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Side Streets: Trees from fires cut into useful lumber

By: Bill Vogrin
November 10, 2013 Updated: November 10, 2013 at 5:15 pm
Caption +
Andy Stauffer, president of Colorado Timber Homes, is recycling charred Black Forest ponderosa pines into timbers like the cross beam he's seen leaning on in this Oct. 31, 2013, photo. Stauffer's company used recycled timbers to rebuild this large shed at Venetucci Farm and more will be used to build horse stalls in a new barn there. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

When Andy Stauffer's company, Colorado Timber Homes, was rebuilding a Mountain Shadows home destroyed during the Waldo Canyon fire in 2012, he had an idea for linking the old and the new.

It involved recycling a particular tree that had burned on his client's property. This tree had been planted by the homeowners for their kids and had special meaning to the family.

"We dropped the tree and used it to create a mantel over the fireplace in the new home," Stauffer told me. "Now, they have a photo of the family with the old tree, sitting on that mantel in their new home."

He said the photo and mantel became a source of comfort and helped warm the new home for the family.

Lately, his company is rebuilding homes that were destroyed in June's Black Forest fire, and he's creating mantels from burned pine trees that he's recycling from his clients' lots.

And seeing all those thousands of acres of burned trees prompted him to think how he might recycle more of the wood, rather than see it all simply lost to the chippers.

"Those trees have to come down eventually," Stauffer said. "A lot of them can be used like rip rap on hillsides to stop erosion. And a lot of the smaller ones can be chipped up and redistributed to stabilize the soil.

"But there's a lot of large logs that can be used for something else."

So Stauffer approached the folks at the Pikes Peak Community Foundation about rebuilding a large, old asparagus shed, as it was known, at the Venetucci Farm, established in 1936 south of Colorado Springs along Fountain Creek in unincorporated Security.

You may remember the farm as the place where, for decades, Nick Venetucci grew pumpkins, among other crops, and gave away thousands each year at Halloween to area school children.

Nick died in 2004, and the foundation acquired the farm a couple of years later as a gift from the estate.

Today, it remains a working farm and the foundation carries on the Venetucci pumpkin giveaway tradition. In addition, it grows 100 varieties of chemical-free vegetables and herbs as well as raising "heritage hogs," grass-fed cattle and egg-laying chickens.

Everything grown at the farm is sold in the Pikes Peak region through a farmers market, an on-site farm stand, and to area restaurants.

The shed, which looks like a large barn, was in danger of collapse. Its roof was ragged and peeling away and timbers inside were rotted and failing.

Rebuilding it with commercial lumber would have been too expensive. So Stauffer suggested using the charred lumber off a Black Forest lot as a way to cut costs and save the shed.

"This was an historic building," Stauffer said. "But it was falling down."

Rather than raze the shed, Stauffer thought he could salvage it using freshly cut Black Forest pine.

So he hired Ralf Bock from RB Custom Homes in Cripple Creek to haul his portable mill down to the farm. Then Stauffer's crews dragged 120 or so large, black pine logs, 8 inches in diameter or larger, to the farm and Bock got busy.

When I met him last week, Bock was sitting at his mill, pushing one log through after another. His large saw peeled away the blackened bark and sliced large, smooth pieces of lumber out of the logs.

Behind him was the shed, standing as straight and tall as it must have decades ago when the Venetuccis used it to process vegetables grown at their farm. Inside, the new timbers and beams were obvious in contrast to the weathered old posts and boards they had joined.

With the shed rebuilt, Stauffer now plans to use Black Forest lumber to build five horse stalls in a new barn next to the shed, among other projects.

"Is this wood viable for commercial construction? No," Stauffer said. "Ponderosa pine is considered a garbage material. Because of its branch structure, it has a lot of knots and imperfections that contribute to weakness."

So the charred wood can't cut it as load-bearing lumber for mass construction.

But it can be used to shore up old sheds or as a nostalgic beam in a home or a mantel or some other detail piece, he said.

I think it's a great idea to salvage as much of the old timber as possible. After all, pioneers used Black Forest timber to build Colorado Springs. Why not use it, where possible, in rebuilt homes?


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