It measured 15 foot around the base and stood over 120 feet tall. It was located at 2427 Allegany Avenue and stood a quiet sentinel over the Sandpoint Gardens Addition for longer than the addition had been there. It was a sapling before the First World War and saw the beginnings of the automobile and the industrial revolution. A lighting strike in the spring of 1998 sealed its doom. A large vertical chunk of bark was blown from thirty foot up its trunk all the way to the ground. It tried to heal itself over the past four years, but an invasion of thousand leggers and grubs continued to make their home in the cambium layer between the bark and heartwood.
My son Rob and my friend Boyd helped trim some of the major branches, but not having a saw or truck big enough, I was forced to bring in a professional tree service to finish the Job. Kenny Barker of Top Notch Tree Service got the call. He scheduled the drop for Saturday, April 6th.
The Cottonwood was considered sacred among Native Americans. The Hopi carvers would take a root from the cottonwood and create beautiful and powerful kachinas, (small Indian figurines). According to Indian lore, the first teepee was developed by an Indian folding a cottonwood leaf around his finger. I wasn't interested in figurines or teepees, I was just anxious to get the tree on the ground. The first limb on this tree was twenty-four feet in the air and the trunk at the first juncture was an elliptical shape with major and minor axis of five by four feet. The next major junction was at the forty-two foot mark. The forty-two feet of trunk weighed in excess of 34,570 pounds, not including the upper branches.
Kenny tied one end of his 130 foot of tree rope at the forty-two foot junction and hitched the other end to the rear of his boom truck and pulled out the slack. He fired up his Sthil and sliced deep into the base of the tree, and cut out the front notch.
His saw was barely big enough to cut to the hinge he was leaving. Kenny walked around to the back of the tree and began the back cut. When the saw was buried deep into the back cut, he stopped and set three wedges behind the chain, blocking the tree from falling the wrong way. With his helper in the truck, and the wedges in place he cut the rest of the way to the hinge.
Kenny has dropped a lot of trees in the Fort Wayne area, and he comes highly recommended, but still, I had a lot of concerns. What if the rope broke, or the tranny gave out on the truck. What if the half-dead tree was miss-weighted and all the standing weight was aimed in the wrong direction. The hinge was two inches by five feet. One hundred twenty square inches of hinge now held the seventeen-ton, one hundred twenty-foot tree. What if the hinge was rotted on the inside and the tree twisted and fell the wrong direction?
Even when you've taken all the precautions, there is always the moment before the big tree moves. It is that dread and paranoia that quickens your heart as your mind races through all the negatives.
Kenny grabbed his sledge, motioned to his partner to put more load on the rope and than drove the wedges deeper into the back cut.
The first movement was very insignificant. The wedges loosened and the back cut opened a fraction of an inch. It was awesome. A giant tree moved and then continued to move. It gained momentum as it fell. Down it came. All that potential energy that had accumulated over a hundred years of growing came crashing down. The dead, brittle branches exploded as the tree hit the ground showering splinters high into the air.
It was high fives all around and a huge sigh of relief, and now all that remained was to clean up this danged old cottonwood.