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A Glimpse Into The Past

September 23, 2020

A Glimpse Into The Past

by Joshua Stevenson

On a balmy Saturday morning in June, I rose with the sun, brewed myself a cup of joe, and donned my work clothes for a day in the sun. Arranged in stacks of 20, rough-hewn lodge pole pine logs sat in the driveway. To quote a friend, I had a “Saturday venture” ahead of me. Over the past few weeks, my brother-in-law and I had cut the logs from a neighbor’s land, helping to thin out the overcrowded forest, and now they all lay ready for a project that was—to be totally honest—quite a large undertaking.

You see, the rural life comes with its own challenges, tradeoffs, and unique adventures—as many of you likely already know. And most rural people, including myself, like it that way. In keeping with the rural, “do-it-yourself” mentality, I and my family have undertaken various DIY projects using “straight-from-the-earth” materials and some good ol’ elbow grease to get the job done right.

That Saturday morning was no different. Instead of spending hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars on treated wooden planks and posts from the hardware store to build our fence, we would use fresh-cut tree logs.

But I couldn’t stop there. Yearning to get a small taste of what it must have been like to be an early American pioneer—armed with only the body and crude hand tools— I decided to strip the logs of their bark using a handheld log stripping tool.

My log stripper consisted of a stout, downward angled steel blade sharpened to a razor’s edge and two wooden handles on the ends facing toward the rear of the tool. To pull the bark off the logs, I would first drive the blade of the stripper into the log and then draw it backwards towards me in a forceful motion. As the blade moved backwards, it pulled a long strip of pine bark off the log, revealing the creamy tan pine wood underneath.

It was backbreaking work. Not to mention, filthy. Every pull of the stripper’s blade caused little explosions of wood chips to sail through the air. Because of the angle, most of those wood chips landed on me. I swear I was still finding them in the washer two weeks later despite the fact that I shook all my clothes out.

The process was also slow. Each roughly ten-foot-long log had to be stripped of its bark on one side, flipped, and stripped of its bark on another side. All in all, I think we ended up flipping each log about four times.

After the bark stripping process was complete, it was time to move on to weatherproofing. Of course, this had to be done. No untreated log would last long in the harsh Colorado winters we experienced every year—least of all those stripped of all their bark. I didn’t want the wood to lose its natural, creamy luster, so I decided that a clear coat polyurethane would be my best option.

Next came digging the post holes for the fence supports. Thinking back, I probably should have tarred the base of each pole before digging the support holes and partially burying the logs. This would have protected the wood from rotting underground. But at the time, I did not consider this, which lead to repairs later on.

By the time the support poles were laid, I think it was past 4 p.m., and I soon realized that this particular Saturday venture would take more than one day. In fact, it ended up taking another three weeks to finish my project. But when the last shaved pole was screwed into place using seven-inch-long lag screws, a creamy white fence made of lodge pole pine logs stretched for over 200 feet down the length of the driveway. It served a very practical purpose: helping to guard vehicles from slipping off the edge of the driveway in deep snow.

But the project meant more to me. It was a way for me to glimpse a tiny piece what it might have been like to live a rural existence during a time when manual labor and wits were the only tools available. That kind of life still has value, I think. My project showed me, as many aspects of the rural life have, that a little hard work is often all that stands between you and an innovation. All those DIY Saturday ventures that occupied people in the past and still enthrall us today add up to a life that, despite its challenges, is worth every ounce of sweat.





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