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'A dying business,' but...

  • These better-than-two-foot diameter logs await the saw.
    These better-than-two-foot diameter logs await the saw.
Published May 18. 2012 05:01PM

As members of the Polk Township Historical Society gathered at the Burger Sawmill in Kresgeville, brothers Jeff and Clark Burger greeted them. Their father, Johnny Burger, at age 83, is still active in the business.

"He's still the main guy," is the way Jeff put it.

The yard is filled with stacks of different-sized logs, with the smallest logs to be turned into firewood. It used to be sold as pulp but there is no call for pulp anymore. There are a few with a diameter of over two feet. When a truckload of logs comes to the yard it is sorted as it is unloaded, said Clark.

Jeff said they try to remain within a 60-mile round-trip distance when they are logging. Much of their logging is a selective cut - perhaps for a landowner who wants to sell everything with a 10-inch diameter or more. It is only occasionally that they do a total clear cut. Cutting is still by hand with a chain saw.

Skidders take the logs to a central location where they can be loaded. The tops are chipped if feasible or else cut off.

It is "buck" cut into the desired lengths.

"It's a dying business but it's in the blood," said Jeff, a belief he repeated several times during the evening.

The mill itself is considered semi-automatic. Scrap bark goes into a chipper with three blades. Sawdust goes down into the basement. They are byproducts and everything is used.

At one time the chips were sold to Viking, an electric company but now they are mostly sold as mulch.

The saw can be set for different widths. It is all sold as green lumber with nothing finished. Some companies will pick up wood and kiln-dry it at their own location.

A lot is used for barn boards and trailer bodies.

Burger still uses a circular saw blade though he said many places are switching to a band saw.

"We are fortunate. Dad started this as a full-time business in 1965. He had others part-time in Pike County," said Jeff.

Another building was planned and concrete walls remain along a lower road. "Things slowed down and it was never completed," Jeff said. "It would be nice to have a finishing shop."

Norman Burger, president of the Society, said a lot of places where they could harvest timber have been developed.

Jeff pointed to the truck out in the yard. "How could you turn that around in a driveway? We need large lots. There is some nice timber around but it is getting harder to find."

With anything smaller in diameter than 12 inches the saw gets to the heart of the tree quickly.

He was asked what was hanging from the ceiling. It is baffles to smother the high sounds of the saw.

Jeff shows how the 44 teeth of the saw blade are taken out to sharpen, which has to be done every two weeks. Although they are expected to tighten up when the saw is used again, they may hit something hard like metal and fly out. That is why no one is allowed on the back side of the saw. There has to be an even balance between the shanks, teeth and blade - the three parts of the saw blade.

A new blade costs $3,000. Sometimes they can be used for years. A blade can be hammered to get the tension back into it. That is a process you have to see to believe, Jeff said.

He said they have a metal detector but don't go over everything, which he realizes they should be doing. The blade turns at 625 miles per hour.

Jeff and Clark's grandfather, Harold, owned the lumber yard and hardware store across Beltzville Drive. Many of the early homes along that section of the Drive were built for relatives, but other families moved in and some of the original homes were sold.

Sandy Lizzio, a Towamensing man, buys six-by-sixes to cut into cross pieces for telephone poles. Roy Christman uses the same lumber for raised beds in the garden. Six by eights are used to make pallets. "Everything goes to someone who makes it into something else," said Jeff.

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