What happened? It seems that a couple of years went by while I dozed, or hid from the pandemic! And now…, I am older and a lot has changed!
My last entry on December 23, 2019 spoke of a “Squirrel”-type of behaviour. Basically, I guess that I got “squirrelled” for 2 1/2 years!
Anyway, it is time to share a new tale!
Several weeks ago, I was contacted by my brother-in-law, Lars, who, along with his brother, Steve, both work in the forest industry. They had encountered an interesting individual who had developed a fascination with Arbutus wood. I was sent a picture of what appeared to be a bunch of logs in a swamp. When I asked for more details, I was told that the individual, named Lisle Babcock, had Arbutus wood in a swamp. I pointed out that Arbutus won’t grow in swampy areas, but was told…”No, he stores arbutus logs underwater!” This, I had to see!
A few days later Lars picked me up and we headed out towards Nanoose to meet up with Lisle and Steve. We drove a kilometre or so off the highway and turned off into Lisle’s driveway onto his 75 acre property. Skid roads headed off into various portions of the property, and after a quick stop at his house to meet his wife, Mary Lou, we headed down one of the roads to search for Lisle. We soon found Lisle at a Wood Mizer portable sawmill where he was cutting and sorting some wood. (I should point out that there are 4 Wood Mizers on his property!)
Lisle is short and powerfully built with a bit of a limp. He was very welcoming and friendly, and offered to give me a lift in his ATV to the various “ponds” on his property while the two brothers hiked on ahead. (BTW…at the first Wood Mizer he also had a “lathe” attachment which could probably accommodate a 10’ log for turning!) He grabbed an arbutus board that he had rough cut on the Wood Mizer and threw it on the back of the ATV and we headed to the first of about 4 ponds that we visited.
Three of the 4 ponds were “full” of arbutus – forced underwater by alder and spruce logs piled on top of them. The fourth pond was in the process of being “stocked”. The arbutus for most of the stock piles came from logging operations on the Malahat, but some came from Mosaic operations which is how he came to meet Steve and Lars. He had popped into a Mosaic office one Saturday to ask about acquiring Arbutus firewood. He was told by Steve that Mosaic doesn’t have any, but a contractor had some piled up as part of his contract work with the company. Negotiations took place with the contractor, and Lisle acquired the logs.
Lisle had heard that wood stored underwater could be preserved for years, and since Arbutus is notorious for checking, twisting and splitting in the drying process, he decided to dig some holes on his property and fill them with water. Luckily, upon digging he discovered two things:
- A high water table.
- A blue clay base which would keep water in the holes.
These holes became the storage ponds for his newly acquired arbutus logs.
Now…, to back up a bit, we need to know a bit more about Lisle. Lisle is a farmer who is mostly known for his development and farming of “Buck Brand” oranges which are sold mainly to Thrifty Foods in BC. (www.centralcoop.coop/entry.php?BID=117). After he sold the orange groves in California, he bought a chunk of property southeast of Kanab, UT where he raises premium beef. However, his search for new ventures brought him to Vancouver Island where he looked specifically for a wooded property with streams. He found it and began the latest venture.
Back to my visit…
After seeing the 25’ deep ponds and the amazing underwater storage, we headed for the second Wood Mizer site where we viewed the first lot of previously cut, stickered, stacked AND strapped bundles of rough-cut Arbutus boards. (BTW2…Lisle goes around to the strapped bundles every few weeks and tightens the straps to ensure that drying is controlled evenly throughout the bundle.) A 24” planer nearby was turned on and Lisle ran several pieces of the dry, but long-soaked Arbutus boards through the planer to show us the quality of the grain. He pointed out that the wood was “cured” almost to the point of no twisting, checking or cracking, and that the rough cut boards were virtually stable AFTER cutting! The planed surfaces of the arbutus board showed some wonderful grain, and amazing colours with reds, oranges and blues which Lisle feels come from the alkali chemicals in the clay soil water. (Alkali in forest soils?? That was new to me!).
Further explorations took us to a third Wood Mizer site with 4 long storage containers almost full of rough-cut boards – stickered, stacked and strapped! He also had the most amazing burl I had ever seen – about 8 feet in diameter and 4’ thick! Many of the stacks contain live-edge slabs that are 2” to 4” thick.
After I got home from this tour, I discovered that I had left my special earbuds in Lisle’s vehicle during my visit. However there was good news… Lisle invited me out again for a second visit to pick up the earbuds. So I asked Steve Neil to join me and I had a second look at the woodlot. I think that Steve Neil was as profoundly impressed as I had been on the first visit.
Lisle is now looking for ways to market and sell this wood, and his hopes may lie overseas. Time will tell. He has wonderful stories to tell of his business and life experiences, and I am hoping that one day soon, we will be able to have him as a presenter at one of our meetings. He has also expressed a positive interest in having our members out to visit his property for a “Shop Tour”. We’ll begin to look into planning that soon. Meanwhile, if you are interested in more about this story, Lisle’s contact information is:
E-Mail Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cell Phone: 559-333-8226
I also look forward to hearing more of Lisle’s ventures. Meanwhile, I wish you all a very safe and enjoyable summer! Take care!
Tony Dobson, President