Berea College Supplies Logs for Ship Restoration

Even though Berea College’s Forest is several hundred miles inland from the Atlantic coast, some of its timber has found a special purpose in the restoration of the Mayflower (II) ship moored at Plymouth, Massachusetts. College Forester Clint Paterson recently described Berea’s role in the ship’s refurbishment in an article (below) in the Berea Citizen newspaper.

by Clint Patterson

Berea College harvested nine white oak trees last year and sawed them into thirty foot long planks to contribute to the restoration of the Mayflower II ship.

The original Mayflower sailed to Plymouth in 1620 and no longer exists. However, a replica was built in England in 1957 and sailed across the Atlantic. It is operated by Plimoth Plantation, in Massachusetts, and is a popular tourist attraction. While not nearly as old as the original ship, it is beginning to need a major overhaul. Obtaining long, clear plank wood and curved futtock wood has been a challenge for the shipbuilders.

I was excited last year to find a few white oak trees that had the characteristics necessary to meet Plimoth Plantations specifications. The trees had to be large enough and tall enough to produce thirty foot long clear planks four inches thick and twelve inches wide; not counting the sap wood. While many large trees can be found with a thirty foot straight log in them, it is almost unheard of to find clear wood all the way to thirty feet. Yet, nine trees were located and successfully sawed into the material they needed. This provided enough material for the shipbuilders to get started, but not enough for the whole project.

The sawing of the thirty foot logs took specialized equipment and was extremely labor intensive and time consuming. I told the Plimoth Plantation folks that we just didn’t have the time to saw logs for them again, but we would be happy to put together a truck load of logs to sell them if I could find enough to make it worth their while to come and get them. They have their own means for sawing logs out there at the shipbuilding facility.

As I marked the next harvest for Berea College, I kept an eye out for suitable white oak for them. I was able to locate three more of the very tall, straight, clear logs needed to make knot-free thirty foot long planks. Even as big as these logs were, that was only half a load.

The ship’s captain, Whit Perry, had told me about how the planks have to be bent to attach them to ship, and how they are secured to the futtocks, or ribs of the ship. The futtocks are thick pieces of curved wood. Ideally, they are cut with the grain from logs with natural curvature. This makes them much stronger than if the log was straight and the futtock had to be cut across the grain to obtain the correct shape.

I had this in mind as I searched for tall, straight white oak. But, it seemed to me that we had been “lucky enough” to find such ideal straight, tall white oak… surely, there weren’t going to be huge white oak with natural curves in them too. Luck must have been on our side, because I found three highly curved, sound, huge, clear white oaks in the same planned harvest area. Just the right amount for a full load… a VERY full load.

Monday morning, the loggers were able — after several attempts — to successfully load all six of these huge logs onto a truck bound for Mystic Seaport, Connecticut, where the Mayflower II will undergo its restoration after the end of the tourist season. Luckily, they got it loaded before another one of those downpours hit and the trucker missed a tornado as he passed by Grayson, Kentucky headed east. One more worry, that the truck would be way overweight at the scales, turned out OK as well.

Probably everyone has heard that tall, straight, clear white oak is valuable. Generally, it is used for veneer and sold as such. However, it’s pretty unusual to be able to sell a crooked log for a high end use that makes it worth trucking all the way to Connecticut. I definitely hope to get a chance to go out there and see how they use our wood in the reconstruction and eventually see the ship sail.

Mayflower Timber from Berea College Forest

Mayflower II Timber from Berea College Forest