Safety, now and then: The operator’s know-how is what counts

On Tuesday, June 24, the Duanesburg Diner hosted the Old Men of the Mountain. This scribe does not know if hosting is the right word; it was more like a hostile takeover.

No lives were lost, or dignity hurt, but some OFs had to shoo out some other OFs so they would have a place to sit. This was OK because some of the early birds were ready to leave anyway.

The Gas-Up held on June 14 was still a topic of conversation. The discussion was on safety, and how much of the old machinery was as safe as lighting a cigarette in dynamite shed. The dynamite was obviously dangerous even then, but the lighting of the cigarette we now find is even more dangerous.

The OFs mentioned all the spinning, unguarded flywheels; exposed gears; and shafts on various pieces of equipment whirling all over the place.

One OF mentioned that, many years ago, there were belt-driven buzz saws, with no guards at all on almost every farm, and belt-driven jack lines in many factories. At the Gas-Up, the running equipment with its “pit-cha-cha-cha, pit-cha-cha-cha” would give an OSHA (Occupational and Safety and Health Administration) representative nightmares.

Spinning the flywheel on much of the old engines was a way of starting them, even on some models of John Deere tractors; that is just the way it was then.

Another OF did mention that it was a fact we worked like that and to say no one got hurt was not true. Many a farmer and factory worker became hamburger from making a mistake around this equipment, and some of the OFs knew of people who made one of these mistakes, and you only had to make it once.

The “science” of burning wood

The next conversation seemed to follow the same line, but was much more current. Over and over, the OFs discuss burning wood and the “science” of burning wood.

The OFs said how stupid they are at times because many go into the woods alone with their trusty chain saw. It is a good idea to let someone know they are headed to the wood lot if they are going alone. That is the safety part.

There are a lot more safety considerations but this should be number one on the list of things to do before the OF even heads out.  This is good advice for anyone to follow for that matter.

Then one OF said, “No matter what kind of wood is being burned it has the same BTUs per pound.” This scribe had not heard that about British Thermal Units, used to denote the amount of heat energy in fuels.

After arriving home, this scribe checked it out, and found the OF who mentioned this little fact was right. The scribe selected four types of wood from a list a mile long of different kinds of wood.  Birch, red oak, white oak, and maple were the ones chosen:

— Birch, 3,145 pounds per cord, and 19.5 units of heat per cord;

— Red Oak, 3,570 pounds per cord, and 22.1 units of heat per cord;

— White Oak, 3,910 pounds per cord, and 24.2 units of heat per cord;

— Maple, 2,805 pounds per cord, and 17.4 units of heat per cord.

Divide units of heat into pounds per cord and each one gives l61 (plus a tad) heat units per pound. Son of a gun.

Another OF said that wood and leaves in the woods (fallen debris just lying there until they turn to dirt) give off the same chemicals into the atmosphere in their decomposing state as when they are burned, except in the woods the decomposing also produces methane.

When burning wood, the methane is what burns and the methane is not in the smoke. Some farms use the methane generated by manure piles by processing it through a methane generator and then use it for heat, and larger farms use the methane to power some pretty good sized generators.

To check this out, this scribe would have had to go back to school and take advanced chemistry. What the scribe discerned at the first glance is that all wood is made from the same stuff, only in varying amounts, and that is what makes pine different from ash.

And, looking at it again, this scribe scratched his bald head and muttered, hmm, this might not be right but it sure looks like it. Maybe there is some educated soul out there that could write The Enterprise and set the OFs right.

Anyway, the OF who mentioned the wood smoke and wood decomposing contends, if we breathe deeply on a walk through the woods, we are sucking in the same chemicals as contained in wood smoke.  The walk in the woods is supposed to healthy for us, yet the wood smoke is a carcinogen.

None of the OFs had an answer for this. Maybe the heat alters the chemicals, or the heat has some of the chemicals combine into something else that makes a harmful compound. The OFs didn’t know.

This scribe thinks maybe the smell of smoke bothers some, and the smoke being a carcinogen is a “smoke screen” to control by the political process the burning of wood and burn barrels.

Unattended burning barrels can cause a problem with sparks. The fire departments are kept busy with wood stoves, but that has nothing to do with the chemicals in the wood.

As the OFs have said before, many of the products the OFs use are perfectly safe; it is the operator that works unsafely, and the product gets blamed. Another anthem of the OFs.
Those OFs who made it to the Duanesburg Diner in Duanesburg safely, and ate so heartily that much methane was generated were: Miner Stevens, and his guest Justin Stevens, Dave Williams, George Washburn, Robie Osterman, Steve Kelly, Roger Shafer, Karl Remmers, Dick Ogsbury, Roger Chapman, Glenn Patterson, Jim Heiser, Mark Traver, Harold Guest, Frank Pauli, Jay Taylor, Herb Sawotka, Art Frament, Lou Schenck, Mace Porter, Bill Krause, Jack Norray, Ted Willsey, Bob Lassome, Joe Loubier, Rich Donnelly, Harold Grippen, Elwood Vanderbilt, and me.                                 

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