From the Santa Cruz mountains to the Oregon border, redwood burl stumps have been removed for resale for over 100 years. Some burls have weighed in at as much as one million pounds. In the earliest days of logging, huge crown burls where extracted with oxen and hauled out of the woods on a train. Later, burlers developed trucks and modified equipment to extract the giant root systems.
My dad, who started cutting redwood burl in the mid 1970’s, began his career gathering redwood stumps, hauling them to our family farm, and cutting them into slabs for resale. His first business was called The Redwood Stump Chasers. He called it this due to the fact that the old guard that monitored the logging roads along Highway 36 would actually chase them out of the woods. I always thought of the old guard as a sorta Rosco P. Coltrain from the Dukes of Hazard. Apparently, he was older and never really chased after wood rats too vigorously. That haphazard approach to monitoring the logging roads couldn’t have been more on display the evening my dad decided to drag a redwood burl stump over five miles along Highway 36 back to our family farm.
As the story goes, my dad and uncle had been working on removing a massive stump just off an old logging road. Using his boom truck he managed to get the stump out of the brush and onto the road. However, once on the road, the stump couldn’t be fully loaded onto the bed of the truck. Pretty common problem among burlers, their eyes are always bigger than their truck.
Apparently, My dad decided that the stump was far to nice to leave laying in the road, or even off to the side, so in a brilliant epiphany that only a burler might have, he decoded to drag the stump out of the woods, partially propped up on the back of his truck. The weight of the stump had all but exhausted any room he may have had between his shocks and the bottom of the flat bed, but that didn’t matter. My dad recalls the stump being so heavy that the front tires barely touch the ground enough to steer. Another common problem for the burler.
Once semi loaded, he proceeded to pull the stump right out of the woods, onto a state highway, and then drug it back to the farm. It must have been quite the site for the night watchmen when he saw the drag marks running out of the woods and clear down the highway.
In the end, nothing came of it but redwood burl slabs. To remove stumps is a huge task, but with virtually no law enforcement, and no real consequences for removing stumps, the getting was good. So good, that one could literally drag a two to three ton stump down the highway, leaving a path right to your home, and nothing would come of it.
Today, this would never happen. Things have changed so dramatically over the years, and one reason for the change is stricter logging practices and much more attentive guards and cameras. Still, people do cross timber lands for burl. Not more than a few years back I had a guy sell me some amazing maple burl that turned out to be stollen from a local lumber company. The guy had fired up and used the company’s own equipment, fell a massive maple tree loaded with burl, broke the gates and over the corse of 2 weeks removed all the wood. It was the last load that he got caught on. I’m still not sure anything ever happened to him, but he cost the company a load of time and money for his unlawful wood extraction, and gave me a headache not worth the burl I was able to procure.
These old stories are part of our culture and history, but they rarely happen anymore. It’s fun now for me to write about these old school practices, but in todays market, there is no real justification for taking redwood burl from private lands without consent. In fact, it is far more lucrative to just make a deal with the land owner. Once a good relationship is established, one can extract stump after stump and both the burler and the land owner benefit.