The most hostile location yet was the forest, located in Liberty, TX. For the show, we had to cover a group of lumberjacks and the equipment they use. The machine we are repairing is a Tigercat 630 “skitter.” This is a machine that grabs trees in the forest and drags them to the loading area.
Words cannot adequately express how big these machines are. The front end has the shovel, which clears debris and can pave temporary roads. The back end has a giant grappling arm and carries the trees. The tires can’t turn; instead the machine turns in the center (the actual body pivots). Needless to say, there are many blind spots, so we had to all sound off before each take.
This was just ONE of the machines. The most dangerous machine was the cutter. This beast has a horizontal saw (about 3 feet in diameter) that spins at over 200 mph and can saw through a tree in about a second. It also grabs the tree before it falls and can place it in a pile for the skitter. After the skitter, another machine grabs trees and puts them through a de-limber. This is a shaft that takes the trees and cuts all of the limbs and branches (it also saws off the thin tops and makes them into uniform logs). The final machine, the loader, takes the trees and loads them onto a semi-truck with a collapsible bed. This was the big boys Toys R’ Us, but we had to be constantly alert. These machines can easily kill someone in the most gruesome ways imaginable. It’s probably good that I didn’t follow in my father’s footsteps and surround myself with stuff like this day after day. I’m just too clumsy.
We could have been in deep shit on the last day. The logging industry can’t just cut down any trees they want. They have to go very far into the woods to tree farms (these can take over two decades to grow, by the way). To do this, they create temporary dirt roads that are easily twenty miles from even a rural side road. On this particular day, we started to hear thunder. The foreman told us that if it started to rain, we would have to drop everything and make a run for it. Since the roads are dirt, our trucks could sink within a matter of minutes if it was a heavy rain, and that means we would have to get out of this place on foot. If it was a seriously heavy rain, the whole forest could flood, and that’s when things can get life-threatening. It goes without saying that we were in overdrive, and we managed to get out of the woods just before it started to rain.
After that, we headed back to the cement factory to film the work scenes. This location was only slightly less hostile. Although we had access to a bathroom and such, the dust was unbelievable. This fine stuff just gets all over the equipment, and we constantly had to use blowers to keep our gear clean. For audio, this dust can actually destroy the equipment. The heat was back full force, as well.
Mixing concrete is a really tough job. Once it’s mixed and in the truck, the driver has only 60 minutes in this heat to get it poured. We found ourselves racing the clock again, but we did manage to get to the second location and film a driveway being made in time.
The location after that was really cool, and I don’t just mean that it had air conditioning. We took the skitter to a custom paint shop, and the work this guy could do was truly amazing. Filming it, however, was another exercise in endurance. The paint shop is like a hangar, no windows, and it’s pretty much a steel box. When we film, we have to have the garage doors closed and the fans off for audio. The mercury quickly climbed to hottest temperature I’ve experienced yet. I’m not sure how bad it got, but if it was 106° outside, it was easily ten more in there. I felt like Alec Guinness in The Bridge on the River Kwai. And then there was the paint. All of us had to wear masks to breathe properly, and it was hard to concentrate on the sound in so much discomfort. It was just diabolical.
I have also shot more in Houston, mostly at the speed shop where they overhaul the machines. Our next location is Dallas. I’m told we are going to film a pig farm and a feed supply. I think this is going to be a loud, smelly week. In the meantime, I am trying to just stay focused on my work and the rewards and not on how much I miss home and my lady. I’m grateful that my family has been calling so much to check on me, and I think about all of you often. In fact, while we were in Liberty, I someone that looked just like my cousin Kelly (who’s about to tie the knot!), and I was sad thinking about how much I want to go to her wedding and how long ago the family reunion already seems. I hope I can see some family before I leave Texas.
This is NOT my cousin, Kelly McDermand.
But I must go onwards and upwards! I am now over three weeks into production, and there’s a LONG way to go. For those of you interested, I’m told the show will air on October 7th. More on that coming soon.