January 2010
4-H Extension Corner

From UCLA to AL Sawmill...?

Darryl and Wendy Curl with the sawmill she operates.

 

How did a noted UCLA instructor, who has traveled all over the world giving lectures, and his chiropractor wife, both San Diego natives, wind up living in rural St. Clair County operating a sawmill, making beautiful furniture, and raising pygmy goats and a handful of chickens?

While it may seem a circuitous route to some, it simply "makes sense," according to Darryl and Wendy Curl.

Darryl was and is an expert in oral-facial pain and headaches while Wendy, a wellness and prevention consultant with a major insurance company, continues part-time now.

The Curls both explained that growing up in the San Diego area was wonderful years ago.

"San Diego was every bit as beautiful as Alabama. There was a small town, family-oriented atmosphere," Darryl explained. "But slowly over the years that changed, sadly, in my opinion."

Still, when Darryl traveled to Europe, Asia, and parts in between (including an all-expense paid trip to treat the royal family of Thailand), "I was always terribly homesick for home in San Diego," Darryl said.

 

Darryl Curl adjusted the router table extension he made from lumber he sawmilled and planed from a 150-year-old oak tree in his yard which was downed during Hurricane Katrina.

"But I’d come to visit my sister, Cheryl, in Clarksville; my brother-in-law Bill in Mobile, and friends in Oneonta, and I wouldn’t get homesick as long as I was in Alabama. I thought at first it was because Oneonta and the area seemed so similar to the way San Diego used to be."

When Darryl retired from the University of California, Los Angeles, the couple lived in Anchorage, Alaska, for a year, before moving permanently to Alabama in 2005.

They looked at houses in and around Oneonta before finding their dream home in next door St. Clair County, just outside of Springville.

Their approximate three acres slants gradually until it’s bordered by a pristine creek. But more importantly, there are TREES everywhere.

"In San Diego there weren’t many trees," Wendy explained. "If you had a tree you certainly didn’t cut it down."

Darryl has been a woodworker since his early teens, when he and a friend built a regulation pool table when they were in the ninth grade.

   

Wendy operates the tractor while Darryl uses a cable to snake a log onto the load to carry to the sawmill on their farm.

 

Once in Alabama, he completely outfitted a workshop on the property, but he didn’t buy his wood at the store.

The couple at first carefully harvested downed trees from storms, cutting the lumber using a regular chainsaw, band saw and table saw, "and way too much brute force."

Although the furniture Darryl made from that lumber is beautiful, getting the wood was simply too labor-intensive.

So this year that did it: they bought a huge Lumber Mate 2000 band saw/sawmill which will handle logs up to 31 inches in diameter.

While the sawmill sits primarily in the corner of their yard, wheels can be attached and it can be pulled behind their truck. With a smaller-sized tractor (also bought because loading the logs to the sawmill had required "more brawn than brains" until that purchase) they now travel to homes and farms where trees are down and cut the trees into useable lumber, for their own use, for the use of the landowner or to sell.

They cringe when they see "good" trees piled with brush in burn piles, knowing there is often good useable lumber that just needs to be harvested from those downed trees.

"To burn a tree like that is such a shame," Wendy explained.

Darryl continued, "A tree is almost 100% useable. There is usually beautiful wood, bark that can be used for mulch, sawdust for gardens or for bedding animals, and more.

"We save homeowners the money of having to have trees disposed of and, if somebody just buys rough-cut lumber from us, they can know it is true sized, for example with 2x4s actually being 2x4."

 

Oak, pecan pine, hickory and poplar lumber drying in the Curl’s garage helped along by a dehumidifier and a propane heater.

The Curls have converted their two-car basement garage into a drying room, where a dehumidifier and a propane heater help to dry stacks of cherry, walnut, hickory, pine, oak, poplar and more. Their bedroom is directly above the drying area so it requires little heat, demonstrating the couple’s desire to use all things for more than one benefit.

Darryl believes the country will come out of the current economic financial situation with a better understanding of our resources.

"In the old economy there was a way of life where people treated things as somewhat disposable. I believe in the new economy that will change a bit. When someone has to cut a tree or it is downed by storm damage, they need to stop and think how that lumber could be used to build things at their home or business, or by a church or someone else ."

 

This vegetable bin was built by Darryl from reclaimed wood.

"It sometimes takes nature 150 years to grow a tree, but then only five or ten minutes to burn it," Darryl explains.

The Curls lost a 150 year old oak to the winds of Hurricane Katrina a few years ago. As a neighbor began cutting the tree up for firewood, the Curls decided the tree needed to "live on" in a different way.

Now they point out several beautiful pieces of furniture they call "Katrina wood" from that tree.

An attractive three-panel privacy fence at the end of their driveway (shielding the sawmill area) is made from pine.

Even some of the goat sheds and the neat chicken coop were made from downed wood.

It’s truly a partnership as Wendy is the sawmill operator while Darryl loads the logs and unloads and stacks the lumber.

Even pine branches have their purpose as they go to feed the six pygmy goats.

The female pygmies’ pasture encompasses a wooden play area complete with tree house, slide and other play areas, which was there when the couple bought the house. Now a different kind of "kid" enjoys those playful amenities.

Wendy Curl and bottle-fed Lily.

 

While Darryl had experience with some livestock before, bottle-feeding Lily, which the couple bought when she was six days old, was a new experience for Wendy. Although she was born on Easter (thus her name), Lily will still jump into Wendy’s arms when she claps her hands.

The chickens free-range over the farm during the day, and Darryl is talking about adding a couple of geese as "burglar alarms."

Wendy’s mother and stepfather came to visit a couple of years ago, went back to their native Los Angeles, immediately put their house on the market and bought a home in the same area as the Curls. Now they say they’ll never move again as well, so taken are they with the area.

 

The kids’ playground has been taken over by real “kids.”

Darryl said his feelings for the area really came into focus a few weeks ago when they were attending to some business at the Blount County Courthouse in Oneonta.

"I had a sudden urge to go outside and look at the monuments," he said. "I walked right up to the engraving noting that Alvin P. Curl, my uncle, had died during World War II. And then it struck me why I never became homesick when I visited here."

"It’s the idea of family," he concluded. "This place just has everything we wanted."

Author’s Note: You can contact the Curls at Alabama Portable Sawmill at (205) 401-3783.

Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer from Blount County. You can reach her at www.suzysfarm.com.