Charity (Tree Work) Begins at Home: An Uplifting Experience

One of the splintered locust trees lies where it landed, on the author’s truck. All photos courtesy of Donald Blair.

June 2021 marked the 50th anniversary of my entry into the profession of arboriculture as an adult (next year, 2022, will be the 100th anniversary of my late father’s founding of M. Blair Tree Experts). So what better way to celebrate than to get hit with the strongest storm in decades at my home?

In minutes, we had more tree damage than in all other storms added up over the past 30 years. The high winds blew the tops out of two large locust trees in a group of five. One tree splintered off at the ground. Of course, the one with the largest diameter, leaning over a van at a 45-degree angle, stood strong through the whole thing and lost only a few very minor limbs. That, of course, is the one tree I would have bet on for total failure.

The tree that splintered off at the ground had been more than 50 feet tall. At about 35 feet, the trunk and scaffold limbs made serious contact with my prized Toyota Tacoma pickup.

I am still heavily involved in many phases of arboriculture – consulting, training, equipment design and sales. I still serve on boards and committees dedicated to improving the knowledge of trees and safer ways of working with them. Heck, I’m a CTSP!

With all of that on my shingle, I am no longer a licensed, insured and equipped full-service tree care firm. I’ve still got all the hand tools, pruning tools, chain saws, rigging and climbing gear needed to do what needs to be done around the house, but I have no crane, chipper or dump truck at my disposal. I thank the Lord every day I get up that I don’t have all that, by the way.

A handy floor jack was put into use.

I knew all my friends in the county who operate full-service, equipped and insured tree services would be swamped with calls. I would need some aerial-lift work and a lot of chipping later, but right then I had to get the driveway cleared and my truck out from under that miserable tree. My wife’s even more prized Mercedes E-350 Sport took a few smaller dents, but was not entrapped nor anywhere near as damaged. But she was parked next to me in the same driveway, so all the more reason to get the driveway cleared … right then!

One challenge with storm-damage cleanup of this nature is not doing more damage than is already done. With the entire weight of this tree resting heavily on the pickup bed and cab in several places, I could not just start cutting. There also was no way I could lift this tree off my truck as I could with a crane or the Hobbs H-2 lowering device, since there was no place to hang a block above the tree.

OK, rule out the conventional solutions and reach into the bag of simple tricks and pull out the vehicle floor jack that was 50 feet away, resting in my garage.

I measured the distance from the pan of the jack to the underside of the first point of contact with the truck, reasoning that if I could lift it there, it should raise clear at the other points of contact. As it turned out, I had a log from another tree that was so perfect it was already cut to length to serve as a prop.

Like most people, I love it when a plan works right the first time. Just as I thought (OK, hoped), the 3-ton jack raised the entire 50-foot tree up and off of all contact points with the truck. From there, it was a simple matter of starting from the tips and working the limbs back until the truck was free.

I pulled my truck ahead and out of the way and proceeded to clear the driveway. First thing in the morning, my wife called the insurance company while I went back to cutting up the downed wood and felling the standing remains of the others.

The jack supports the remaining trunk.

One of my best friends, age 78, brought over his heavy-duty, two-axle dump trailer, and I filled it with 150 cubic feet of the split 18-inch locust for his use. We used my little John Deere Gator to skid all the brush to a site with good access to a chipper and staged it in piles with all the butts forward.

The tree company I called sent out one employee, truck and chipper. He had it all chipped up and dumped in 90 minutes; we’ll spread the chips under the trees and in the gardens. They’ll be back soon to take down a leaning locust that has its top lodged among the live limbs. There is no safe place to tie in, and I know where the line is drawn between what I can do comfortably and safely and what might add me to Dr. John Ball’s statistics on old guys who got killed climbing.

No matter how many years you’ve been doing this work, you have the opportunity to learn something new, unique or productive every day. On a good day, you might bag all three, as I did on June 21, 2021.

Donald F. Blair, CTSP, is president of Blair’s Arborist Equipment, LLC, in Hagerstown, Maryland, and a member of TCIA since 1982.

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