JDH: I am talking today with Mel Ames in Dover‑Foxcroft who has been a forester for 5 2 years. Mel, were you born here?
Mel: I was born in Milo, Maine, in 1928 ‑‑ that was quite a while ago!
JDH: What kind of a household did you grow up in!
Mel; Well, I was actually born on a farm. My father did a lot of things: he farmed, he did trucking, and he worked in the woods. He did a lot of jobs, and he did big construction, and then he finally came back to farming.
JDH: Did you have brothers and sisters?
Mel: Yes, I had brothers and sisters. I had three brothers and one sister.
JDH: Where did you fit in? Mel: Oh, I’m the first.
JDH: Are they nearby? Do they live in the area?
Mel: Oh, my sister lives in New Jersey. All the rest of them live near here. Yeah, they live in the town of Sebec. We’ve lived in this area, most of us, most of our lives. I’ve lived in Sebec and Atkinson. I lived in Sebec about 30 years. I’m getting pretty close to that here in Atkinson also.
JDH: How long has your family been in Maine? Do you know?
Mel: Oh, my grandfather actually pioneered a farm in Bancroft, Maine. He was born in Oak Hill, New Brunswick. His parents actually migrated to Maine from New Hampshire. He come back into Maine and cut a farm out of the wilderness, and he was a farmer; he was a logger, and he was a real lumberjack. He went into the woods in the winter time and stayed away and drove the logs out in the spring. And then came back and then he farmed for the rest of the summer.
JDH: Do you remember him well?
Mel: Yeah, I worked with him. I worked with him when he was 80 years old. He was real productive at 80 years. We cut logs together then… where I learned most of my real logging.
JDH: Were you involved in log drives on the river?
Mel: He drove.. he drove many years. He drove the logs. He had some interesting stories about driving the Mattawamkeag and the Penobscot.
JDH: He had came over from New Hampshire. How long had your family been in New Hampshire?
Mel: I really don’t know about that. I mean his family came from New Hampshire. He was actually born in Oak Hill, New Brunswick, and I don’t know if he was ever able to draw Social Security in the State of Maine. I think he tried it at one time in the country; and, because they couldn’t prove where he was born, there was a lot of mix‑up, and I guess he just independently said the hell with it and that was it. Oh hey, he kept working! He lived to be almost 100 years old, and he worked until he was 95 or so. He could do quite a day’s work at 85. He made some of these younger loggers look pretty inferior.
JDH: Where did you go to school?
Mel: Where did I go to school? Well, I went to school early years in Milo, and then my father moved to Bath because he was an experienced iron worker during World War II. I went to school in Bath for a while, and then I went to Massachusetts, and I went to school there for a while, and then we moved back to Sebec, and f went to school in a nice one room schoolhouse, and so I got a heck of a variety of schooling. I graduated from Foxcroft Academy with a certificate in agriculture and forestry.
JDH: When was that?
Mel: Oh, that was in 1946. I think I was in the second class that Foxcroft Academy offered in forestry. There were four students in the class. We got pretty good instruction in forestry and agriculture. JDH: Did you spend much time in the woods?
Mel: We actually did. One of the people who endowed Foxcroft Academy, who actually built the new Academy and furnished the money for it. Actually his stipulation was that they always had to teach a course in forestry because he was one of the big guys in one of the paper companies. They don’t exist today, but they were a small paper company. It used to be Madison Pulp and Paper; I think then it was Hudson Pulp and Paper. Now, he was quite interested in doing good forestry, and he provided the oaks farm and the forest and that really got some eye teeth education in forestry.
JDH: So you grew up on a farm, and you’ve got some education in forestry, and then you went out and found a wood lot?
