Old Chestnut Stump, Potters Mills, PA   E. Daniel Ayres
  Mar 05, 2007 08:22 PST 

I often wonder how big the official measurement of the Chestnut we found on
our 14 acre woodlot in Potters Mills, PA would have been.   My mother
discovered the remains of an ancient tree when she spotted a 3” in diameter
Chestnut whip coming up from a very degraded but definitely logged off
stump.   I know she was hoping it wood bloom, but we had no way to pollinate
if it had.   Back in the 1980’s we took a tape measure to the site and
stretched it from the outside edges of visible remains across the area
encompassed by what had once been the approximate ground level stump
diameter.   By that time, the stump had had probably been rotting for 60
years or more.   The “long way” across was 18’ 8’ and the “short way” was
just about 17’ (16’ 11 ½”)   We gathered from the local word of mouth that
the tree had been harvested when the woodlot was logged in the 1920’s in
anticipation that the Chestnut blight would kill it any way.   The shoots we
saw in the 1980’s died back with cankers on them, so the stump was infected.
I have not seen any signs of life there recently, but we don’t get there
very often any more and the site is a little out of the way from our normal
hiking with access blocked by poison ivy and the local black raspberry and
black berry bushes which have nasty thorns. Some brambles were growing
within the area of the stump when we measured it.

We also have three or four remaining ancient White Oak trees on the
property. The story goes that they were too old and decayed to be deemed
valuable when the loggers were last there. Subsequently, we were approached
by a representative of a local barrel factory with an offer which was more
money than my mother paid for the entire property in the early 1970’s for
the right to harvest just one of them. One of our tenants “poached” one of
the trees after it sustained some additional storm damage, and another was
further degraded one year in the mid ‘80s when an early fall wet snow caught
it with leaves not yet released.   One of its major lateral trunks which
measured 7’ or so in diameter near the main trunk broke off about 20’ above
the ground and the branch was dropped across the road to my parent’s house
by the storm.   My dad heated his home for over two years with the wood
salvaged during the clean up required so that they could re-open the road.
He let the wood dry for two years before he really started burning it.   The
first winter after the winter the log was brought down none of it was
considered dry enough to burn. The fallen piece required cuts from both
sides using our old “logger’s” chain saw which had a blade over 3’ long to
get a “round” we could split from the base of the fallen arm of the tree.
It extended at least 50’ from the point where it snapped off to the point
where the branch pieces started to get small enough to be dragged away to a
burn pile rather than cut into splitting wood or fire logs.   My dad was in
his late seventies at the time, and worked an hour or two a day for more
than two months reducing that windfall piece to stackable firewood, and he
was not averse to using a chain saw.   We rented an hydraulic splitter, but
it could not handle the big rounds and blew out.   My dad had several old
iron wedges and a foot powered grindstone he used to keep them sharp.   I
remember walking a pattern of 6 wedges into one of the bigger rounds with a
big 20lb sledge. It was hard work!!!    

One winter some of the kids staying with my parents built a campfire inside
the hollow trunk of one of these old trees. Four of them stood around it to
get warm, all within the diameter of the base of the tree. They were not
the first ones to build a fire there.   My dad estimated that each of these
great old oaks shaded approximately ¼ of an Acre, and had some branches
reaching as high as 70’ or 80’ off the ground. Note that no proper
measurement tools were used, but he was a retired PhD who had taught Organic
Chemistry for many years and who used a slide rule for various calculations
into his eighties, so area and volume calculations and estimates were second
nature to him.

E. Daniel Ayres, AKA ZundapMan