My earliest memories of visiting a lumber yard was with my father, driving down the long open bays of lumber stacked and looking for the 2X4’s or whatever was necessary for the task at hand. The “staff” of yard boys would help sort the straight from the warped and keep count of the lumber as it was loaded on top of our old station wagon.
It’s an interesting contrast as I walk the stacks of a local big-box home improvement where you can have your choice of building lumber and little else. That is unless you live in a community where historic restoration and preservation is an industry to itself, like Charleston SC. Some years ago I decided to add a mahogany seat back to our little Whaler 15 that hauled family and dogs to sandbars and shrimping. I walked into counter sales where a gentleman, right out of central casting, helped me. 40+ years as a “counter man” smoking a pipe and briskly flipping thru the lumber pages of his desk books. He quickly understood I needed much more than lumber, I needed some hand holding. “What kind of mahogany?” “It’s for a whaler.” “Ok, you’re going to need some extra stock for the side braces, did you want to make the seat-back storage compartment too?” “Uhhh, no I don’t think I can make those cuts…”. “Well you’ll need XXX board feet, milled to width and thickness. Take this note to the guys in the milling building.”
So I ventured back in time past stacks of unobtainable lumber, Walnuts, Cherry, Oaks, Cypress and my salvation was an elderly gentleman with the thick Gullah accent of the Charleston black community who’s hands and finger nails looked like the raw lumber. He looked at the simple slip of paper and walked down to a lumber section where he extracted a plank, my worst nightmare. It was uneven and scared with a lot of bark still attached. I had no idea how I could work the down with a skill saw and belt sander. Then we walked back to the saw shop.
It was like stepping back a century, huge saws and wide planers converted from the long shafts of overhead belt drives which still hung over them in the rafters. On the wall were long planer knives marked with cryptic notes from their origin. You want to match the 14” moldings of a 1700-1800’s Charleston house? Here were the knives that may have been used to make the originals! I was handed off to another veteran of the wood shop and told in the beautiful lilt of the Gullah to “have um uppadah dey”.
The Whaler seat back turned out perfect, needing only a light sanding after the skills of the saw shop and kindness of the men who quickly understood how much I needed their help. Have a good day: “have up uppadah dey.”