2017-06-15 / Editorial Page

Long Gone Sawdust Piles

Across The Savannah
By TOM POLAND

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I a “ a ‘ “ a one behind Lauren B. Mims’ house that we spent many hours playing on. As I remember, the real terror story was that deep in the bowels of the sawdust pile it could catch fire from spontaneous combustion and a hapless lad could be playing on it when it would collapse and he’d be sucked into an inferno. That prospect always got my attention but not so much that it prevented us from playing on it anyway.”

Plummeting into an inferno ... That sounds a bit like dropping into Hades, does it not.

I was happy to see Gary Ward join our discussion because he possesses more than a bit of knowledge about all matters sawmill and sawdust. Said Gary, “Portable sawmills were all over this area in the late 40s, not so many in the 50s as most of the timber was cut out of this area. Clark Hill Lake took up a huge portion of the timber-producing area. There was a resurgence of mills in the early 60s as more timber matured. By the early 70s, almost all of these mills were gone. The sawdust piles from this era have pretty much deteriorated until there is almost nothing left. Skip is right that they could get hot enough to burn due to the composting. But if they did catch fire, they mostly would just simmer along because the fire would not get enough oxygen to burn. It was a lot of fun playing on sawdust piles!”

Gary added that “The old ‘pecker wood’ mills were not very efficient. Typically, the lumber was cut and stacked for air-drying right in the woods at the mill site. When dry, it would be hauled to planer mills such as Cullers Lumber Company, Dorn Lumber Company in McCormick, or Cox Lumber Company in Troy, South Carolina. They could not operate in one place for more than a few weeks before the sawdust and other waste started getting in the way. Then they would have to move the mill, even if only a short distance away. But the entire operation could be moved in one day. It became more efficient to haul the logs to large stationery mills such as Pol­lard Lumber Company or the mill my father and I ran in McCormick. And that’s more than you wanted to know about saw milling!”

Big piles of sawdust, yet another thing today’s kids miss out on. I remember walking into the edge of Mr. Henry’s sawdust pile just a bit. Sort of like the ocean, I didn’t want to go in too deep for fear of the unknown. As a kid I wanted to climb to its very top but I didn’t. Like Debbie, I had been warned you could fall into its collapsing midst and suffocate. No guts, no glory as they say. I should have climbed it.

Sawdust piles. At least I have memories. The next time I’m home, I’ll go look at where Mr. Henry’s old sawmill pile long stood. Maybe something will remain of it, a piece of old machinery. Maybe. As for the sawdust itself, I’m sure time, rain, and even termites took care of it long ago. I can still hear that old mill working, though. A rising and falling sound like a giant cicada.

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