"Jim Stafford asked me to make his kitchen out of Rock Elm. He had seen a small sample of this material and knew it was exactly what he wanted. The problem was that Elm was killed off by Dutch elm disease years ago and nothing was available. That didn’t discourage Jim. He knew at one time it was plentiful in and around Michigan State.
It was Jim’s brilliant idea to hire a 4 wheel drive, find a couple of lumberjacks, and set off on the back wood trails looking, not for trees, but for old barns and buildings that were dilapidated and ready to be pulled down. We were armed with a flashlight and a hand plane. We would check out the beams and boards in the buildings and if we recognized a sufficient amount of rock Elm in the construction Jim would have his lumberjacks negotiate a deal to purchase these buildings. In a few cases the farmers paid to have the building torn down for safety reasons.
It took most of the year to assemble enough material to build the cabinetry for Jim's residence. Once the beams were purchased they went to a small shop with a saws-all, a giant band saw type of equipment, to be cut into lumber. All the beams were checked over with a metal detector to search for nails and metal components that would damage the saw. Often bullets were found lodged into the beams. Some were obviously lead pellets that dated from the civil war.
In our search for material we stumbled across an Amish farm. A very nice family. They were proud parents of several daughters of various ages and a young son probably 16 years old. The father took us through his work shop with all the metal and woodworking tools run off an array of leather belts and steel pulleys powered by a single Briggs and Stratton engine: the only modern equipment the family was allowed to own.
The daughters were all quilting beautiful blankets. The mother hand served us up hot coffee and freshly baked cinnamon buns. The aroma in the house was to die for.
Before we left the father insisted his son take us for a ride in their sleigh. We stepped outside and there was a beautiful hand painted sleigh with two huge Clydesdales hooked up and ready to go. The son was a master with the team, racing over the farm fields like a racecar driver at the Indianapolis 500. The highlight of the ride was when the young man had his steeds standing in one spot, acting as a center panicle with their legs prancing up and down, and the sleigh was wildly spinning 360 degrees around them. It had nothing to do with finding Rock Elm but a great afternoon none the less.
Using the reclaimed material was also a very big challenge. Our craftsmen had to source the material carefully selecting each board to match for color, avoid nail holes and defects, or at times finding a special board that was defective in someway but just had to be displayed because it had it own special beauty. Jim’s project was a challenge from start to finish but the end result made it all worth it"