Kentucky Coffeetree

Back in April, Don, Don and Scott drove down to Hillsborough, NC to begin slicing and dicing a downed coffee tree in a friend’s yard. For Logjam, the distance was a bit problematic, and given that this 100 year old tree was large, still green, and therefore heavy and cumbersome, so was the challenge of getting it home.

More than two days of chainsaw grunt work went into our first visit. What we could not haul away in April, we left in a barn…which was most of it.

On June 3rd, the entire Logjam team left Grayson County early in the morning, driving two pickups (one pulling a trailer), one box truck and a back-up car to support the box truck if mechanical problems arose. Don P’s wife, Michelle, was our support. We all arrived in Hillsborough before 10am and began rigging chain hoists, block and tackle, and hooking up a power cable winch. Fortunately for us mountain folk, the barn provided shade on an unfamiliarly hot humid day.

Some of the largest slabs were slid into one of the pickups, intermittently. The barn floor was filled with large limbs and slabs, so we had to think about which vehicle would be better suited for sizes and shapes. And we had to start with what was in front of the pile.

Next was the box truck, to which Don P had just wired a new lift switch, so we had the advantage of a lift gate when needed. Many of the tree limbs had been left in the round, and those limbs were what we grabbed first…one at a time. Getting them up and into the box truck required all of our equipment, goat sense and muscle.

Once the box truck was satisfied with the weight on it, we loaded the trailer, by far the easiest job given its closeness to the ground and the winch action. We managed to load the entirety of our harvest and just in time for a variety of home-made pizzas, fresh garden salad and lemonade…all compliments of Michelle!! The camaraderie always flushes when such rewards are hard earned. We lingered over enthusiastic conversation before heading home.

Don P and Michelle stayed the night, as it was their friend whose tree was gifted, and whose birthday loomed. Don C, Rick, Lukas and Scott all headed back up the mountain under the groan of labored throttles.

The next day, Don, Don, Rick (and Rick’s friend, Tom), Michelle, and Scott attended the off-loading at Don C’s lumber yard. The Artie Zettlemeyer, with the most capable Don P at the wheel, was essential to this smoother operational event, and in under 3 hours all the coffee tree slabs were racked and the limbs safely in place for later slabbing. While we were dodging rain, neighbors John and Brenda showed up to gawk. It is their barn Logjam is helping to build.

In reflection, taking on a tree 3 hours away from our operation might not be the smartest business approach. Coffee trees are ‘rare’, and their wood unique. Gymnocladus dioica is a legume, like the locust, and tends to grow colonially. One theory as to its scarcity is that given the toughness of its seed husks, there is no wild animal living today that can break the pod and spread the seed. Historically, the mastodon served in that capacity. Some archeologists suggest that Native Americans prepared the poisonous seed and used it for a ceremonial drink. The preponderance of coffee trees found around old American Indian settlements gives traction to this theory.

Regardless, our harvest of “American Mahogany” may prove to be worth the effort, one day, after it is properly dried and transformed into unique tables and chairs.