During the last ice age vast areas of the northern latitudes of what is now the United States were covered with, yes, ice. Glaciers slowly moved across the land and ground the bedrock into dust. Everything in their path was pushed out of the way and deposited far from their original source. As proof of this, walrus and caribou remains have been found as far south as the Carolinas. Trees slowly moved south as the temperature cooled.
When the climate warmed and the glaciers retreated signs of their visit remained. Large boulders in New York’s Central Park still have the grooves in them caused by the glaciers. Long Island, NY is a terminal moraine left behind as the glaciers retreated. Potholes and lakes were formed as the glaciers melted and turned to water. Eventually, vegetation began to carpet the landscape once again and as the cycle of living and dying ensued, the rotting vegetation began to form soil once again to provide a substrate for a new forest.
During the periods of heavy rainfall and snow melt in the spring, some of this vegetation was washed downstream and was deposited in the bottoms of ponds and lakes. Parts of trees and even full sized trees ended up in lakes, became water logged, and sank to the bottom. In time they were covered with clay and other sediment and were lost far below the lakes surface, not to be seen again for thousands of years.
One of these lakes lay north of New Haven, CT in the town of Hamden. The organic debris from the forest was washed into the lake and sank to the bottom. In times of heavy rainfall and flooding, layers of leaves, twigs and nuts were buried. Logs and various other wood debris were also covered and would not be seen again until the area was mined for clay to make bricks.
The logs which are found in this area are generally Eastern hemlock, various oaks, and sycamore. Buried deep under a tomb of clay they do not rot because the temperature is cold, oxygen is in short supply and the moisture content is high.
Yale University (especially the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies) has carried out radio carbon dating to determine how long these logs have been buried. This determination is based on the half life of Carbon 14 and has given quite accurate results over the years.
This author had a sample of Eastern hemlock carbon dated and found that it had died 1,250 years ago. An oak log was dated as having died 4,200 years ago. It has been found that sycamore logs are some of the oldest trees having been dated some 6,200 years! This probably attests to the fact that some 6,000 years ago the hills of Connecticut were made up of a large number of sycamore trees.
In the mid 70´s I noticed a large log, more than 2 feet in diameter, which had been pulled from the clay pit. A thought quickly came to mind: “How about making a gun stock from this ancient tree?” A chainsaw and 10 minutes of cutting led to a stock blank that was the approximate size of a normal rifle stock and about 3.5 inches thick. As a person who holds a BS in forestry and as well as a Masters Degree in forestry from Yale, I new that some quick work needed to be done to prevent the rapid deterioration of the stock blank. Rapid drying and shrinking of the wood stock blank would result in checking and splitting much to the chagrin of the gunsmith who would turn a rough piece of wood into a thing of beauty.
The wood was taken to a nearby stream and with the help of a large rock, was submerged in the water. This was left in situ for nearly a month. Now the wood was completely saturated and was ready for a chemical stabilization process. I took several pounds of polyethylene glycol (which looks like a block of paraffin in its solid state) and dissolved it in a special long vat of warm water. To keep the water warm a gold fish tank heater was installed. The stock blank was now immersed into this vat and left for several months. Remember “Haste makes waste.”
The technical explanation of this process is as follows: The wood must be thoroughly soaked with water for the PEG to be able to move through the wood cells. After this chemical has completely saturated the wood it is slowly dried over many months in a dark cool place. The PEG turns back into a solid after drying and fills the cell walls of the wood. If the cell walls are saturated with a solid material they cannot shrink when the wood is dried. If the wood cannot shrink, then it cannot crack and split.
After the initial several months of drying in a cool location, the stock blank was set aside and nothing more was done to it for 5 years. Then I sent it to a gunstock maker and had the sycamore stock blank semi-inleted for a Martini action which had been rebarrelled to .22 hornet caliber. A friend of mine (Rick Dotzenrod at Big Sky Firearms & Outfitters Incorporated
) has a gunsmith shop and he engraved the action on both sides and used silver for the relief engraving of a fox and a crow. Additionally, he fitted the old wood onto the new rifle. Finally, to embellish the rifle further, he finished the exterior of the stock to a high gloss.
The stock does not have the brown color of normal sycamore wood, but looks more like mahogany. Referencing the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory Wood Handbook I found that sycamore gets red with age and this piece was certainly old. It is unfortunate that I did not save a piece of the raw wood to be carbon dated but like they say “Too soon we get old, to late we get smart. ”
The end result is a beautiful little .22 hornet single shot rifle that is more than a little unique. Everytime I take the rifle out for target shooting I think of the long and interesting process that was required to bring the gun to fruition. I must say that my good friend, Rick Dotzenrod, did most of the labor for this project. It goes to show that two heads are better than one.
Clyde can be contacted at 719 547 2135 or www.WesternLogHomeSupply.com