Giant tree comes down in Trail

Giant tree comes down in Trail

For as long as he has lived at his farm near Trail, Daniel N. Weaver and his family have gazed out their south windows upon a huge gray elm tree that hovered high over their homestead.

More than 100 feet high, the tree was actually deemed the largest tree in Ohio during an Ohio Division of Natural Resources survey in 1987, coming in at the approximate size of an 11-story building. It has since been surpassed by a Siberian elm in Hamilton County.

At its base the tree was close to 8 feet in diameter. It was a mighty giant. The age estimate is close to 200 years, meaning the tree has probably seen days from the era from when John Quincy Adams was elected as the nation’s sixth president.

Chances are good the tree was in its early years of growth during the lifetime of Thomas Jefferson. It has stood through the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, World War I and World War II.

The term “was” must be used because this past year the tree developed a disease and Weaver realized he was going to have to cut the tree down, an undertaking that in itself was no simple task because an ordinary chainsaw had no chance against the behemoth tree.

Fortunately Weaver had been a timber cutter in his younger days and knew what he was doing, but the project was so monumental that he had another professional tree cutter come in and help him with the process. The actual process of cutting the tree down was a time-consuming chore.

“It fought us all of the way. It didn’t want to come down very easily,” Weaver said. “The sound it made when it finally came down was thunderous.”

The actual tree-cutting event drew a fairly large crowd with Weaver estimating there were probably 50 people there to view the spectacle.

The process began with the power company coming out to cut down the higher, overhanging branches. Once just the base trunk and other major limbs remained, it was time to fell the tree, but that would prove to be a struggle.

Smaller chainsaws had no prayer of reaching the center core of the tree to bring it down. Instead Weaver had to use a much larger 48-inch chainsaw with a 42-inch reach.

“It was really something,” Weaver said of cut-down day. “There was a large crowd of people who came to see a tree cut down. That just shows you how big this tree really was.”

Once Weaver cut the tree down, he realized something: The elm was in remarkably good condition for a tree that size and that old that had begun to develop a disease.

“For as old and as large as this tree was, I was amazed at how solid it was all the way through,” Weaver said. “It is clean. We saw the dead limbs start to develop early this year, and we realized that it was going to have to come down.”

As word spread about the downed giant, businesses that deal with wood and furniture started calling. There were a large number of tree-harvesting companies excited about the opportunity to purchase the elm and turn it into something new.

Weaver said area harvesters jockeyed for the right to claim the wood from the gray elm.

After a fierce bidding war, the tree salvage went to Signature Hardwoods, which paid $11,000 to purchase it. While that seems like a lot, the company had once paid $30,000 for a large oak tree, and with Amish-crafted furniture being such a big deal in Amish Country, the bidding war for the gray elm was impressive.

“It’s really a strong piece of wood,” said Ivan Miller, administrator at Signature Hardwoods. “It is very unique to see a gray elm tree that size in that good of condition inside. Usually trees of this size have blight and wind shake damage, and gray elm is particularly susceptible to those diseases, but this one doesn’t show any signs of either.”

Signature Hardwoods purchased the huge trunk and several other large parts of the tree, and Miller said the plan is to cut it sometime in the coming two weeks as weather permits. Once the slabs of elm are cut into 3 1/4-inch, 14-foot lengths, it will take about one year for it to dry properly, at which point it will be sold wholesale to furniture retailers.

Millers said the hope is each slab brings between $1,500 and $2,000, although they will have to wait a year to see what the market is bearing at that time.

“It’s such a beautiful tree. I think you’ll see it selling retail in stores for a whole lot more than what we sell it for,” Miller said. “The sheer size of it is stunning. It looks as though in the middle years of the tree’s life is grew quite rapidly, and I think that is what made it so hearty. It had to have perfect growing conditions for many years to turn out that nice and not show signs of disease.”

Miller said he was shocked at the magnitude of the tree when he first came to inspect it. He noted he had seen the tree many times driving past the Weaver homestead but never realized just how massive the tree was until he took a closer inspection.

While his company has a saw mill, it is designed to handle trees less than 60 inches in diameter. This one dwarfs that, so he had to have someone with a larger portable saw mill come in to saw the tree into slabs.

“Our mill is big, but it couldn’t touch this tree,” Miller said with a laugh. “That just proves how big it is because our mill can handle almost anything.”

While no longer standing, the historic gray elm tree will live on, not in life, but eventually as beautifully crafted table tops.

“It’s kind of sad to see it gone, but when it started to die, we knew it had to come down,” Weaver said of the elm. “It’s nice to know that the wood will be put to good use and it will continue to add beauty in a new way to people’s lives.”

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