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Ancient Hoosier hardwood: Is it prized lumber or dust?
Indiana Correspondent

AKRON, Ind. — Only time will tell whether boards cut from a tree harvested by Amos-Hill, an Edinburgh veneer company, and shipped to Akron’s Pike Lumber Company (PLC) for drying, will go into prized furniture or turn to dust.

Cut from sections of an oak felled by a catastrophic event long before civilization took hold in the Western Hemisphere and buried in the White River bottoms of Jackson County by the last glacier that crept across Indiana, the boards are as dark as walnut and have a tight, clear grain.

Scientists place the tree’s age somewhere between 6,000 and 30,000 years, ancient by today’s standards when the average age of trees at harvest ranges between 60-80 years with some oaks being slightly older.

They believe it was 300 years old when it fell. With age rings more closely aligned than similar oak trees cut now, there is speculation that there was something unique about the tree or that climatic patterns slowed its growth.

If the tree proves to be 6,000 years old, it will date to the beginning of writing, the domestication of horses, the development of arithmetic and to the first use of yeast in making bread and wine.

If it is older than that, it will be termed prehistoric.

While records show that the oldest wood discovered in Indiana dated back 5 million years, this tree is unique in that it is oak while most old wood found in the state tends to come from conifers.

“This is the oldest tree I’ve ever seen,” said PLC President Jim Mulligan, who hopes the company’s dry kilns and its selective drying formulas are successful in preserving the rare lumber’s integrity after its exposure to light and air.

Although the exact age of this tree, found with its root crown and much of its bark intact, won’t be known until the result of a radiocarbon dating test is available in a few weeks, both Amos-Hill and Pike Lumber began the preservation process immediately.

While Pike will kiln dry its boards, Amos-Hill will soak pieces in a 180-degree solution, cut the boards into veneer and dry it.

That’s when both companies will know whether they have a choice product or a pile of dust.

This farm news was published in the March 1, 2006 issue of Farm World.