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Friday, March 27, 2009

HOM: The Layout

I guess my reputation had preceded me to Swing Shift. When I reported to Don Jones, the foreman, he didn't even mention the green chain. He just handed me an odd ax-like tool and said "This is a Picaroon." Over the next three years I got well acquainted with it. I was gonna be a deck hand. I guess this is a good place to describe the mill layout, or at least the part of it I worked in. I'll try not to get too muddled up describing everything. You will be tested on this as I go. Logs were trucked into a compound called the log yard and stacked for use. A big fork lift would pick up a load of the logs and drop them onto a ramp, and one at a time they would be fed into a machine like an oversized pencil sharpener that peeled the bark & limb stubs off of them. George Gilbert ran the barker. Next, they were conveyed into the mill where they were buzzed into roughly eight foot lengths by a block saw, a giant circle-saw blade on a swinging arm.. These lengths were kicked into a bin by a mechanical arm. When the bin was full, another fork lift took them out and stacked them in a kiln. Fred Tobiason ran the block saw. The kilns were a set of steam heated rooms just wide enough for the logs and fairly deep. When a kiln was filled, the end would be closed off and steam turned on. When the logs were ready to be peeled, a kiln would be opened up and another fork lift would begin taking them out and dumping them on the infeeds to the lathes. Most of the time both forklifts would be running at full speed to keep up, with one vat being filled as another was emptied. Randy Burns ran the Cat 922A forklift that fed the lathes. Orville Robbins ran the Cat filling the kilns. The area the Cats had to maneuver in was limited and there were a lot of near-misses. There were two lathes, and the layout, viewed from above, would have looked like a capital H. The two top arms of the H were the infeeds, the crossbar would be the deck, the lathes were at either end of the deck. The bottom arms led into the green chains. The kilns were set like capital I's just above the H, the barker/blocksaw were to the right of the #1 infeed. The infeeds were basically dual conveyor belts that carried the logs forward. On the #1 lathe, the one on the right side looking from above, the logs would then be lifted up a steep incline. The setup looked a bit like a capital A, but with the leg closest to the lathe shortened and lifted. Larry McIlhargey or Don Salo usually ran the #1 lathe. When a log hit the top of the A, it would roll down against two arms that held it in place. A pair of hydraulic arms would push against the ends of the log to center it in the arms. The charger consisted of a pair of U-shaped clamps on a carriage. When the operator triggered the charger, it would move back under the arms holding the log and the U-clamps would tilt up. The arms holding the log would relax and the log would roll into the clamps, the arms would move back up, the infeed would advance another log and it would roll against the arms, ready for the next cycle. At the same time, the charger would move forward and the clamps rotate so that they were horizontal. When they stopped moving forward, two metal chucks would slide out of a carriage mechanism and impale the log, somewhat like sticking nails into the ends of a cob of corn. The charger would release the logs and retract and the carrier would begin spinning the log and moving it forward into the knives. There were a pair of these knives placed end to end, and were 1/2" thick slabs of steel, 8" wide and over 4 feet long with one edge honed razor sharp. The thickness of the veneer being peeled from the logs was set by the gap between the knives and a set of rollers. The operator would open the gap to peel off the outer part of the log and get it trued up. The stuff he peeled off would drop through a trap door into a waste conveyor called the Hog. When the log was fairly true, the operator would close the gap back up and begin peeling off a thin layer of veneer. This veneer was run onto a series of conveyor belts, passed though a clipper that chopped it into lengths, and then to the green chain. The remains of the log, called a core, was dropped out of the lathe and a new log fed in. The operator would flip open a trap door, the core would fall onto a belt, the belt would carry it up onto the deck and it would be dumped into a bin. When the bin was full, the core would be banded up and fork-lifted outside onto a truck. A complicated system? Yeah, somewhat. Foolproof? No. Trouble-free? OMG NO!! TBC (Me) (Blacktail Books)