So the other day we were at my shop at home waiting on a big group of guys, many from out of town, for an important test ride. In total, there were going to be about 10 of us on the ride. Since anyone reading this is probably a diehard enthusiast, I realize your mind has already sped past the details. You went straight to: I wonder what they were testing? Why were so many people needed for this test this? Why were they from out of town? These are good questions, the same questions I would be asking. One of the most aggravating things is for people to dangle carrots like this and not tell the answer. I won’t do this to you, so here is a subtle hint: it was a tire. That should be a good enough hint. By the way, this wasn’t just any tire. These guests were here to confirm our opinion; this tire is going to be the new standard. You know we’re always working on new stuff, creating and testing the things we come up with. That’s one of the things I love most about my job. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, we can get back to our day.
While the weather was great that day in Shreveport, Louisiana, the rest of the country was getting hammered by a massive snow and ice storm. Needless to say, that delayed most of the planes for our group. Scheduled “go” time had been set for noon, but around 10 a.m. we learned they were going to be at least four hours late. At this point, there was already a small group that had made it to my shop, from various places, and all of us were getting restless. For those of you that don’t know much about me, I’ll fill in a few blanks. I have two modes: 100% full throttle or 100% couch potato. I do both equally well and am very happy in both conditions. Problems arise when I’m shifting from one mode to the other or trapped in the middle. Since this particular day was to be spent all out hardcore test riding, my mind and spirit were already on the gas, but my body was stuck sitting around waiting, which I absolutely hate. To make matters worse, this was our last window of opportunity for this ride in good weather. The storm covering the rest of the country was headed our way and would be in that night. Even though we could ride the next day, it would be raining and in the low 30s, whereas today was sunny and 75. The anxiety was building …
As we sat under the covered porch of the shop sharing horror stories about different rides we had been on, I kept eyeing a huge pine tree in the front yard. This tree sits about 20 feet from our master bedroom and has no protection from the wind. Several months ago I noticed it was dropping all of its green needles and looking pretty poor in general. Since then, I had been entertaining how I could cut it down so the top wouldn’t make a surprise appearance in my bed on a windy night. The longer we talked the more I thought about this tree and how it needed to be gone. Although it was still warm and sunny, the wind was picking up and the storm was approaching. We had already killed several hours, so the rest of the group was only about an hour out. In theory that wasn’t a problem. After all, how long could it take to chop down a monster pine tree?
No sooner than I got the words out of my mouth, “Let’s go chop that pine tree down” my little brother Brian, who I love and respect immensely, piped in with 20 reasons why that was not only a bad idea, but a horrible idea. To cover a few of them in no particular order: your chainsaw is too small, the tree is too tall, you don’t have enough time, your house is right next to the tree, it could hit your house, and the biggest – the wind is blowing fairly hard now and in the wrong direction. I’ll admit that last one got to me just a little. The wind had picked up and was gusting on and off. However, the decision was made. It was time to soldier on and make things happen in true Scott Smith fashion.
Scott and Tanner doing a little work on the dozer!
I grabbed my trusty saw and headed across the yard. It fired on the second pull, and without another thought I tore into the massive trunk like it was a sapling. Strangely enough, as soon as I got through the thick bark all progress stopped. The motor rev’d, 2 stroke fumes filled the air, the blade spun, but no more chips. Ahh, the blade was spent. At this point I wondered, is God telling me Brian was right? Is this really a bad idea? After all, if this goes badly, what will I do? I’ll have a lot of guys here in less than an hour to go test riding on a perfect day, and how will it look if I have a 10 ton tree lying across my house? I could imagine and hear Rachel as she came home and found this tree across our house and me trying to explain, “I’m so sorry, honey. You see I chopped this tree down to protect our house, but then it fell on the house. As soon as it fell everybody showed up to ride. I didn’t know what else to do, so we went riding.” That surely wouldn’t be one of my brightest moments. As those thoughts were running wildly through my mind, I heard James, our General Manager at High Lifter, shout from across the yard, “Hey, I have a bigger chainsaw with a better blade at my house. Do you want me to go get it?” YES! God wasn’t telling me not to do this; He was telling me I needed a bigger chain saw! We were back in business boys.
As I stood under the massive pine looking up at the already decaying branches, I watched as the wind whipped the beast back and forth. I knew we would only get one chance and we were going to have to do this right. At this point I pulled out my ace in the hole. That’s right, I had a backup plan, a Plan B, the excavator. It’s simple really; you just pull up, put the bucket against the tree, and push. That’s how it works on TV, right? So that’s what I did. I pulled up, put the bucket against the tree, and pushed. Nothing. I pushed harder. The excavator lifted off the ground. Not to be discouraged or give up, we hatched Plan C. Plan C was pure brilliance; we would push against the tree and cut it at the same time with this newer, larger, sharper chainsaw. Nothing could go wrong. This is where my brother, the engineer, steps back in. He tells me, “Scott, you’ve got a great plan right here. You’ve got it well thought out. You have all the tools to accomplish this task, and I can see you’re ready to get back at it. I just want to point out one small thing, just a tiny detail you might not have considered. The excavator is going to act as a pivot point on the tree, and with the wind gusts we have now, that big ‘ole tree is going to pivot on the bucket and come right back on your head in the excavator.”
Now this had not been part of the plan. In truth, I had not even considered this as a possible outcome. Sure I worried about the tree landing on the house, but I was willing to take that risk. Now we’re talking about it falling on my head. Not only that, falling on my head before a big mud ride. I had to study on that a minute. After careful thought and consideration, I arrived at a satisfactory conclusion. We will in fact cut the tree down, but since there is considerable risk involved, we will also video the act. That way, if it does go badly, it can be submitted to all the various TV shows about stupid people doing stupid things.
With no more to do’s, I got to pushing on that tree and James got to cutting. The wind picked up and I pushed harder. The excavator lifted and the tree cracked with resistance. It wasn’t going to go easy, but at this point there was no way we were going to give up. The saw was steadily making chips, and the excavator continued to grunt against the strain of the old pine. The cracking sounds grew louder, and then there was movement. It was slow at first, just a lean. More cutting, more pushing, louder cracks, then, the trunk started to snap. The momentum had begun. There was nothing more we could do at that point but watch. We all watched as the big tree headed down. Much to Brian’s amazement the plan worked perfectly. The tree didn’t come back on my head, and there would be no new stupid people videos made that day. As it turns out, the excavator had enough push in to get the tree leaning as the saw weakened its base. I was able to get the tree pushed far enough over so there was no real danger of it coming back on me in the wind. Gravity was my friend. When you cut a tree down of this size you don’t cut all the way through it then watch it fall over. Cutting it takes a long time. It will get weak and begin to fall long before you get all the way through it. I already knew this. I knew the excavator was more than big enough to get things headed in the right direction, so it really wasn’t nearly the gamble many feared.
That’s me though. Some say fools rush in but I say aggressive people rush in. When others see problems and challenges, all I see are ways to fix or solve them. That is the way High Lifter operates. We don’t understand “no” or “can’t” or “too hard”. We see a problem, we fix it. We see a challenge, we tackle it.
Within minutes of the tree hitting the ground the rest of our crew showed up and we were all ready to ride. The ride turned out amazing and is worthy of an entire blog itself. Hopefully I can steal away a few hours and type it up soon.