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Wood junkies

Steve Heetland operates a Wood-Mizer portable sawmill while Steve Winters removes a cut plank Friday afternoon at Winters' home in rural Ocheyedan.1 / 2
Covered in sawdust, Heetland takes a break from working.2 / 2

OCHEYEDAN, Iowa -- The whine of a saw, a cloud of sawdust and the smell of freshly cut pine filled the air over a rural Ocheyedan acreage on Friday afternoon.

Trees that would either have been burned or left to rot were systematically being turned into lumber planks at the home of Steve and Janene Winters. The pines were salvaged from the Minnesota 60 construction site south of Worthington.

"I saw that the stakes for 60 were going through there, and I thought that's a shame," said Winters about the trees that were sacrificed for the highway expansion.

Winters arranged to take possession of the trees and hauled them to his home. He and his sons split firewood and sell it to customers, but he wanted to do something different with these large arbors. He recently acquired a former lake cabin, moved it to the acreage site and wants to cover the cabin walls with knotty pine board-and-batten siding.

To turn the trees into boards, he sought the services of Steve Heetland.

"This guy's parents (Eldon and Gladys Heetland) live in the same section as me," Winters explained. "I was over coon hunting one night and saw this nice stacked wood over there. Eldon said, 'My boy has got this saw, don't know why he bought it."

Steve Heetland is career military, retiring three years ago as a colonel in the U.S. Army. He lives in El Paso, where he is taking classes to be a travel consultant and is currently a mission advancement associate for Hillcrest Family Services, a Methodist/Presbyterian association. He also has an interest in woodworking -- serving on the board of the Woodworkers Club of El Paso -- and bought the Wood-Mizer portable sawmill to indulge that hobby, keeping it at his parents' farm. The only time he gets to use it, however, is during visits to Minnesota.

Covered in sawdust from head to toe, Heetland was getting a good feel for the machine on Friday afternoon.

"It's not that complex a machine. You just need to be aware of the safety features; that's the important thing. What I like about it is that it's a band saw, with a smaller kerf -- that's what they call the material it takes out -- than a blade such as that," Heetland said, pointing to a buzz saw that Winters uses to cut firewood.

Both Winters and Heetland were enthused about the prospect of "making something out of nothing," by salvaging the trees.

"It's a way to recycle," Heetland said. "You get trees that die that are good yet or that outlive their usefulness such as these. They clearly could all become firewood, but this is a different way to use them. It really is a 'green' machine."

After loading one of the trees onto the sawmill, Heetland used the saw to turn what was round into square. Each subsequent pass of the blade created a board length, which Winters and son Kenny piled off to the side.

"In this few hours, anything I get done I'm absolutely ecstatic about," said Heetland. "I'm still catching on with the saw."

The men planned to continue their salvage endeavor on Saturday. Besides siding, some of the pine will eventually get turned into carved wooden benches, another sideline for Winters, who is employed as warehouse manager for New Vision Co-Op.

The pine will need to age for a bit first -- probably about a year -- until it dries below 9 percent moisture. Winters also salvaged an abundance of ash trees from an area south of the Ocheda orchard that will be turned into cribbing for the friend who moved the cabin.

"I also got two great big walnuts and an apple tree for hog roasting," added Winters, who hopes to eventually sell the prized walnut boards. "I probably ended up with a couple semi loads of firewood and a couple semi loads of dimensional lumber."

Even the pile of sawdust that continued to accumulate below the portable sawmill will be put to good use.

"Somebody already came and got some to blend with wood chips for some new chicks that just came in," Winters said.

Anyone interested in Steve Heetland's portable sawmill should contact Steve Winters, 360-4673.

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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