing of a board.  I still only smell.  Only feel.  It is not yet time to see.

Not quite yet.

The first boards crest the incline, are singling up into their lugs, and dropping over the decline one at a time.  I know this with my back turned.  They trigger the infeed table, and nearby mechanisms join the jangled rhythm of the music.  I recognize through all this seeming random vibrations the peculiar pulse of the individuals like footsteps of old friends approaching my door.  And still, I do not see yet.  Almost, but not quite yet.

And then, with a crack like thunder a Board is caught up in mechanical forces, drawn onto the infeed table, and positioned for its sacrifice.  Boom, there‘s the first press roll.  It won‘t be long now – a few seconds in fact.  One roll, two rolls, and then out of nowhere the shrill sound of three circular saws slashing their way through the board.  There will be two pieces for me to watch.  Three rolls, four rolls, and they begin to lift in reverse order.  It is directly behind me, hidden in an iron chamber. But the sawdust begins to spit out down the conveyor below me.  The first board is nearly here.  Now.  Now is the time to see.

And suddenly, in my mind the entirety of this huge monster of a mill disappears from me, and only this conveyor exists.  At five-hundred feet per minute the light blonde pine of two boards and two edgings burst out from under the catwalk and into view, flying with sure efficiency.  In a fraction of a second I see where the saws cut, analyzing the position of the cut edges against what I know should be.  One twelve-footer and one eight-footer have been made.  The edgings, not even but well-balanced, have been separated from the board as close to the edge as the wane allows for these boards. They are parted from the boards at the end of the conveyor, by steel fingers that lift only the boards, and drop into the waste conveyor while the boards travel on to their next destination.

It was a good cut.

And then, as seamlessly as it left, the rumbling roar of the mill floods back into my consciousness, and my eyes see nothing again.  In a half-hour, the entirety of my mind will have tuned itself to the rhythmic dance, cycling between seeing and feeling several times a minute.

But for now, this first board is alone.  There is a hole in my mind where the second board should be, and it niggles at my awareness.  I finally turn, and see that the operator is wrestling the Board back into position – it had twisted sideways.  He will leave it once it‘s restored, boards move better in groups sometimes.  And so I go back to waiting, listening, marveling at the Beast, at its pulse and rhythm, at the ripple of its sinews.

Yes, good morning Beastie.  It‘s been too long.


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One Response to “Morning Start-up”

  1. Brig says:

    OMG… this is beautiful. Thank You!
    I can hardly wait to share it with my son, the builder of mills.

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