Mel: Oh, yes, when I was on the farm, I didn’t long graduate after I got out of the Academy. I raised some potatoes the first year, and I had a prize cow that I had, and I actually sold the cow and made a little money on the potatoes and bought some wood land. Then I added onto that wood land. At one time we had 1600 acres of land, some that we sold because it was up in the unorganized territory and it wasn’t quite so practical to manage from down here where we lived. And then we bought some more land after that. Right now we own just about a square mile of the State of Maine, just about a square mile. We call that our little mile. Hopefully it’s a good example for the rest of the people of the State of Maine to go by. We’ve put in a lot of pioneering for selection cuts and improvement cuts over the years, and we know it’s economically feasible to
manage land very well in the State of Maine. All the rest of that stuff that goes along about economics just isn’t true. They always said, hey, you can’t do it. They always throwed this in my face, you can’t do it profitably. Well, I show a profit every year in my operations, so I must be able to do it! And I say that other people can do it also I think you can manage land in the State of Maine a heck of a lot better than we are now.
JDH: You graduated from Foxcroft Academy in 1946?
Mel: In 1946.
JDH: You grew potatoes and had a cow for a year or two and then moved completely into forestry?
Met: Completely into forestry.
JDH: In 1948?
Mel: In 1947 we bought the first 400 acres. Actually the deed was made out in 1948, but the guy by word of mouth said, hey, go to cutting, we’ll make the deed out later. That’s why when I started was in 1947.
JDH: Did you ever have to go into the military?
Mel: No, the war was over. See, I graduated at 17, and the war had got over in 1945, so, hey by the. skin of my teeth, I missed it. And for the other wars I was married or too darn old and probably my classification was something like 5A or something like that after I was married, so I never got drafted at any time in any of the wars.
JDH: When did you get married?
Mel: I got married in 1948, believe it or not. [Laughter.]
JDH: How many kids have you?
Mel: I have eight children., two boys and six girls.
JDH: Where do the boys fit in? Are they the oldest?
Mel: My daughter is the oldest. She lives in Winthrop. She’s a school teacher. The next one lives in North Carolina, and she’s a nurse. Then I’ve got a son, and he lives in North Carolina. He worked for me in the woods for years. He got pretty discouraged at the way the companies were using the wood cutters. He said I’ll come back when they decide to straighten out. He moved to North Carolina ‑‑ he’s a dye specialist in the woolen mills. It’s still a trade they look after.
JDH: He followed the mills that left New England for the South?
Mel: Right, he did. He actually worked in the Guilford Woolen Mill for Guilford Industries, and his problem up here was they wanted him to work ten hours a day, seven days a week, and that’s a little too much, so he moved south, and he does have a couple of days a week off now. He didn’t improve his wage structure any, but he improved his liveability a little more. That’s one of the problems here, you know, the money’s here but you’ve got to work all hours of the day, and they won’t hire another person to make up for a vacation shift. If a guy wants a day off, he has to get somebody else to take his place for that day. It’s a terrible situation that we offer here. In the South it’s a little easier. Most anybody from the North can go down South and get a job because they know there’s a great work ethic out of Maine. He was a supervisor in a couple of mills down there, and he says you wouldn’t believe the work ethic they have down there. He says when they don’t want to go to work, they don’t go to work! When it snows a half inch down there, it ties up everything.
JDH: They don’t have snow tires or snow plows down there either.
Mel: It’s a lot different. Up here they wouldn’t survive a minute. They’d get fired in no time, and they don’t do anything about it down there. I don’t know why, but they just don’t.
JDH: What about your other children? Are they nearby?
Mel: Well, I have another daughter that lives in South Carolina. Her husband works in the coal‑fired electrical plant. He’s a electrician there that’s experienced in these plants. He also followed the power plants south. They closed down one by one that he worked at here, and he went south. I have a daughter that lives right here on the farm. What I did was I sold them the house there. They wanted the house and the barns, so we made a trade, I got the house up here, and she got that one. I have another daughter that lives down in town here. She’s a school teacher. This one here’s a registered nurse. She works for Moosehead Industries as a kind of an industrial nurse, preventing accidents rather than, actually she’ll treat them if they happen when she’s there. I guess that somebody, I guess that OSHA demands that they have somebody on hand that can handle these situations, and they do a lot of training and accident prevention, and it’s paid off I think quite big rather than just have accidents.
JDH: I think that preventive medicine is where we should put a lot of emphasis.
