- Apr 07, 2018 -
“I’ve done some big trees in my lifetime but nothing like this,” Mike Mongeon, co-owner of North Smithfield Tree Service, said while taking a break from the project Thursday. “It’s the biggest I’ve done.”
SCITUATE, R.I. — The tree in Scituate apparently stood through the Battle of the Alamo, the Civil War, World Wars I and II, the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the election of Donald Trump.
It grew for more than 200 years, Mike Mongeon, co-owner of North Smithfield Tree Service, estimated. “It took four hours to get down.”
Although the white ash tree on Moswansicut Lake Drive had withstood countless blizzards, as well as hurricanes — including the massive Hurricane of 1938 — freezes and heat waves, it finally succumbed to rot and then the chainsaw.
The tree was 110 feet tall and 17 feet around at the base, according to Mongeon, who’s 62, and has been cutting down trees since he was 14 years old. He’s taken down taller trees, but none as thick or as old.
“I’ve done some big trees in my lifetime but nothing like this,” Mongeon said while taking a break from the project Thursday. “It’s the biggest I’ve done.”
The tree was likely among the oldest in Rhode Island, according to John Campanini, technical adviser with the Rhode Island Tree Council. Campanini wasn’t familiar with this particular tree but said Rhode Island trees taller than 65 feet and older than 80 years are considered remarkable because the Hurricane of 1938 wiped out so many trees.
Development is the biggest threat to trees growing old and tall because, even if they’re not chopped down, the construction of roads and nearby buildings can interfere with their root development, shortening their lives, Campanini said. Campanini believes this tree survived because it was in a rural part of the state.
“Part of Rhode Island was lost” when the tree was cut down, said Campanini. “This was a beautiful big tree, and there’s not as many tall, old trees like that left around here.”
The tree was still alive but “rotting from the inside out,” according to Mongeon. The rot was so obvious that Mongeon, who’s 6 feet, 2 inches tall, was able to stand inside a cavity about 25 feet high on the tree.
Mongeon said it was “a miracle” that a big part of the tree didn’t come down in a storm this winter. “The limbs were the size of large trees,” Mongeon said. “If one of those limbs came down, it could kill somebody in a second.”
Homeowner Ron Manish said the tree in their front yard was already rotting and “had a big hole in it” when he and his wife, Helene, moved into the house 15 years ago. They had an arborist treat the tree years ago, but its condition worsened this winter.
“It got to the point where it was unsafe,” Manish said. “We had to take it down.”
The tree became a running joke after storms this winter. When friends would ask if the tree had been knocked down, Manish would reply, “No, the wind blows right through it.”
To take down the tree, Mongeon, his son Greg and worker Atilano Vargas needed a 30-ton crane, a bucket truck, chain saws and a wood chipper. They started high on the tree, standing in the bucket, cutting branches and then the trunk. The crane would carry “huge parts” of the tree and drop them by the chipper.
It’s dangerous work. They had to ensure they weren’t in the way when a cut branch would swing away from the tree. And they couldn’t cut sections so big that they would tip the crane.
The three men brought the tree down in the morning. In the afternoon, they removed the butt of the tree and hauled it away. It barely fit in the truck, which is 8 feet wide, Mongeon said.
Some of the tree will be used for firewood, split among neighbors of the Manishes. Mongeon estimated that it would amount to four or five cords of wood. The main trunk weighs 30,000 to 40,000 pounds, he estimated.
Taking down a tree this old comes with some sadness, Mongeon acknowledges, as he considers how many Christmases have passed since the tree emerged from the ground.
Manish said, “It was a good tree. It gave us a lot of shade and privacy.”