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Don't Slide Down the Sawdust Pile--O.T.

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  • Don't Slide Down the Sawdust Pile--O.T.

    Back when I was a kid, there were 4 sawmills within walking distance of my house. Us kids had to walk past Stapely’s sawmill on the way to school, and they had a really neat millpond dug out for water to feed the twin steam traction engines that ran the sawmill.
    This millpond was just about the perfect size for a good hockey rink, and the benefit that it had over all of the local lakes was that it was only about four foot deep, so if you did manage to fall thru the ice (as boys are known to do) you damned near froze to death, but at least you didn’t drown.—So, skating on the millpond got the nod of approval from our parents.

    The mill had an absolutely huge sawdust pile, right beside the millpond. I remember it as being 80 or 100 foot high. We were all repeatedly told by our parents “Don’t slide down the sawdust pile!!!” We did anyway, if we thought no parents were looking. (it was a great, fast, ride.)
    Like all sawdust piles, this one was always burning deep inside, from spontaneous combustion. You never seen flames on the outside, but if your feet got cold playing hockey on the millpond at -30 F, all you had to do was take an old slab and dig into the side of the sawdust a couple of feet and stick your feet into the sawdust. After 5 minutes your frozen toes would be warm as toast. Now mind you, there were no flames or burning a couple of feet below the surface. We weren’t crazy. But on a day when it was -30 outside, it would be about +75 two feet below the surface.

    One day my cousin Wayne and I were out tooling around on the rink, and Wayne’s feet got cold, so he grabbed an old slab and started to dig a foot warming hole, right at the base of the pile. He had picked up a longer than usual slab, and dug a couple of feet deeper than we normally did.
    Suddenly, with a great belching roar, the entire side of the sawdust pile caved in right in front of us!! The sawdust pile had this huge glowing crater inside of it, that looked to us 12 year old boys like all the visions of Hell that they used to feed us at the local Sunday school!!!

    The inside of the cavern was black as the devils soul, and all studded with glowing coals. We got one horrified look before it sucked in a great breath of oxygen from the outside air and burst into flame.
    We both jumped back away from the sawdust pile (as quickly as you can with ice skates on anyways) and beat a retreat to a safe distance. Neither of us were burned, but we both had the crap scared out of us.

    After that, we certainly knew why our parents had warned us to “Not Slide Down the Sawdust Pile!!!---
    Brian Rupnow
    Brian Rupnow
    Design engineer
    Barrie, Ontario, Canada

  • #2
    Cool story! Thanks Brian.

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    • #3
      Hi Brian, Great story.

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      • #4
        Great adventure Brian!! Keep the stories comming!

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        • #5
          Originally posted by pgmrdan View Post
          Cool story! Thanks Brian.
          Or rather a HOT story...
          Chilliwack BC, Canada

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          • #6
            well that is a phenomena I had not heard of. I know if you stick your hand in a bale of hay if it wasn't dried enough it'll be hot, and barns do burn down from spontaneous combustion....but I did not know it was universal thing with sawdust piles and that they got that hot. Makes sense if you think about it, given the sawdust is going to have a high moisture content
            in Toronto Ontario - where are you?

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Mcgyver View Post
              well that is a phenomena I had not heard of. I know if you stick your hand in a bale of hay if it wasn't dried enough it'll be hot, and barns do burn down from spontaneous combustion....but I did not know it was universal thing with sawdust piles .............
              It's not a universal thing. I knew several saw dust piles around home when I was growing up, and only one burned. But that one smoldered and smoked for at least 10 to 15 years before it was finally consumed. In fact at the time of my earliest recollection of it the saw mill had long departed.
              Lynn (Huntsville, AL)

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              • #8
                I used to catch a train to Swansea, not far away really, one particular day looking out of the window of the train as it slowed to go over a girder bridge I saw smoke coming out of the ground, it turned out that the railway embankment was and had been smouldering for some years, coal under there apparently, they had a devil of a job to put it out, took months,
                Great story Brian, reminds me of a ship that came in the harbour, the swarf or chips in the hood was on fire, the grab crane was pulling glowing balls out of the hold.
                Mark

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                • #9
                  Friend of mine and I were sliding down one and he darn near disemboweled himself on an old piece of machinery that was buried in the pile----but he had the best scar in the 6th grade.
                  olcop

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                  • #10
                    Lynnl--It might not be a common thing in Alabama, but in Ontario it would be uncommon not to have a sawdust pile take fire. Perhaps it has something to do with the moisture content of the wood, or the amount of snow we get in the winter here. It is now illegal for mills to have sawdust piles. the environmental police will string you up by the toolies if you have a big open sawdust pile. Once when I was a kid one of the local sawdust piles exploded. The sawdust is very "green", cut from fresh wood full of moisture. when they take fire from spontaneous combustion the fire seldom breaks thru to the outside. They burn internally, and continually cave in as they are consumed. this results in a tremendous amount of steam being created. Jan's mill didn't have a huge pile of sawdust. They did however have a fairly deep valley next to the mill, and the sawdust was discharged into the valley. We had a big thaw one February, a heavy rain, and then back into the deep freeze. The top foot or so of water saturated sawdust froze solid. This blocked off all the places for the steam to dissipate, internal pressure built up, and the whole valley full of sawdust exploded. The blast was felt 10 miles away, and it got very exciting around Jans settlement because large chunks of burning sawdust was blown all over the mill and the adjacent buildings.
                    Brian Rupnow
                    Design engineer
                    Barrie, Ontario, Canada

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Sawdust, hay, soft coal, compost piles, pretty much anything organic, if there is the appropriate moisture content and the pile is large enough. Decay produces heat, and the pile insulates. Heat builds up. As oxygen becomes available due to either anaerobic decay or due to an opening to the outside, the reaction may go to smoldering or flame.

                      Generally gotta keep the piles below a max size, turn them frequently to reduce heat buildup when they approach a large enough size to go up spontaneously, and monitor temperatures inside. Now you know why it seems that the guys at large landfills often seem to be shoving stuff around aimlessly, and why they sometimes catch fire on their own.

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                      • #12
                        Back in the 70s the New Jersey meadowlands caught fire underground and burned for years despite efforts to pum water underground to extinguish it. The smoke covered the area so bad at times there was a huge pileup on the turnpike

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                        • #13
                          This story would make a great movie.

                          JL...................

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                          • #14
                            Snakes like them too. I cut 18750 bf of hemlock in a week with a Mobile Dimension 3 bladed mill in the UP on a 40 acre farm we had bought. Once a year I'd mow it with a 5' Bush Hog & tried each time to spread out the saw dust piles & every year would hit one or two slinging snake parts every where. I'm only afraid of 2 kinds, dead ones & live ones. At the hunting camp before my Dad passed he was cleaning up stick, roots, etc & burning them. We poored all the water on the fire when we left & it was the only time I went up 2 weekends in a row (580 miles each way) & it had burned a 5' deep hole in the ground just smoldering in all that organic material. We put it out planked over it & put the outhouse there.

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                            • #15
                              When I was a kid and having to mow the lawn, I'd dump the raked up pile of grass into a spot beside the house where you couldn't see it easily. Never thought anything of it, and my dad didn't either. One day I happened to be playing there and felt some heat. Digging into the pile I found the grass to be burning- there was already a large pile of ash inside the pile and I had to rake the whole thing open so it could either burn up and be gone, or go out. We were probably lucky that we didn't lose the house.
                              I seldom do anything within the scope of logical reason and calculated cost/benefit, etc- I'm following my passion-

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