The heft and feel of a well-worn handle,
The sight of shavings that curl from a blade;
The logs in the wood pile, the sentiment of huge beams in an old-fashioned house;
The smell of fresh cut timber and the pungent fragrance of burning leaves;
The crackle of kindling and the hiss of burning logs.
Abundant to all the needs of man, how poor the world would be
Without wood.

Everard Hinrichs, quoted by Eric Sloane in A Reverence for Wood


Friday, November 11, 2011

When Wood Went to War...the Patrol Torpedo Boats

Veterans Day, one of my favorite holidays...some of my favorite people and role models were vets, and I think of them every year on this day.

Wood played a big role in World War II. Gun stocks by the millions, wooden hangars, and temporary housing and facilities all over the world. But the most memorable contribution of wood to the war effort came in the form of Patrol Torpedo boats, or PT boats. You've probably seen PT-109 that recalls the war heroics of John F. Kennedy, or the classic They Were Expendable, starring John Wayne. If you're as old as me, you grew up watching Ernie Borgnine and Tim Conway zoom around in McHale's Navy, long before their rise to fame as Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy on SpongeBob SquarePants.

What they all had in common was the lowly PT boat. These boats didn't look imposing, didn't look comfortable, didn't look safe in the middle of a war, and didn't even look respectable for an accomplished Navy captain to stand in. But any Navy veteran of WWII will tell you, they definitely contributed in a mighty way to winning the war in the Pacific. And, in case you didn't know it, they were made of wood, by woodworkers and boat builders working right here in American factories. The following series, filmed during the war by the boat manufacturer Elco, reminds us that not all contributions to the cause of freedom are made by soldiers, sailors, and marines; the hard-working folks back home keep them equipped for their service, even today.

The film provides us with great detail of the manufacturing process, and has a lot of wonderful and up-close footage of how these durable and affordable (thus, "expendable") boats were built. What surprised me in watching the videos is how many different species of wood went into them:
"It's a wooden boat. Mahogany from Africa and Honduras, white oak from Jersey, Brazialian balsa, maple, fir, Burmese teak, West Coast cedar, Wisconsin birch, Alaska and Canadian spruce, ash, poplar, and heavy green heart from the Guianas."
Enjoy, and thank a veteran today.

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