Thursday, January 20, 2011

Three Years Ago Today: Old Burner

Three years ago today, while driving the backroads north of Truckee, CA, I came across this old wigwam burner located in the small town of Sattley (Google Street View). These burners were used to burn sawmill and logging yard wastes until they were decommissioned during the 1970s to early 1980s — at the latest — due to both economic and environmental concerns (including the Clean Air Act of 1970).

I remember seeing a lot of these burners while traveling in Oregon and California (especially Oregon) during my younger years, and so I associate them with my childhood. For some unknown reason, I have also come to associate the burners with the sickly smell of paper mills, even though sawmills and paper mills didn't (usually?) occur in the same locations.

The stench of a paper mill — a strangely fond olfactory memory of sorts, because paper mills remind me of my grandparents' old house — is nearly indescribable: it is strong and penetrating, sharp to the nose, sometimes intolerably so if the wind is in the wrong direction or if the air is just hanging and not moving. I've heard some say that the thick smoke smells like rotten egg, a typical sulfur smell, which would make sense because one of the key ingredients of the output of paper mills is hydrogen sulfide, one of several TRS compounds (TRS = total reduced sulfur). In my memory, the smell is something stronger or sharper or sicklier than that of rotten eggs, and some have mentioned rotten cabbage or rotten broccoli (eew!).

This compilation shows that zero sawmills are located in Oregon at present.

A Few Relevant Links:
Wigwam Burners / TeePee Burners on Flickr
List of remaining burners in the U.S.
Odors from Paper Mills
Pulp and Paper Industry Odors
Total Reduced Sulfides

Total Reduced Sulphur Compounds
That reeking paper mill keeps Franklin running


Gaelyn said...

I remember the paper mill smell in Bellingham, WA when I was in collage. It's gone now. Not pleasant!

Lockwood said...

I arrived in OR just in time to see the last of these still being used. Most were dismantled fairly quickly, but I think I saw one a few years back still standing. Don't remember where, though.

Cole Kingsbury said...

I was in Truckee last summer and I remember seeing on of them somewhere along the road between Truckee and Lassen. I think the one pictured could be the one I saw. Cool!

Silver Fox said...

@Gaelyn: It's really amazing how strongly the smell of paper mills has stuck with me over the years!

@Lockwood: I know there's one in Adin, CA, on the road between Susanville and KFalls, and I see that one every other year or so. I'm not sure where I've seen them in Oregon recently - that one link shows all the remaining ones at least until 2007.

@Cole I was really surprised the first time I saw this one, and it would be closer to Truckee, but on a road that would take you to Lassen. I think they are all cool. :)

Dude Diligence said...

I love these old burners. Back in the 1960s, we did a lot of family camping in Oregon. I remember these burners, especially at night, belching a constant stream of sparks into the night air. I've run across a few during my recent travels in the Pacific Northwest and photographed them. I started the Flickr group and it has really become a wonderful archive of these burners.

Silver Fox said...

The Flickr group really is a great thing; besides archiving the photos, it encourages people to go out and photograph the remaining burners.

Silver Fox said...

Oh, and I just added this photo to the Flickr group.

Cujo359 said...

Having moved into this area after those burners were decommissioned, I'd always wondered what they were used for. Thanks for explaining that mystery.

OTOH, for anyone living near the Tacoma Tide Flats, the smell of a pulp mill is no mystery. It's nice that it brings back fond memories for you. For most of us, it's just a reminder that the wind is blowing in the wrong direction.

Silver Fox said...

Cujo, it's an odd kind of "fond" memory - just one of those "strong" (as in very strong) olfactory associations, in this case a bad smell retrieves good memories!