The Irresistible Force

    A fella set up a steam sawmill on Front Street in Port Orchard, where logs from all over the county could accumulate in salt water and provide year-round employment for the mill hands so the mill wouldn't have to lay people off in winter.
    The customers beefed because rough sawn lumber was full of slivers. But dressed lumber from Seattle was making sissies of carpenters who formerly regarded shedding a pint of blood a day from slivers as unremarkable.
    Meeting competition head on, the mill manager ordered a planer shipped over from Seattle. They had a spare pulley on the line shaft so the planer was set up and running the same day it arrived. The first board out was planed smooth as silk, and the hands all stood around admiring the finish.
    This was too much for Ole, the Scandinavian skeptic. He said in a spray of tobacco juices and Swedish accent, "Ya, ve guve her a big test, you betcha." Before anyone could move to stop him, Ole shoved a piece of pitch fir sawed from a standing snag into the infeed. This plank was so full of pitch it wouldn't float in salt water.
    The rollers bit, the pitch oozed like maple syrup from a sponge, the governor on the lineshaft engine opened up a couple of notches, the cutterhead moaned--but no shavings came out. The building shook from the laboring engine and the belts smoked. The more the pulley turned, the more pitch oozed; and a terrible strain came on the new planer.
    Now, the planer was made from the finest materials available, and its design was superb. No plank from a mortal tree could stop it. But the machine shuddered and strained. The lineshaft engine governor hit its stops, and 500 horsepower traveled the length of the shop on the 4-inch shaft, out the cast iron pulley, and down the 8-inch-wide, three-ply belt.
    The plank fed steadily in. First thing you knew the infeed end of the machine started to pucker up; and, before you could say "Jack Robinson," the planer folded up and ate itself, leaving the still-smoking belt hanging from the drive pulley and the hold-down bolts sticking out of the floor.
    All the hands could do was stare. The planer, plank and all, disappeared before their very eyes. There was total silence in the mill except for the lineshaft engine, now relieved of its load and idling smoothly, and the "flap, flap" of the now empty belt.
    There wasn't a thing the manager could do. He could imagine what the owner would say about an expensive, brand new machine disappearing off the mill floor. Being a practical man, he telegraphed Seattle to report he received an empty crate, missing the planer he ordered.
    Even today, when the air is misty you can stand in the parking lot by "A" dock of the marina where the mill used to stand and see a faint fluttering where the very stuff of space is bent and distorted--where a pitchy piece of Doug fir met a three-ton cast-iron-and-forged-steel planer and caused it to collapse on itself, leaving something . . . strange . . . in the middle of the air.

. . . Forrest Addy

 

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© 1999 by Forrest Addy. All rights reserved.
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