Dayton Brothers Sawmill-“Green” Long Before Its Time

DFH Volume 1 Issue 22

Dayton Brothers’ Lumber Company was an “environmentally green” company as early as the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.  This was 30 years before we began to hear about “green” on a national scale.  Besides their obvious cash crop of lumber, the brothers sold every scrap product of the log, letting nothing go to waste. 

A person riding on top of a dirt road

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Most obvious was the sawdust pile.  Sawdust was sold to farmers for spreading over the floor of the barn’s cow stalls to make cleanup more sanitary. One day a farmer drove his truck into the lumber yard expecting to pick up a load of sawdust.  The truck had a Budweiser sign on it.  Dad refused to service him because of the sign.  Dad was opposed to alcohol of any kind.  The farmer came back later with a milk sign on the truck and dad sold him his load of sawdust. 

If we did a lot of sawing, then the sawdust pile grew to mountainous heights (25-30 feet).  Kids loved to play in it.  I remember one time it was covered with newly fallen snow and Roger skied down it.  Under pressure and decay from both high concentrations of moisture and lack of sunlight, the sawdust would generate lots of heat.  In fact, sawdust piles have been known to spontaneously combust into flame. Kids would dig deep into the pile just far enough  to feel its heat.   Sawdust serves as an excellent insulator.    Around the periphery of the pile where internal temperatures remained normal, you were guaranteed to find snow if you dug down about a foot to two feet…in July and August.  I can remember Roger and I throwing snowballs at each other on a hot July day when the air temperature was probably 85°. 

A house with trees in the background

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When the lumber had been airdried in the yard, it was taken to the planing mill where it was “”smoothed’ on all four sides.  The dry shavings were sold to butchers to spread over the flooring of their butcher shops.  There was an old, deaf, Afro-American man who used to buy shavings by the large-truckload and resell them to butcher shops.  He had exclusive rights (preferential treatment) to Dayton Brothers shavings.  Dad called him “the darky.”  This was before desegregation and dad meant no disrespect.  Dad knew his name, but we didn’t.  We knew him only as the darky.  When dad had a load of shavings ready, he would call the old white-haired man and tell him that a load was ready for him.  Humm…something is suspicious. How could dad call him if he was deaf?  Must be his wife answered.  He always arrived with a cup of coffee and a doughnut for each of us. Dad would send me to the shaving pile to help the old man fill his truck.  He would put the shavings into potato sacks (burlap bags) each weighing probably 20-30 pounds when full.  It was my job to pack them into his truck as tightly as I could. I was only a pre-teen, so it was hard work.  I remember that one day on a Saturday evening dad and I drove to the sawmill to do a security check and discovered that the old man had left a bird house kit for me in the planing mill.  The world would be a far better place if we only had more great men like the darky.  He was like a grandpa to me. Even though we couldn’t communicate with speech, we communicated in many other ways like the exchange of genuine, loving grins at each other.

The first cuts of the log are called slabs which are sold as firewood for heating homes and for campfires.  Dad would load the “slab truck” and, when it was full, then we would head out across town to deliver it to the person who had ordered it. The slab dump truck was very old and beat up and was an embarrassment every time I rode in it.  I hoped I would not be seen by anyone I knew.   But it did the job and helped to keep the community green (except for the smoke that was emitted as it was consumed by fire).

Conveyer for cutoff saw

The lumber was sold by length, width and thickness (board feet).  The lumber’s length was always an even numbered size between 4’ and 14’.  So the cutoff saw cut the length to conform to these dimensions.  This was perfect for campers.  Dayton Brothers had already cut the lumber into a length that could be tossed into the fireplace or firepit.  As I recall, the price was $5.00 per pickup truck load.  This “dirt cheap” slab wood, kept the slab pile empty or small, which was Dad’s objective. Too large a pile of “cutoff” slabs was a nuisance.

So the Dayton brothers were “Green” long before it was a politically correct treatment of our environment.  It didn’t make them rich…it made them responsible community citizens.

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