Today, if you could find a rock elm (Ulmus thomasii) that was somehow passed up by yester-year's lumberjacks, you'd marvel at this species. Before the 1920s, you could readily find stands of trees 100' tall and 3' in diameter from southern Ontario to southern Michigan and Wisconsin.
The rock elm's size, of course, made it attractive to lumbermen. Without a use, though, even the largest of trees won't spark logging activity. But the rock, or cork elm as it is often called, had many.
Back when British shipbuilders scoured the Colonies' vast forests, they discovered rock elm. Its wood was nearly as tough as hickory, yet wouldn't split. And under water, rock elm outlasted any other North American hardwood. So the virgin stands began to fall, their logs sent overseas. Later, in the dawn of the auto industry, loggers again felled the rock elm to get shock-absorbing stock for wheel hubs, spokes, and frames.
Wooden ice-box manufacturing also prompted rock elm's harvest. The wood stood up well to dampness, and scrubbed clean with little effort. Made into farm implements-and even furniture-it withstood abuse. In fact, lumberjacks preferred rock elm over any other wood for ax handles.
And why is rock elm absent from today's commercial wood list? The species has been relegated to poorer soils, which produce smaller and more widely scattered trees. The large rock elm stands remain history.
Illustration: Jim Stevenson