Mel: She does work at the hospital in the meantime, and she’s an instructor, she instructs other nurses in old people’s homes, how to handle older people in first aid and all this stuff that goes with it. And then I have a son that works with me. He works at the prison, he’s a guard at the prison, but he works with me. He works at night, and he works with me in the morning. He drives the skidder, and also he’s named as a trustee in our estate here in the trust, so that he probably will retire if I live as old as some of my forebears so that he probably will retire about the time that I get out of this world, and he can take it over. Actually we set this up in a trust, a revocable trust at this time, so the kids won’t have to sell it for taxes. It could actually wipe them out. I figured it out that each child would have to pay about $45,000 in federal inheritance taxes, and I said, hey, this place would be gone. Hey, it takes a lifetime to raise wood like we have here, but I’d like to see it continue, and this is the way we do it by putting it into a revocable trust. You put it into revocable because you can change it somewhat. We live and work with it so we can determine how it’s best to be operated. Then after we die it can be set up as a permanent trust with the rules and regulations about how it should be run.
JDH: Have we covered all your children?
Mel: Yes, I think we’ve covered them all.
JDH: They’ve done awfully well. They all seem to have gotten quite a bit of education.
Mel: Most of them did. All that wanted to go to school went to school.
JDH: You must be proud of that.
JDH: How many grandchildren do you have?
Mel: Oh, my wife will tell you l8 or 19, and we have six or seven great grandchildren. We have a whole army of people. Laughter.
JDH: Christmas must be chaotic.
Mel: Oh, yes!
JDH: So you have a whole passle of grandchildren and a few great grandchildren.
Mel: Yes. In fact that’s where my wife is today. She’s down in Lewiston for a shower for a great grandchild. She went down there and she can’t wait to see the baby, so that’s where she is today.
JDH: Where is that?
Mel: Down in Winthrop.
JDH: When you started out with your forestry you had 400 acres?
JDH: Were you able to make enough income off that woodlot to live on right away?
Mel: Yeah. We did quite well in the early years. Most of the wood was sold on the riverbank, and of course we had a lot for a mile and a half or so along the river. All we had to have was a pair of horses and a set of sleds. There was no trucking for the transportation costs from the stump to the river. We actually very well, and the prices were better than they are today comparatively. Today you have trucking fees, road‑building fees, and a lot of other things.
JDH: Now did you have to cut them to a four foot length?
Mel: Pulp wood all went four feet, and logs of course went 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, whatever. As time went on we managed the land for other people, and we did the same kind of work that we did on our own land, and we had no problems pushing up another 2000 acres to manage, and we did this for years and years. I bought 400 acres up in the unorganized territories and managed that for years. We had quite a few people working for us at that time.
JDH: How many?
Mel: Oh, probably as many as six or eight including truckers and cutters.
JDH: How many horses did you have?
Mel: Well, we only had two horses. We had horses up until about 1957, and after that we kept horses and tractors, and then things evolved into bombardier type machines, and then we into track skidders and wheel skidders, and that’s where we are today with wheel skidders.
JDH: What kind of horses did you have?
Mel: Oh, they were quite large draft horses, probably 1700 or 1800 pounds apiece.
JDH: Belgians, Percherons?
Mel: Oh, there was one Belgian, and then we had a, we had a … oh, I forget about horses now it’s been so long since I drove them ‑‑ the large red ones that….
JDH: Do you miss the horses? Did you like working with them?
Mel: Oh, I can’t say that I really miss them. I like horses all right. I mean they were very good and very efficient in the woods. There’s a lot of things that you can’t do with horses that you can do with equipment. It still was quite cheap to operate with horses.
JDH: Horses probably damaged the woodland less than mechanical equipment, wouldn’t you say?
Mel: Well, it’s true, although there were some lousy jobs done with horses. It’s like equipment, hey, you can have a person that’s conscientious use a skidder and do a very good job, and you have an idiot on it and he can tear up a whole woodlot. You can a good job or you do a terrible job. It’s not really the equipment or the animals or the machines are used, it’s the techniques that you use to get the wood out of the woods to make sure that you don’t do a lot of damage to the remaining trees. You put the roads in the right places. There’s a whole lot of things that go with managing the woods.
JDH: So you would spend the winter cutting the trees that you were going to sell and hauling them off to the river bank.
JDH: And getting them ready to sell in the spring? Piled along the river?
