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Loss and Reclamation: A 275 Year Old Tree Comes Down in Ferndale

Loss and Reclamation: A 275 Year Old Tree Comes Down in Ferndale

(Crystal A. Proxmire, Aug. 26, 2018)

Ferndale, MI – When a 12-inch wide limb came crashing into John Fielder’s back yard in Ferndale, he knew it was a sign of trouble.

Further investigation proved it, the 78 foot tall white oak tree with over 275 rings was infested with carpenter ants.

Fielder grew up in the shade of this great oak, in a home that his grandparents had built in 1953. His grandfather was a carpenter, and Fielder himself had spent five years working in hurricane-torn parts of Texas and the East Coast, serving with firefighters in the US Forestry Service removing fallen trees for cleanup and to reach victims, and taking care of trees to prevent fires and other dangerous situations.

He climbed the tree in his own backyard and saw the branches weakened by tunnels made by the ants. He knew the importance of trees to communities, and the value within his own heart.  But he also knew it would have to come down before causing major damage.  “It could fall on my house, my neighbor’s house, or the electrical line below it,” Fielder said.

Though it pales in comparison to the loss, and even to the nearly $3,000 cost of having the tree professionally cut down, Fielder found a way to put the beautiful wood to good use.

“My grandfather is 93 years old this month.  I’d like to give him a table made out of this tree for his 94th birthday,” Fielder said.

He’s actually tuning the wood into about 40 tables that he hopes to sell to recoup some of the money spent bringing down the tree.  There is also a similar oak tree and a large pine on the property that need to be checked and cared for.

All of this is no easy task.

“I could only find one company with a traveling mill that would do this size of job,” he said.  For one, many mills will only do jobs for contractors.  “They said this wasn’t worth their time,” Fielder said.

Others require the customer to bring the wood to them, which would be a huge cost for the 1,000 lb sections of trunk.

Of the few sawmills that do come to residences, Log 2 Lumber LLC was the only one Fielder found with a portable mill that could handle the 30-45 inches of girth of this tree.

Neighbors and passers-by gawked at the front-law sawmill operation at Fielder’s home on Pinecrest Saturday.  Many were curious about the process. One man yelled “tree-killer” as he drove past.

“I don’t want people to think that,” Fielder said.  “This isn’t something I wanted.  This is a 275 year old tree. This tree was here before any of us were.  It makes me sad.  But I hope this can be some way to honor that.”

The work of turning the tree into lumber was bittersweet and costly,  but it was also fascinating to Fielding and his neighbors.

Eighteen year old Annabella Lobaito of Log 2 Lumber works with her father Chuck and friend Chris Miller, taking their portable sawmill to places as far as Port Huron, Mt. Pleasant, and Grosse lle.  Saturday Lobaito ran the mill while Miller helped.  She’s been turning trees into lumber with her dad since she was eight years old.

“This is a side business for my dad.  It’s something we do together on the weekends,” she said.  “We get to spend time together and make money.  I like it.”

Though she’s got this unique skill, Lobaito is working towards being a doctor. She works now as a nursing assistant.  Her father is a controller, which is similar to accounting.

“I learned there is a shortage of millers in Michigan,” Fielder said.  “When you think of Michigan, you picture trees and logging, but it really is a lost art.”  Fielder is studying criminal justice. His plan is to become a police officer and work as an arborist on the side, maybe buy a mill so he can help people with smaller projects reclaim the wood instead of letting it go to waste.

The logs were loaded into the mill using hydraulics, and the first cuts were to remove some of the bark and cut the log down from round to square before making long slices through it.  The wood can be cut to different sizes depending on customer needs. Each log takes 1-2 hours if there are no major problems such as metal in the wood.

There is the option to have the lumber cut into clean pieces with smooth edges, but Fielder opted to keep some of the bark to show the tree’s natural beauty.

The branches and limbs were cut down to firewood and shared with neighbors who must treat it with a non-toxic insecticide before storage or use. The slabs will be treated and finished, and Fielder’s yard will need to be treated. He already misses the tree, but is focusing on his fun future project of building the tables.

“We’re taking something that would have gone to a landfill or been burned, and making it into something that could be passed down for generations,” Fielder said.

According to USA Today, the oldest known trees in Michigan are over 500 years old.  Rings only give approximations of age since not every year actually creates a ring.

Those who may be interested in a table can contact Fielder at For more information on Log 2 Lumber visit their website at

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