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Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site Could Use A Few Good Trees

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Water provides the energy needed to drive the machinery at Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site, but without waterwheels to capture that energy, well, all that energy would be lost. To keep things running, the park site currently is building five waterwheels by hand. What's missing, though, are some good trees. Large white oak trees, specifically, that can be fashioned into shafts for the waterwheels.

"We're eager (borderline desperate...) to find five large white oak trees," says Jonathan Parker, the site's chief of interpretation, education, and partnerships. "These trees will serve as new hubs/shafts for five of our working waterwheels in the park. The waterwheels are fundamental elements to the interpretation and enjoyment of the park, hence their necessity and the urgency of this search."

While the historic site, located in Saugus, Massachusetts, is not ready to accept the trees, it is trying to locate them in advance. The hunt has been ongoing for 10 months. While the Park Service has been working with an experienced timber company to locate suitable trees, so far none have been found. The existing waterwheels are the most popular visitor demonstrations in the park, but are rapidly aging and require replacement - some are already inoperable.

The trees -- which must be at least 34 inches in diameter and at least 28 feet long -- are the center shaft for the waterwheels. Once suitable trees are located, each will be cut, debarked, and turned on a large lathe to become shafts for an individual waterwheel. The park staff is building waterwheels of various sizes and each wheel needs a shaft that is custom-fit to the individual wheel.

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If you have some trees that might be suitable, and you're willing to donate them, please email or call Chief of Maintenance Tim Thornhill at (978) 740-1671.

If you can't help with the tree search, you should put Saugus Iron Works on your to-do list for touring the National Park Service. The physical site itself dates to the 1600s, when an iron works was established on the banks of the Saugus River and launched the future of an iron and steel industry in the New World. Today you can "explore the place where European iron makers brought their special skills to a young Massachusetts colony. This nine-acre National Park includes working waterwheels, hot forges, mills, an historic 17th century home and a lush river basin."


Maybe if they didn't cut down all the old growth white oak trees 100 years ago there would still be some around.  Sounds like they should just use plastic, and overlay it with some wood vaneer.  I dont think many are going to care if it's "authentic".  What's next, they'll need a table made out of authentic old growth chestnut tree with a rocking chair made out of elm trees?

Your snark aside, Gary, it sounds like a doable challenge. When I visited Saugus a few years ago I was struck by the authenticity of the site, and noticed nothing faked out of plastic there. I'm fairly certain that the "they" that cut down trees 100 years ago are most likely not the same "they" that are working this problem now.

It sounds good, unless you're one of those 5 poor old white oak trees selected to turned into a spinning water wheel for a faked history re-enactment. Would you rather be a dead spinning water wheel, or an increasingly rare stately giant of the forest that produces a lot of acorns and feeds a plethora of the forests creatures during fall while filtering the air? :O

I know how i'd rather see the stately white oak trees. Let the giant spin wheels be recycled plastic crafted out of ocean trash harvested from the great pacific garbage patch!

So let's cut down some apparently hard to find (i.e., rare) big old white oaks for an IRONWORKS reconstruction!! No, this is crazy, the historians need to be happy with a substitute wood or synthetic. Sorry, this is just crazy.

White oak trees aren't exactly rare, but old growth ones of this size are.  They can grow up to 450 years (or more), so obviously time, and especially the great logging era in the1800s got rid of most of them at that size.  It takes at least 50 years before they become mature enough to produce acorns, but usually the ones that produce an abundant crop of acorns are the very old ones that are a few hundred years old.  They are also the most important food crop for wildlife in fall.  If it's a good mast year, you'll find a lot of wildife hovering around white oak trees when they produce acrons..  So yeah, this seems pretty crazy to me as well.  I imagine back in the 1600s, finding sizable white oak trees was common place.  But in 2014, good luck finding many over a hundred years old.

Our neighborhood still has many majestic white oaks. I have a 30" diameter that sustained considerable damage when it was hit by a car five years ago. I have continued to nurse it to health but would rather donate it before it dies and falls on my house. On the other hand, my neighbor cut his very healthy 40" diameter tree down last fall for more sun for his garden.

I am with you Barbara, however, roseman 2000 has a point, if there is an oak that is in some ones yard that is is dead or dying, and they want to contribute it to the iron works, well..., however to cut down a rare healthy 400 year old tree to maintain the historic integrity of the iron works is not a good idea, at least in my view. Thank you Barbara. 

It's great to see such respect given to old-growth trees; such a contrast

to the days when Forestry Schools basically taught "god made trees to be cut down"

and "decadent old-growth in need of volume removal."  For a better understanding of

what truly was lost during the "trash your old-growth forest era"  when white oaks six

 ft. dbh were commonplace see historic photographs and read:

Tumult on the Mountains: Lumbering in West Virginia 1770-1920 

Roy B. Clarkson (Author)

Historians need to be more realistic researching other building materials in place of sacrificing

more old-growth tree spirits.  Given the blowdown timber during severe storms, these historians

may actually find the old-growth dimensions they say are important.  In contrast,

consider all the old-growth western red cedar sacrificed for wooden shake roofs made

to burn when metal roofs resembling wood shingles would be far less expensive to maintain

and allow the shedding of deep accumulations of ice and snow.

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