Audacious times generate audacious efforts, especially when national pride and security are perceived to be at stake. Such was the case in the 1950s and 1960s, with the Space Race that started with a Russian sphere whizzing around the planet and ended with Neil Armstrong’s footprint on the Moon. But at the same time, other efforts were underway to answer big questions of national import, such as determining how durable the United States’ strategic assets were, and whether they could withstand the known effects of electromagnetic pulse (EMP), a high-intensity burst of electromagnetic energy that could potentially disable a plane in flight. Finding out just what an EMP could do to a plane would take big engineering and a large forest’s worth of trees.
The title of ‘maker’ is conventionally applied to the young-adult age group. In the case of 84 year-old Ralph Affleck, a lifelong sawmiller, ‘maker’ perhaps undersells the accomplishment of building a fully functioning sawmill that can be operated by a single individual.
Starting in the trade at the age of 16 under his father’s tutelage, fifty years of working in sawmills saw him still loving what he did as retirement loomed. So, with pen, paper, and a simple school ruler he designed the entire shop from scratch. Decades of expertise working with wood allowed him to design the machines to account for warping and abnormalities in the timber resulting in incredibly accurate cuts.
With no other examples to guide his design — aside from perhaps old style steam-powered sawmills, and newer portable ones that he feels are inadequate for the job — much of the shop is built from scratch with scavenged parts. And, that list is impressive: four hydraulic cylinders from a Canberra bomber, levers from an old locomotive, differentials and gearboxes from a MAC and 1912 Republic trucks, a Leyland engine that operated for 13 years without the need for maintenance, and an assortment of old military and air force vehicle parts. This is complimented by his log skidder — also custom — that would look at home in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Built from two tractors, it combines three gearboxes for 12 forward and 8 reverse gears(what!?), and can hit 42mph in reverse!