Mel: Right, they were piled on the river, and they would pay you for it on the river, and then in the spring time when the drives came through, they would also pay you to throw the wood into the river which was another little source of income during a time of year when it wasn’t very feasible to work because of the mud season.
JDH: How did you get them into the river?
Mel: Just heave them over the bank! Laughter.
JDH: It must have been hard work.
Mel: Well, it was. You were careful where you piled your wood along the river. You made sure you could do it in just one push. In some cases if you put your skids under the pile, you could get ahold of a lever and you could dump the whole pile into the river according to the plan. Laughter. You were real careful how you piled your wood along the river bank and made sure that it wasn’t on a long, sloping bank, made sure it was on a steep bank. That way you could really make some money.
JDH: I bet you knew where all the right spots were.
Mel: Well, we picked them after the first year.
JDH: What if there wasn’t much snow in the winter, and the river was down in the spring, and it was kind of bony, would there be trouble having a log drive?
Mel: I never saw it when they didn’t drive it. I’ve read in the history books that there have been times when there were dry years, maybe once or twice in the history of logging in Maine that they couldn’t drive for a year.
JDH: That must have been an economic hardship because you’d be looking forward to that income.
Met: Oh, sure, some of the mills actually had to shut down during these times.
JDH: They’re not going to pay for the logs unless they have them.
Mel: Today you sell the wood ‑‑ it’s on the stump today and it’s in the mill tomorrow. At that time the plan had to start a year before they were sawed, before they landed in the mill. They were real careful, and their relationship with the cutters and landowners was much better than it is today. Every wood cutter and every landowner hates the mills because they turn you on and off like a faucet. Back then they couldn’t do this ‑‑ you knew that you were going to be cutting wood the whole year. In the spring and summer you had to peal the bark off from the tree so they’d float. You pealed all you could during the summer and left it laying, and in the fall you started up into piles and stacked it, and then in the winter you hauled it out to the river.
JDH: So the wood that was hauled off to the river, you left behind all the slash and all the bark and left it on the forest floor.
JDH: They don’t do that with clear cuts do they?
Mel: Not, a lot of times they take everything out of the woods, and there’s a serious nutrient loss as a result of this. Our forests won’t be so good in the future as a result of this. You’re taking 60 or 70% of the nutrients out of the forest.
JDH: When did they stop the log drives?
Met: Oh, the last log drive on the Piscataquis River here was some time in the early ’50’s. The Kennebec drive was, I think, in ’65 or some time in that period.
JDH: Were there still drives on the Penobscot?
Mel: No, I think the Kennebec was the last place to drive wood as the result of a law suit and the use of the water. They didn’t really care because it was getting to be a large investment for them to have to cut their wood a year or so ahead and then get it down to the mills. JDH: Did you ever work on the logs on the river?
Mel: I never did. That’s one thing that I do regret. I wish that I had gone over and applied. I said it when they did it in 1965, 1 believe, when they took the log drive. I said I should have gone over and signed on the log drive, so I could have that I was on the last log drive in the State of Maine, but I didn’t.
JDH: Wasn’t that pretty dangerous work?
Mel: Well, it was. I mean you had to know your stuff I guess. Of course, the pulp wood wasn’t so bad. The long log drives had a tendency to hang up on rocks and jam up, and they were very dangerous to break. Many times a lot of loggers lost their lives picking jams, and in a lot of places they had to use dynamite, but they didn’t like to use dynamite because it blowed up so many of the logs.
JDH: What kind of trees would be used for pulp wood?
Mel: Back then it was spruce, fir, hemlock, and hardwood. Today anything will make pulp wood. There isn’t a tree that grows in the State of Maine that won’t make pulp, but one they frown on is cedar. They used to use it for pulp, but they found that it doesn’t do the batch any good, so they stopped buying cedar as a pulp log. They buy it for other wood.
JDH: So, if you are cutting for pulp, you can make the decision on whatever trees you want to cut and haul out, and they buy just about anything but cedar. Did you sell wood for other purposes? Did you cut trees for other purposes?
