When we received word that “they” were coming through the neighborhood replacing light poles, we knew we would be affected in a huge way. The “they” referred to in this instance was what we used to call VEPCO (Virginia Electric Power Company) in its younger days, but now has morphed into Dominion Energy. No matter the name, the electric utility poles in our yard and in the yards of our rental properties would be affected.
In and of itself this is not a big deal. New electric utility poles needed to be erected beside existing electric utility poles, so Dominion Energy could update lines from single phase to triple phase service. This updating would be progress even though the average residential customer would not be affected by the switch.
However, in order to erect the new electric utility poles, any trees which had grown too much under or into the existing electrical wires would have to be trimmed back so as to guarantee the tree branches would not intersect with the soon to be replaced new power line.
Asplundh Tree Expert Co. was contracted to clear the intersected trees from the power lines before new poles could be erected. In the front yard, there was an almost 100-year-old willow oak tree that would have to be drastically side pruned. This type of pruning would leave all of the weight of the tree on the house side and would thereby make the huge tree unstable.
In the yard of the rental property, the intersecting tree would have to be V-pruned which would leave that tree with a horrendous shape.
The difficult decision was made to remove the trees if Asplundh would agree to do the work. The almost 100-year-old willow oak was a monster of a tree which had already withstood several prunings in its lifetime. It reached probably 50 feet in height, and the base was at least 6.5 feet in diameter. This was the tree that would require time and effort to take down properly as it rested in the utility lines and towered over the two-story home of Riley and Jean Hart of South Boston by at least 20 feet.
Bang!!!!!! Asplundh agreed to take the tree down and would begin the task soon. It was now time for the Harts to really discuss their decision and try to reconcile the decision to remove the tree with the sentimental memories tied in with the tree.
“I had always been told by my mother, Hattie Cassada Hart, that she planted the tree,” Riley Hart said. “I know the tree has been there my entire life, and I will be 73 years old in December. Mom died in 2015 at 105 years old. Jean and I have always referred to the tree as Miss Hattie’s tree. It had been a source of enjoyment for my parents when they lived in this house and has also proven to be a comforting place for Jean and me to porch sit and visit with neighbors,” Hart explained.
“Now it will be no more,” Hart continued, “and that’s sad. That tree has provided many years of shade, a home to countless, entertaining, frustrating, aggravating squirrels, woodpeckers, blue jays, cardinals, doves, mockingbirds, hummingbirds--the occasional black snakes and on and on. It is going to take some getting used to is an understatement,” Hart said.
And so, it began. Asplundh arrived with two bucket trucks and a crew of six individuals (three per truck) and quietly and methodically began the surgical process of removing Miss Hattie’s tree.
Riley and Jean sat on their porch and marveled at each precision cut and watched as the cutters and helpers lowered the limbs with rope to insure no limbs came in contact with the house. And they didn’t. Asplundh did not make up the name Tree Expert Company out of the blue. They truly are experts in what they do, and those guys are fascinating to watch.
Each cut is planned, coordinated and communicated with the ground workers to insure no accidents. They have an excellent safety record, and as we watched each cut, each lowering or dropping of the limbs, the chipping of the brush and eventually the clean-up raking of that first days cutting, all moves were precisely and safely done. We were fascinated and quite impressed.
At the end of the first day cutting, all that Asplundh had left to cut was the bare skeleton of the huge willow oak tree with three branches that reached skyward.
Neighbors commented how they liked the way we trimmed the tree.
“Really,” Hart said.
“They are not done yet. They’ll come back next week and finish the job,” he explained.
They just shook their heads, not quite understanding the why, what or how of the situation with which the Harts were confronted.
A week later the big orange truck and the accompanying white bucket truck once again roared into the Hart’s yard.
“I figured today would be an easy day for the Asplundh guys,” Hart said. “Boy was I wrong. The hard part and the most tedious and tiring part of the job of getting this tree down was before them.” Riley and Jean Hart positioned themselves back on the front porch once again to overview the eventual coming down of Miss Hattie’s tree.
It did not happen as quickly as the Harts anticipated. After the last branches with leaves were cut and lowered hours later, and there was no more shade the old tree could provide, the bulk of the huge tree and its branches had to be dismembered. This was not an easy task. However, the Asplundh team again systematically and surgically removed each branch.
The foreman of the team, J. D. Buchanan, knew exactly where to place the power saw. The closer he got to the ground, the more precise his cutting became. He never lost his smile, he never said a discouraging word (out loud), and he did not stop, except for the mandatory company breaks which he was required to take -- neither did the team.
What was left after all the cutting, after all the de-branching, after all the limbs were removed was the humongous base of the willow oak tree. Miss Hattie’s tree stood naked in the bright sunlight. It would never again provide shade or refuge to squirrels, birds or snakes. All that remained would be the memories that mighty tree provided to countless people over the years.
The Harts were glad Miss Hattie could not see the end result of her planting countless decades ago. She would not like it.
As the Asplundh team prepared to topple the huge base of Miss Hattie’s tree, every man on the team (including Riley and Jean Hart) decided the safer vantage point would be on the ground behind where the stump was supposed to topple. A rope was secured around the top of the trunk. The rope was wrenched by the Asplundh truck. There was some creaking and groaning and then a loud snap and pop. The rope broke. Whew -- thank goodness everyone was ok.
The foreman analyzed the situation further and decided he would have to attach a cable to the tree trunk instead of the lighter weight rope. After making sure everyone was indeed OK, he cautioned everyone to stand further back, secured the cable around the top of the tree trunk and once again climbed back into the truck and pulled the cable gradually tighter. There was additional groaning and creaking, but this time the mighty oak toppled with a loud thud. Everyone assembled let out a deep gasp of relief (and one held his head).
The mighty oak was down, everyone was safe, everyone was tired, and everyone stepped forward to look at Miss Hattie’s majestic tree.
“Mr. Hart, it was certainly a good decision to take the tree down. If we had trimmed it like we were required to do, it would not have continued standing but maybe another year or so,” said Mike Anderson, the team supervisor. “It most certainly would have fallen and caused you quite a bit more trouble.”
In the battle of progress versus memories, this time, progress was on the winning side.
The Harts made the correct decision to take the tree down, and they were relieved after discovering the inside of the tree trunk was hollow.
The taking down of Miss Hattie’s tree was a huge endeavor for The Harts. It was an emotional decision for them also.
Asplundh made their ordeal easier with their approach to the task at hand. Sure, it is all in a day’s work for them, and they do the same thing day after day.
However, it was a first-time thing for The Harts, and it was a piece of their history that was taken down.
“Thank you, Asplundh. You had already told me that most of the time you receive criticism for your work in the way you have to trim things. Jean and I want you to know how much we appreciate what you have done for us. You all did a superb job,” Hart concluded.