Thursday, July 2, 2009

Day 136/365 Up On the Roof

This morning I woke up to the sound of crowbars prying sheets of tin off the roof (a sound that is very similar to fingernails on chalkboard, possibly the only thing more irritating than my alarm clock).

For only the second time since 1866, my neighbors are having their house re-roofed, reminding me of The Time Machine, where the years whirl by the professor as he watches the changes in the world.

Underneath the tin sheets are the original wooden planks for the roof - in this case, American chesnut that's almost petrified and will probably last longer than the rest of the house.

In the Appalachian Mountains and the Blue Ridge, until the 1930's, the American Chesnut was king. The trees were huge in diameter, and they covered the slopes. When this roof was constructed, the builders had access to as much chesnut as they could want - they probably threw away more American Chesnut scraps than are available in all of America in 2009.

As young men, both of my great-grandfather's cut chesnut trees with two-man saws, using teams of draft horses and chains to pull the trees to the local saw mills - one to replace a house that had burnt down, the other to build the first log cabin he and my great-grandmother would live in.

Both structures are still standing.

My own house has chesnut log supports visible in the basement as well as thick joists that will long outlast me and my children - all put in place in 1858.

An enterprising curator of the New York Botanical Gardens imported a Japanese Chesnut in the 1930's, thinking to add it to their collection. Unfortunately he also unknowingly imported a blight with it - a disease the Japanese chesnut was impervious to, but one that was disastrous to the American chesnut.

Within several years, the huge groves of chesnuts were gone, not only in Appalachia but the rest of America as well. *

My neighbor's roof is getting a plywood sheath over the chesnut, simply because the chesnut is so dense (petrified), it's difficult to get enough nails into to hold the shingles. The chesnut wood itself is beautiful, almost like it's been stained and polished.

The original roof was wooden shakes - it went on just after The War (don't ask me which war - this is a southern-based blog, get with the program). The shakes lasted until approximately 1900-1910, just about 100 years ago.

The second roof was a layer of 2 x 4 foot sheets of tin, and at some point, the tin was painted black. I myself love a tin roof -my grandmother had one. It's like being under a waterfall when it rains and wonderful "white noise" for falling asleep.

During the last "airing" for this roof, the street in front of it was a dusty road, the hillside across that road (the lot next to us)was still an orchard, our house still had an outdoor kitchen, World War I was part of the future, and plans were being drawn up for a great ship called the Titanic.

Makes the 25 year warranty on my shingle roof look sortof silly.

*For information on the return of the American Chesnut:

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful post. Makes me sad and wistful for "back then" though. They really don't build them the way they used to.