Texas Heritage, Winter 1985

The first railroads to penetrate the heart of the Piney woods in East Texas was the Houston, East and
West Texas Railway. Courtesy of Stephen F. Austin State University.

Henry: Well said, and when you
see it and touch it, you can really tell
the difference. Longleaf pine is among
the finest lumber ever grown. It consists
mainly of heartwood, the tightgrained,
strong part of the tree. Lumber
today is mostly sapwood because
it's grown so fast and the trees are still
babies when they're cut.
The housing industry today has scaled
down your living space to conserve energy
and lower the building cost.
And so the lumber they need has naturally
been scaled down too. That's why
they plant these fast growing pines and
cut them when they're eight to ten
years old, because they don't need long
lengths and massive beams.
Longleaf Pine trees took 150 to 400
years to mature, and reached heights
of 125 feet. The lowest branches were
60 feet from the ground. What would
the pre-fab, pre-packaged, slap-it-upquick
building industry do with a 40
foot, 15 inch square beam? The old
pine lumber has amazing strength and
14

could span such great distances under
heavy loads that it was only replaced
when steel and concrete became available.
In fact, the keel of the U.S.S.
Constitution is made of one longleaf
pine timber.
Dianne: I know a lot of effort goes
into making this old lumber available.
You have to find an old building that's
being torn down. Keep an eye on the
demolition people so that they don't
break the boards taking them down.
Once you truck it back, you have to see
to it that every nail is removed. You
have to check each board with a metal
detector because just one overlooked
nail will tear up a saw blade. Then,
mill it and hope people will buy it.
John Henry: If it was within their
reach financially, I'd think anybody
who was serious about restoration or
building fine things would buy it. Actually
it's an investment because any
lumber you have now from the old original
trees is a treasure trove. Not only
that, but it'll probably last forever.

Henry: There always will be a need
for old pine because our historic buildings,
like the Capitol, were built with
it. When restoration needs to be done
on those buildings, they need old pine
in order to restore it accurately.
John Henry: Austin has a lot of
fine restoration going on. I love to see
it happening.
Dianne: And how about Round
Top, Texas where Faith Bybee has restored
all those fabulous old buildings.
I wish she was here for this discussion.
She knows everything about restoration
and old lumber.
Henry: I wish more people were as
far-sighted and as gifted as she is.
Dianne: Earlier, John Henry was
talking about the first settlers seeing the
huge forests and about the King's need
for huge timbers for his ship building.
Did you know that's where the expression
"King's X" came from? The tallest,
straightest trees were marked with
an "X" which meant that no one could
cut them. They were for the King's ship
masts.
John Henry: And speaking of
Kings, there were a lot of fortunes
made in the lumber business in Texas.
Before we had oil tycoons, we had
timber barons. Huge empires were
built by John Henry Kirby, the Kurths,
the Carters, and the Temples. I just
finished narrating a program for television
about the East Texas woods where
those men operated. And that's why I
became an authority on what we've
done to the forest over there. What's
left of the forest, that one percent we
spoke of, is National Forest land and
what happens is the government leases
this land and then clear cuts it. There
was a big law suit about this several
years ago. It was tried in Tyler, Texas
on the subject of clear cuttings on Federal
Timber land.
Dianne: Did you win?
continued on page 18

Texas Historical Foundation. Texas Heritage, Winter 1985. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45443/. Accessed September 4, 2015.