Mel: Oh, yes, we always tried to go by quality trees, and of course you have the option when you have a quality tree you can always take the quality log out of the bottom like a veneer log or a high grade saw log and then you can always take the pulp out of the top, so even with a good tree the top would be pulp wood or fire wood. Pulp wood isn’t a good money maker, so you try to grow quality. I recently cut a 10 foot rock maple log which was worth $91.00, just one 10 foot log, and the whole tree was worth $175.00, and then I had some pulp on top of that. The goal is not to put it into a $10.00 pulp tree but to put it into a $150.00 or $200.00 tree where you get some logs and some pulp.
JDH: The better tree, the better the income.
JDH: You just have to be patient, I guess.
Mel: That’s the whole secret of raising wood in the State of Maine, and a lot of people don’t look at it that way. They want it all now even though they better trees that potentially in 20 years could be worth a hundred dollars, but they want to sell it now for a $10.00 pulp tree. They work twice as hard, four times as hard ‑‑ if they waited a few years and just cut the larger trees that are necessary they could make a lot of money. That’s the way that we show a profit by increasing our take across the board. Last year our take for converting everything to cords on our roads, we gravel our roads pretty good, and we made more money last year per cord than at any time in history by averaging out logs and pulp wood together we made $57.00 a cord landed on the road in the woods. That just shows that our theory works very well, it’s been increasing over the years.
JDH: You’ve been going for quality rather quantity.
JDH: If you have quality rather than quantity that leaves more trees standing in the woods.
Mel: You have to know which ones to leave too. You’ve got an oak tree or a rock maple or a yellow birch ‑‑ I mean there’s good potential, that’s the one you’ve got to be real careful about working around too, so you won’t spoil that quality, but a pulp wood tree, why, hey, you can’t hurt one enough so you can’t make paper out of it! [Laughter.]
JDH: So the log drives stopped in the ’60’s, now how do you haul the logs off? Do the mills come and pick them up?
Mel: Well, we have to take and move the logs to the mill. That’s why we have quite a good gravel road. We have trucks come in and pick the logs up and the pulp also, take them wherever the destination is, wherever the mill is.
JDH: Do you hire people to come and pick it up?
JDH: You don’t have to make the expensive buy of equipment?
Mel: No. We used to do it. We had two trucks at one time, and we used to haul our own wood, but it’s a whole different process. You have to have a lot of money tied up in transportation and equipment, and when you’re doing it smaller like we are, you don’t want to have too many loose ends. You have to specialize in what you do the best, and that’s managing the forest on this end. Let somebody else invest fifty, a hundred thousand dollars in a truck and let them haul it and pay them for hauling it.
JDH: Would you say your relationship as tree growers, the relationship with the mills changed when the log drives stopped?
Mel: Yes. Oh, yes, and it’s gotten worse as the Maine‑based companies become stock‑holding companies from all over the state and all over the world relations afterwards got worse because they were trying to maximize the dollars, the hell with the people, just make all the dollars you can for the stock‑holders, and of course we’re worried that they’re doing this and, hey, they can turn it off. Let me give you an example. They’ll give you a contract, I’ve contracted for years with pulp companies and log companies, and log companies haven’t given us a problem that the pulp companies have, because they still want the quality wood. But pulp, there’s quite a lot of it, and these guys will give you a contract, and then, of course, the first thing is they’re overcontracted, so they didn’t need so much wood, so you’d expect with a contract that you’d deliver the amount in the contract. All of a sudden they’ve set you up and say, hey, we can’t take it. Their contract is just words on paper. And you’d say, well, why don’t you take them to court? Well, it would cost you more to hire a lawyer and to take them to court and they’d blackball you! They wouldn’t buy any wood from you!
JDH: And they’ve got some expensive lawyers of their own.
Mel: Oh, you can count on that.
JDH: But that’s the pulp mills.
Mel: That’s the pulp mills, right. The log mills still want the logs, and they smile when they see you coming, and they give you good deals. But the pulp mill contract is terrible.
JDH: When did they go bad that way, in the 80’s?
Mel: Oh, probably in the late 70’s. In general the last 30 years would cover it real well. It’s got worse in the last ten years. These guys evidently like the land sales they intend to cut all their land off, to cut all the profitable wood off their land and sell the lands. You can guess what’s going to happen next. There are not going to be too many pulp mills left in the State of Maine either because they’re overcutting and they’ve been overcutting for 20 years. They finally got caught at it in 1995, and they finally admitted it in 1998, but they’re overcutting! It takes 20 years to figure this out, so where are we now? It’s five years later.
