Stumped

Ever since the derecho last month, we’ve been stumped by stumps—tree stumps. It has been a lesson in the value of persistence. The tree in our front yard got knocked over almost right at ground level. I cut it up with a 20-inch hand saw. But the stump has me stumped so far. You can google “stump removal” and get an idea of what your options are.

One method is to use chemicals, involving drilling holes into the stump, into which the chemical is poured along with water and waiting patiently a few years. One guy’s review of a product revealed what appeared to be a basic misunderstanding of the procedure. It involved mixing the chemical with peanut butter, applying it to the stump which he then set on fire to make a smoke signal which could allow lost hikers to be more easily rescued. And by the way, it also hastened the rotting of a tree. The reviewer even included a photo of the heavily smoking concoction. I suspect the manufacturer published the review mainly for entertainment.

We took a half-hearted stab at chemical rotting. I mainly used a bow saw, believe it or not. That didn’t get the stump low enough below ground level to assure grass would grow above it.

Manual labor methods usually include recommendations for using a chain, a truck with 4-wheel drive, a wrecking bar, shovel, mattock, axe, and a few sticks of dynamite.

Manual labor has been the main method so far. There was a wire wrapped around the stump and three steel T-bar fence posts, which were probably placed when the tree was first planted several years ago. We got two of the T-bars out but couldn’t get the last one loose (only breaking it in half) until I got a hatchet and a pry bar. Thick roots were wrapped every which way around it and meandered off in all directions. I chopped and pried for hours until I could finally yank it out with vise grips. We hacked a softball-sized chunk of root out of the tangle, and managed to amputate several others away from the main stump. That is why I’m not a big fan of the manual labor method.

And then there’s a guy named Frank, half of a duo owning a stump grinding service. I called him and he came over the following day, shortly after I had removed the T-bar—which probably would not be the best thing for the 21-inch blade on his giant stump remover. He plans to grind it sometime in the next week.

I knew I could rent a stump grinder, but I would never do a thing like that. I’m not the handiest guy in the world, putting it mildly. I’m lucky I didn’t amputate a digit (along with a root) with the hatchet.

We talked with Frank in the front yard as he examined the stump. He said, “Oh, that’s nothing.” He quoted a fair price, which was far less than how much I would have had to pay to rent a stump grinder—and to cover the costs of emergency room charges, damage to the machine, the house and the neighborhood from a runaway grinder.

Frank is pretty busy and we speculated about what the main reasons might be, naturally one being the derecho. Frank thought the coronavirus pandemic might be another one. People sit at home either in self-isolation or quarantine and they have more time to stare at longstanding problems around the house and in the yard.

Having time on your hands can lead to boredom and brooding, which can happen to retirees like me. There are times when I would rather hack at a tree stump than read the daily news. I have to keep focused on where I’m aiming the hatchet or how I’m holding the power pole saw, which occupies me, makes time go by faster, and makes me tired and sore at the end of the day. I feel like I accomplished something. Frank retired several years ago and only later set up the stump grinding business.

We’ll see what happens next week with the stump. Frank’s business card has a picture of his giant machine. He can operate it by remote control. You can see what that looks like in a couple of videos at the website which markets the grinder he uses.

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