Bismarck-based carpenter works to preserve pieces of massive Champion American Elm tree from Lisbon

Published: Jul. 7, 2022 at 7:25 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - An enormous and historic American Elm tree in Lisbon was diagnosed with Dutch Elm Disease and cut down in June. Now, a Bismarck man has salvaged a huge portion and plans to turn the remnants into something special.

Michael Knodel says the tree is larger than he anticipated.

“We had a 544k loader and the rear end was tipping trying to lift this back into the trailer,” said Michael Knodel, owner-operator of Midwest Millworx, Michael K Construction.

The Elm was on the 2021 Register of Champion Trees with a circumference of nearly 18 feet and a height of 58 feet.

“Some of the limbs on it alone were the size of trees,” said Lisbon mayor Tim Meyer.

After the tree was taken down.

“You could almost feel the ground shake a little,” said Meyer

Knodel, with help from Bowers Excavating and Black Leg Ranch, brought the enormous trunk to Bismarck.

“It was kind of a big risk going out there, and a big investment just to go and look at the tree and see if we could even save anything. We did manage to save quite a few pieces, so we’re excited to donate something back to Lisbon and maybe see how old the tree really is,” said Knodel.

He’s now stripping the bark as the first step of the process to get rid of the beetles that spread Dutch Elm Disease.

“These are some of the bugs that are getting to the tree. They get quite a bit bigger than this. But that’s what’s causing all the problems,” said Knodel, pointing to bugs hidden under the bark.

Then he burns the bark, covers the rest of the wood with a tarp and buries the edges, and kiln dries everything. It takes one week for each inch of wood at over 160 degrees with a vacuum.

“There is a procedure that you have to follow in order to reclaim it. It’s not far off from what we do as a standard with any woodworking because we always assume there’s bugs in every wood. And everyone should,” said Knodel.

Next comes the mill. The main part of the tree is so large Knodel had to order another saw. He’s cutting large cookies to better see the size and rings of the tree.

“You know it’s always nice to preserve history for the people that come after,” said Meyer.

“North Dakota is more of a history state. They like preserving stuff, and that’s kind of where we stand on everything too. If there’s some way to preserve history, I would rather do that. That’s how we’ve stood the entire existence of our company,” said Knodel.

No one knows how old the tree is yet.

“There’s a few people that went through and tried to count the rings. I’m not that patient. I am going to hold back and wait till I can get a piece for someone who’s a little more official. I’ll let them count the rings and I’ll do all the prep to get it there,” said Knodel.

After Knodel processes the tree, he plans to turn part of it into something special for the city of Lisbon. Michael and the city have not decided on what, just yet. The rest, he plans to sell back to the community at a discounted rate to offset his costs and give people the opportunity to keep a little piece of history alive.

Knodel certifies wood drying times and temperatures with his Idry Vacuum Kiln. He said it’s always a good idea to kiln dry wood you’ll use in your home.

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