JDH: Are any of your logs or pulp hauled off to Canada? Or is it all sold within the state?
Mel: Well, the pulp wood goes here in this country, but a lot of the logs end up in Canada because that’s where they have the high quality mills and they pay the big prices. You just don’t have the mills here that pay those prices, although they have improved a little for the high quality hardwoods. We have a little mill here about ten miles away which pays excellent prices with excellent scale which is good. Spruce‑fir logs at a Canadien mill, they buy logs and they pay good money for it. Your veneer ends up mostly in Canada. Most of your real high quality wood ends up in Canada because they pay more money for it, and they don’t have a facility here to use it. JDH: They also have universal health care in Canada to pay the people who work in the mills there.
Mel: Right, and in the woods! Laughter
JDH: I understand that working in the woods is one of the more dangerous professions.
Mel: Well, it’s dangerous in a way. I mean, I think there are a lot more dangerous jobs than working in the woods.
JDH: Like what?
Met: Sometimes I think that construction is higher than working in the woods. I don’t think there’s been a death in the woods for three years now which, you know, tells you something.
JDH: Have you ever been hurt in the woods?
Mel: I’ve never been disabled in the woods. Yeah, I’ve been hurt but never been disabled or anything like that. Back in the days of axes, which we don’t even use any more, I got whacked a few times. It’s a matter of being sore for a few days [Laughter], but it wasn’t really disabled, and, you know, you get whacked on the head once in a while with a club. We started using hard hats a number of years ago mainly for limbs and stuff. If the tree hits you on the head it doesn’t matter what you’ve got on, you’ve got to have it, so you just don’t be where the tree is.
JDH: The term is widow maker?
Mel: Yeah, those are up there. That’s all part of looking at what you’re doing. A good woodsman has to be much aware of what’s going on over his head and everywhere else. That’s where you get into trouble. There’s a lot of these six month wonders that come into the woods, and, hey, they don’t know all this stuff, and they’re really liable to be hit.
JDH: If you make one serious mistake, your career in the woods could be over.
Mel: Oh, yes, I know quite a few people who, you know, they do foolish things. They’ll lean a tree into another tree and then they’ll go cut the tree base. In the winter, hey, a guys got to have his head examined to do this, I mean, you wouldn’t run out in front of a car to try to stop it, would you7 [Laughter] The same idea! I mean you just don’t do things like that. I mean there’s a lot of common sense that goes with the woods and maybe because I worked with my grandfather who was 80 or 85 years old ‑‑ I just seem to inherit all of these things, I mean, they come very natural to me.
JDH: How old were you when you first started working in the woods?
Mel: Well, I was introduced to a bark peeler, I was peeling bark off trees when I was 11 years old. I would work in the summer time during summer vacation. We worked up on the Canadian border at that time when I was 11. I pretty much was in the woods on the farm ever since until I bought my own wood land, and then, of course, I’ve been in it ever since. I’m probably getting close to 60 years in the woods, having that much experience in the woods. I don’t really think the woods is a terribly dangerous place. I think you have to be aware of all the pitfalls. I think it can be a very dangerous place, so can the highway for that matter.
JDH: You’ve got an argument there, but I would opt on the side that the highway being more dangerous.
Mel: I would think so because they still kill what 40,000 people a year on the highways?
JDH: So, you would spend the winter cutting and hauling the wood out to the riverbank, sell it in the spring and try to get some extra income pushing it into the river. What would you do for the rest of the spring and the fall? Strip bark off trees?
Mel: Yeah, peeling trees would start about the middle of May, so about the time the river drive was over there was a couple of weeks when you didn’t do too much. Well, I made some maple syrup come spring for that little period in between times, just enough for our own use. I probably had a hundred trees tapped or a little more ‑‑ never made any money out of it, but it was something to do. You kind of filled in your time, mud season in the fall or something like that. You might take your vacation when you couldn’t work in the woods.
JDH: Did you grow things or keep a cow or anything like that?
