~ Riceland Meadows ~

The Three Sisters
by Ralph Rice

My love for farming makes it hard to for me leave my place to go to work at my off-farm job. I dream, plan, and work to make this farm pay its own way, hoping some day it will provide enough income to support us. I have researched several avenues in my search for our farming niche. I continue to this day expanding on the more profitable ones.

One of my ideas was to have a roadside stand. I decided to build a permanent structure. It would be 24'x32' with a covered porch, complete with a walk in cooler. To make the dollars stretch I had to build this structure as self sufficiently as possible.

I decided to timber off some large tulip trees. I could have a portable sawmill cut the logs into lumber for our building. I would build it with the least possible amount of hired labor. The timbering and construction I could do myself. The milling would require help from a friend who owned a portable band sawmill.

The following reflection illustrates the optimism, the thankfulness, and the reverence I felt using the old trees for such a noble purpose: Today I said goodbye to three old friends. They were three large tulip poplar trees. We called them The Three Sisters. I stood next to them and looked up in quiet reverence. They have stood for at least 150 years. What have they seen? How many men had "owned" them? Did Indians sit in their shade to eat?

I stood on that frosty morning, with a chainsaw in my hands, so insignificant compared to the lives of these old girls. I prayed, more for me than for the trees. The stumps of two of the trees showed they were dying. I consoled myself by realizing that, instead of three dead trees, we would have a market. I would build it well, to stand the test of time.

The Three Sisters would have a new life. They would watch our dream come true. People would enter in and do business with us; children would play on the porch; the room would echo with laughter and praise of our goods as we shared the bounty the Lord provides. Those Three Sisters, having stood for so long and seen so much, would now stand in a new form as a testament to the goodness, the beauty, and the many blessings we have been given since coming to this farm.

I logged the trees and skidded them to a landing area near the building site. I felled only two other trees besides The Three Sisters. These three trees alone yielded 3,997 board feet of lumber by the Doyle scale. We were able to cut planks that measured 19{1/2}" wide. To help pay for part of the milling costs I sold some of the planks to a man who makes chair seats.

Band sawing the logs made nice lumber. We cut it to standard lumber dimensions, rather than the traditional 2"x4" studs and 1" siding, so any additional lumber we might have to purchase would match. The siding boards cut {7/8}", rather than 1", would go further. The band saw cut almost 30% more lumber than the Doyle scale said it would yield. We had to purchase only 16 2"x6"s, the treated poles and skirt boards, and plywood for the roof sheathing. Our woodlot and a part time farmer/logger provided the rest.

Loading the logs on the portable mill proved to be the most labor intensive and time consuming part of the job. I had made an oversight. The front-end loader I had rented couldn't lift many of the logs. The few it could lift made the front of the tractor sink in the frostless spring soil. The tractor was useless. The band saw man thought we were finished, but I knew better.

I harnessed my team and tonged the logs to the mill. The next step was to use the mill's own loading cable hooked to the evener and load the logs on the mill. The band saw man was hesitant to let me try, for fear that I would tip over his mill. I assured him I knew my horses and could load the logs without incident.

The band saw man watched intently as I spoke to the horses and had them tighten the cable to feel the weight. I urged them ahead carefully, and said "whoa." The log thus loaded, the band saw man began to breathe again. We loaded the rest of the logs in this manner without a problem. It pays to own quiet well-broke horses.

The construction of the building I tackled in phases as time and money permitted. The first phase was to build the main structure and close it in. The next phase was installing the windows, doors, and concrete floor. The last step was the plumbing, electrical, and inside furnishings.

Two of my friends are Amish brothers who are both farmers and carpenters. I traded work with them for part of their labor on my building. We had the whole building up and sided in three days. The work was hard but the friendship and good-natured teasing about my carpentry skills made it fun.

The market building took two years to complete. We opened it for one season. It did well, but we learned we weren't ready for such a large undertaking while working fulltime jobs. Roadside marketing will continue to be a source of income for us, but we'll use a low input approach.

We sold the market and 3 acres of land surrounding it. The couple who bought it will use it as a garage for their summer cottage.

The experience of building the market, and the trial of running it during the growing season were important life lessons. We came away with questions as well as answers. We continue to focus on the profitable parts of our farming venture and look forward to the future with our goals in sight.

Some men might consider this undertaking to have been a failure. I think of it as a dream that came true. Our dreams don't always turn out like we think they will‹this one didn't. Still, I learned a lot. It was a great experience. I'm glad I didn't miss it.

Ralph Rice's column "Reflections" appears regularly in Rural Heritage. This column appeared in the Holiday 2002 issue.

22 March 2003