Tackling an apparently simple job when you’ve got decades of experience ought not to be anything worth writing about, but accidents can happen... usually when you least expect them.

AS years go, this is certainly one to remember. Maybe not for all the right reasons, but nevertheless...

With so much to do and only so many hours in the day, the pace of life has been unremitting. With customers demanding more wood than we can cut, keeping the mill running has been my top priority during daylight hours, with evenings and weekends reserved for treating wood, shifting sawdust and any delivery backlogs. I don’t want to be wasting valuable sawing time loading wagons or fixing things when the workforce is present. These are all activities which can be undertaken in the hours before they arrive. Even changing blades and loading the gantry can be done early in the morning, thus saving valuable working time.

One recent afternoon we were working away when a gentleman from the travelling fraternity arrived at the mill. He had a Transit pickup and had called to collect sawdust for his horses. We get this a lot and I generally don’t mind. I told him to take a few bags but if he wanted a larger consignment he’d have to return in the evening when I had more time. Loading sawdust should only take minutes, but experience has taught me that things never only take minutes. When I load a trailer with sawdust, I usually compact it down with the bucket to try to prevent it from blowing everywhere en route. Having flattened it down, I left the guy with the simple task of sheeting and securing the load. For some bizarre reason (and he’s not the only person to do this), he decided to climb on top of the bags and start trampling them down with his feet. Having just compressed the whole load with the JCB bucket, this has the effect of loosening the load and causes it to fly everywhere. After a short while, a great deal of the sawdust he’d spent an hour loading lay dispersed all over the pickup. He then spent what seemed like another two hours covering it up.

This is only a small yard and having this obstruction in the middle of it was starting to cause major disruption. I politely asked him if he wouldn’t mind returning after hours when I could load him properly. He returned later that day, only this time with his 17-year-old son. In order to get more on the load, they had brought some 8’ x 4’ sheets of ply. The bickering started from the off with vast amounts of time spent arguing over how to position the ply sheets in order to get as much as possible on the load. Meanwhile, I’m sitting patiently with a bucket full of sawdust ready to drop into the pickup. They hadn’t realised the holes in the grill at the front of the pickup would allow the sawdust to escape onto the yard. Eventually, dumpy bags were placed to contain the dust and I emptied the bucket into the pickup. Having done so, I fully expected them to sheet up and vanish, but the argument they’d had about the position of the ply boards now developed into a full-blown war of words over how to sheet up. The language and level of hostility had to be seen to be believed and I began to worry the father, now purple with rage and being much more thick-set and stockier, was about to do serious damage to the son. I shuffled quietly across in order to intervene should the situation demand.

READ MORE: Willows going wild Down Under

Suddenly the son seized a 6’ 4”x3” and began circling the pickup, attempting whenever possible to break the lights or smash the windscreen. The father, amazingly, seemed unconcerned and as the son wasn’t the most physical of people, little damage was inflicted on the vehicle. Eventually, the boy ran off out of the yard. While the final throws of this bizarre altercation concluded, I quietly tied the sheet over the pickup to hasten their departure. Two hours later, I saw the pickup still driving past the yard, looking for the boy.

After the considerable time wasted over this incident, I was able to focus on the task of cross-cutting big log poles. This has never been my favourite job as dangers abound at every turn. The chainsaw can get stuck or the logs can roll. Years of experience have taught me to approach cautiously and so I was simply lifting the logs off the pile one at a time and cutting them in half. I was then loading what I wanted onto the log deck or making another pile. By late evening, with most of the pile cut, I decided to call it a day and go get some food.

The following morning I was up nice and early, as were the customers. Since lockdown, the demand for wood has been insane and customers have been arriving at ridiculous hours hoping to get to the front of the queue. Sometimes I help to load them and sometimes, if I know them, I let them load themselves. On this day it was raining and a customer had snuck into the yard and parked right where I was cross cutting the log poles. He was fiddling about, picking up odd boards, but I decided to leave him and concentrate on finishing my task. I had about 12 left to cut and instead of dragging them forward a couple at a time, I decided to cut the remaining logs in situ. There appeared no risk of danger (or so I thought). I think the majority of accidents occur when people cut corners and yes, I was cutting a corner, but the risk appeared insignificant. The pile was low, dry, stable and unlikely to roll. What I didn’t realise was that lurking below like a great white under a surfer was a freshly cut spruce log. Very sappy, stripped of bark and wet.

As the chainsaw bit into the log in front of me, the log on which I was standing slid sideways. My foot slid into the cavity below. The gap was about 70 cm and the log above slid down into the gap vacated by the log which had slid sideways, trapping my leg between the two. Luckily, the log which had initially moved sprung back to its original position, opening up the gap and releasing my leg. Not so bad, you may think, except the combined weight of the two logs was probably about four tonnes.

The whole incident took two seconds. In the instant my leg slipped into the hole, I knew what was going to happen, yet was powerless to do anything about it. In two seconds I’d gone from calm, relaxed and safe to being in so much pain I could have been physically sick. As I looked down at my leg – which by now was already numb – it was some relief that it didn’t look broken. At least my foot was pointing in the right direction.

Initially, I didn’t go to hospital, but as the leg turned blue, accompanied by some severe stabbing pains, I decided to get it checked out. Sitting in a waiting room behind people with sprained wrists and one person with a fly in their eye was frustrating to say the least, but eventually it was my turn. Despite drawing their attention to my leg, they insisted on X-raying my ankle which to me seemed fine. The doctor assured me he could see the entire leg, which he clearly could not. An x-ray of the entire leg a few days later showed no break, but the bone had been crushed. It had turned to mush like an apple bruising on a hard surface.

There are some very strange indentations in the leg. Despite severe swelling and bruising it’s now on the mend and nature should do the rest. I think what it taught me was immense empathy for the patience of the medical staff who have to spend most of their time dealing with trivial ailments.

Finally, I’d like to thank all my work colleagues and friends who tried, quite genuinely, to supply me with a plethora of drugs, painkillers and various other remedies. I’m not ungrateful for their support, nor do I have religious objections, but I’ve always preferred to let nature do its job. After the initial crush injury, the pain subsided quite quickly, then after about 10 days the pain became quite intense. As I’d worked throughout the entire incident, I decided it was my body telling me to rest. I duly obliged and took myself to bed one Saturday afternoon for six hours, from whence it has improved considerably. I have no intention of going around with a pocketful of pills. This is one body I’d like to keep drug-free.

Forestry Journal remains dedicated to bringing you all the latest news and views from across our industry, plus up-to-date information on the impacts of COVID-19.

Please support us by subscribing to our print edition, delivered direct to your door, from as little at £69 for 1 year – or consider a digital subscription from just £1 for 3 months.

To arrange, follow this link: https://www.forestryjournal.co.uk/subscribe/

Thanks – and stay safe.