Mel: After I got my land I lived on a farm, but I had some land across the river which was a farm. I did raise a few potatoes, and we had hay to feed the horses and tried to raise all we could. I finally sold that farm, and I bought this one here. I did have a lot of cattle here at one time, I had about 40 beef cattle which I raised and cut the hay for in my spare time. [Laughter]
JDH: Did it keep you out of trouble?
Mel: Right. Then when I worked as an instructor for the State, I used to take my vacations and evenings and cut hay.
JDH: Sounds like some vacation. I’ve been haying before and that’s hard work.
Met: You can’t take it easy. You might say, well, I’ll do it easier, but the weather never works that way ‑‑ it’s either before a rain storm or after one! Got to get it in before the next one!
JDH: Did you ever play any sports?
Mel: Yes, I was a good cross country track runner. I really was pretty good at it. In fact, I was in a meet here years ago, I think I got third in a tricounty meet. I could run pretty fast. I did pitch baseball. I never made the team, but I could pitch. In fact we had a team of our own in town, but I never made the high school team. I regret it, but I never made the first line pitcher. [Laughter.]
JDH: Well, you look pretty fit and healthy? Does this have to do with working in the woods and on the farm?
Mel: O, I’m sure, I’m pretty busy, yeah. I find that if I take a vacation that I do gain weight quite fast. When I got done working for the State, I was up around 200. I stay down around 185
working. If I didn’t work, I’d have to eat less, but I’m going to continue working. [Laughter.] I like to eat.
JDH: Okay, you worked with horses, and then you had a whole series of mechanical devices for hauling the wood out; you grew from a 400 acre plot to 1600 acres including the unorganized territories and then you cut back to 600 acres, a square mile.
Mel: Yes, as our relationship with the industry got poorer, we sold some of the land and did a few other things and did some other things which was more fun. It was all economics. When you’re in business, it’s all economics.
JDH: Did you learn the economics as part of the forestry studies at Foxcroft or in other courses you might have had?
Mel: I don’t know as we ever learned that in school, I mean you learn the basics in school, and you were aware how much you could get out of a cord or a thousand board feet of lumber, and you knew you had keep your costs be within that, but you really learn it when you get out here and start running a crew and running equipment and trucks.
JDH: Do you think you learned some of the economics from your father and grandfather, working with them?
Mel: Well, basically the economics were better then. I mean relatively they were better. Right now it’s a real crunch, I mean the way the markets are right now it’s a real crunch. You’ve got to be real careful. When you cut a tree down, you darn sure want to know where it’s going to go before you ever think about cutting it.
JDH: Have a rough idea how much you can make from it?
Mel: The pulp wood prices are going down dam fast right now. We’re selling wood for much less than we did last winter and last year. There was a big glut on the market last winter, and it’s caused the prices to drop. It’s got to go back because these guys don’t own any more land. They can’t fix the price of wood like they used to ‑‑ it’ll be more of a supply and demand now than it was in the past. There’s bound to be a shortage of wood.
JDH: Supply and demand, huh?
Mel: Right, if it works right, you can work these cycles. In the past like 20 years ago, they a real great way of controlling the price of wood, and one of them was mainly clearcutting. They can put a mechanical harvester in the woods, and they can cut 100 cords in a day. Hey, they can flood the market, and they can keep the price right where they want to. And the other thing is the supply of Canadian wood coming into the State of Maine. They don’t buy logs, they buy pulp wood out of Canada, about 750,000 cords a year. They can put you on a ticket and make you wait while they take that wood. That’s the way they control the prices. But it isn’t working so well any more because they don’t have the wood to clearcut. They still get some out of Canada, but Canada has its own problems with wood, so that wood is more expensive to them that they buy over there.
JDH: Well, the currency has to help too.
Mel: Well, it’s true, but like the person who lives over in Nova Scotia, and he used to bring his wood across on the ferry, on the Bluenose, to Champion in Bucksport. You have to put yourself in his place and say what would I sell a cord of wood down there for? I put myself in that place, and I said I wouldn’t haul my wood down that far, $100.00 a cord, but they were doing it for a reason ‑‑ so they wouldn’t have to pay me more!