published Friday, March 29th, 2013

A lucky few take home Osage orange remains (with slideshow)

Participants examine wood during the wood lottery.
Participants examine wood during the wood lottery.
Photo by Dan Henry.

A look of disbelief, followed swiftly by pure elation, crossed Jason Martin's face when he heard his name called first.

He had two minutes to call out the number of the lot of wood from Hamilton County's historic Osage orange tree that he wanted to take home with him.

As the clock ticked, he ran to the rows of giant logs cut from the massive tree that fell last fall on the county courthouse lawn, and the woodworkers around him held their breaths.

Finally -- "number 47," he shouted, staking his claim on one of the finest logs in the lot.

"I can't believe I got chosen," he said. "I'm in shock. I'm at a loss for words."

Anticipation was high among those who showed up to the Chattanooga Public Works Department's wood lottery Thursday morning.

More than 60 carpenters, furniture makers and wood turners came to try their luck on a number of decorative woods such as box elder and persimmon.

And, of course, the crowning glory, the Osage orange tree, at least 150 years old and beloved by residents across Hamilton County for its history and sentimental value.

City Forester Gene Hyde said the department holds wood lotteries pretty regularly, but that the turnout for this one was higher than normal.

"They're coming for the Osage orange tree," he said.

Martin, a little teary-eyed, tied a green cord around his prize.

"I've attended at least two weddings underneath this tree," he said. "I'm glad I got it. It's very touching."

He plans on turning the wood into a bar top and mantelpiece in his North Chattanooga home and placing a plaque to commemorate its story.

"It's the history of having it," he said. "Having a part of Chattanooga. It's something my kids can enjoy."

He also hopes to donate a piece of it to Normal Park Elementary School, where his son attends.

"The next step is figuring out how to get it home," Martin said.

But Martin's treasure had nothing on the big-ticket item, a nearly 9,000-pound section of the Osage orange tree, 5 feet in diameter and the size of a small sedan.

Though the piece was lustfully sized up by everyone there, only one lucky man got the privilege of transporting the 4.5-ton log to the sawmill.

The huge trunk was nearly the last piece to be claimed.

But for Matt Campbell, the challenge was worth it.

"The sentiment of the tree is just too great to care," he said.

He and his apprentice, Justus Stout, had their names called midway through the lottery and chose medium-sized osage and walnut logs to turn into tabletops. Satisfied, they were making plans to haul them back when Stout's name was called.

Several seconds of confusion passed as Stout conferred with Campbell before he yelled out "fifty-four!" Suddenly they were the happy, if somewhat bewildered, new owners of the heart of that massive and iconic tree.

"At what other point in my life can I get something like that?" Campbell said.

Contact staff writer Lindsay Burkholder at lburkholder@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.

about Lindsay Burkholder...

Lindsay Burkholder is originally from Winston-Salem, N.C. She graduated from Covenant College in May 2012 with a bachelor's degree in English. While at Covenant she spent time writing for and editing the news section of the school newspaper, The Bagpipe. Burkholder also attended the World Journalism Institute in New York City in 2011.

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