Monday, February 13, 2012

Fun, With Chainsaws

The summer my Uncle Ron purchased “The Ranch” I was hired to help clean up the place. The grounds were littered with miscellaneous farm equipment, a clothes washer, steel barrels full of broken glass, a giant boiler that looked exactly like the front of a steam train, a few acres of black berry bushes, a moldering guest house, and so much unidentified junk that when we pulled up the driveway that first day, I wondered just what I’d signed up for. And that was before I even got a look at the inside of the main house that was perched on the edge of the ravine.

It had all the makings of a disaster movie or at the very least a tetanus shot but it wasn’t until a few weeks had passed that the incident with the chainsaws occurred.

From the main road, running parallel to the driveway, was an access road to the ravine and the lower part of the property. Half way down the access road, two trees had fallen and blocked the way. Because of the angle of the bank above it and some large trees further into the ravine, the fallen trees formed a chest-high blockade.

My uncle tasked me with the start of what would later be dubbed “The Wall” in a tone of voice typically used by those suffering post traumatic street disorder. The theory behind The Wall was essentially to stop the house from sliding into the ravine. Having spent some time inside the house by this time, I wondered if letting it slide into the ravine would have been more efficient (and probably more fun).

But I was being paid to work, not think.

To get to the site of The Wall, I had to travel down the access road. Having to duck under the trees while pushing a wheelbarrow full of crushed rock down a relatively steep incline was not a task I enjoyed so I was much relieved when Uncle Ron hefted a chainsaw down the road to take care of the problem. The trees were going.

“This’ll get rid of those those damn trees,” he said. At least, that’s what I think he said. Uncle Ron has a mumbling way of talking. If you weren’t paying attention you might think he was just clearing his throat.

He yanked the the starter and the chainsaw buzzed to life. He brought the spinning chain upwards and started into the first tree. He pulled the saw out and resumed cutting from the top, sawdust billowing out in a cloud. Then the machine squealed horribly and died.

Both of us failed to realize that because of the angle of the fallen trees, after four or five inches into wood, the tree pinch together and seized the chainsaw. Fortunately, Uncle Ron came prepared. He brought a complement of three chainsaws of varying length and power so he went back up to the van for the Mama Bear chainsaw.

I took advantage of the problem by leaning against my shovel, taking an unscheduled break.

Uncle Ron checked the oil and gas levels and started the chainsaw. He was careful to keep the saw parallel to Papa Bear. I had heard about loggers losing fingers (or worse) from snapped chains, so I was glad that Uncle Ron was keeping his safety foremost in his mind. Or as close to safety as you can get without the use of protective eye wear, gloves, and steel-toed boots.

Then Mama Bear got stuck. The same brief squeal and the chainsaw went dead.

The two chainsaws pinched in place about five feet off the ground could have been considered art. Performance art even, if I could have predicated what was about to happen.

I admired the artwork while Uncle Ron grabbed Baby Bear, hopefully the “just right” chainsaw that would cleave the tree and clear the path. We’d deal with freeing Mama and Papa after the obstacle was out of the way.

Again, the loud buzzing of a chainsaw filled the air. Uncle Ron took his time, shaving away small areas then going for the bisection. It looked good. I looked like the first of the trees would be clear and, hopefully without any further problems, the second tree would also be cleared and I could get back to work.

With a familiar squeal, Baby Bear ground to a halt roughly a third of the way through the tree. Uncle Ron let fly a few expletives, turned on his heal and headed back up the hill, returning moments later with a large axe. He swung the axe a dozen times, chipping bits of the tree. He paused, then swore again and continued chipping away at the tree.

I was still resting against my shovel when Uncle Ron finally cut through the first tree with an ear-splitting "CRACK!"

The top of the tree hanging into the ravine suddenly gave way and I’m not completely sure how it happened but Uncle Ron was launched into the air, fired almost horizontally into the gully. He was still holding the axe. One of the chainsaws dropped to the ground, the other two held firm.

I dropped my shovel and ran down the hill, fully expecting to be witness to a gruesome sight. But there was Uncle Ron already scrabbling back up the steep incline, crashing through the bushes swinging the axe and carelessly spraying profanity. I’m not sure which was more effective at clearing the way.

Working together we managed to free Mama and Papa, then Uncle Ron used the axe to clear the other tree, which snapped and dropped into the ravine just like the tree before it, though this time without a swearing, axe-wielding cannonball to accompany it.

I continued to move gravel down the hill for The Wall.

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