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Something to chew on other than your home

By Lynn Hummel

It’s nitty-gritty time. It was time at our house to put on our gloves and start digging. We have a long row of railroad ties used for landscaping purposes that were getting rotten and needed to be replaced.

So I went to the only place in town that said they had railroad ties, only they didn’t. Railroad ties, as you know, are eight to eight and a half feet in length, they measure about eight inches square, they weigh about 200 pounds each and they’re soaked in creosote. Creosote is that black goop made of coal tar and coal pitch. Creosote may increase the risk of cancer and respiratory problems and it may cause skin rash.

I wanted ten new ties. It was my good fortune that they were out. I wasn’t willing to wait around for the next shipment, so I elected to get 10 treated landscape timbers instead. Although they cost a little more than railroad ties. I call it my good fortune because they weigh about half the weight of railroad ties and they’re not covered by creosote.

But I still had to remove those railroad ties and get rid of them. A 200 pound railroad tie is a real wrestling match, even for a middleweight contender like me. I finessed them into a wheelbarrow one by one, then wheeled them the length of my yard and balanced and leveraged four of them into my trailer.

I happened to deliver them to the landfill at noon hour. When I drove to the railroad tie dumping area, two heavy equipment operators were sitting in the shade of their huge Caterpillar dozers having lunch. When I started unloading those heavy, gooey, rotten monsters, I heard a voice. “Could you use a hand?” One of those heavy equipment guys had come over to help. I didn’t turn him down. Four railroad ties are about two minutes’ work for a young, light-heavyweight and an aging middleweight. Yes, even your landfill has Good Samaritans and they are certainly appreciated. The other six ties have been dug from their moorings and still need to be loaded up and hauled out. But I’ve recruited a strong, willing son-in-law to help with the heavy lifting, and for two guys, the task will be a breeze.

When digging ties out of the sod where they’ve been for over 20 years, I uncovered thousands of black carpenter ants digging little tunnels in the ties. They scurried in all directions, not having seen daylight maybe in their entire lifetimes. They don’t digest wood as I’ve learned, so it’s not food for them, they just chew on it. They love to chew on dead wood. They seemed to be minding their own business, so I minded my own business and left them alone. But I’ll still be placing those landscaping timbers where the railroad ties were in order to give them something to chew on. I don’t want them getting bored and marching across my yard by the thousands heading for our wooden thresholds.

Again, the moral of the story: protect your health, skin and back by getting rid of creosote covered railroad ties, but replace them with wooden timbers to give the carpenter ants something to chew on other than your home.