By Larry Dablemont
If I were a young man trying to find a decent job, I would buy an old pontoon boat with a good outboard motor and strip everything off of it to just leave a flat deck. I would acquire a couple of chain saws and a powerful winch, hire a couple of young, strong guys, and get rich, spending my days on the lakes around the Ozarks cutting cedar logs, bringing them in and selling them.
Eight-foot cedar logs that are six- to 10-inches in diameter are bringing amazing prices now, and on Ozark lakes like Bull Shoals, Norfork and Truman, there are a million of them, and they do not need to be dried out and stripped of bark like green cedar logs. The ones on the lake have been dead for 60 or 70 years and the sapwood is gone, leaving nothing but the red heart of the wood. The outside is hard and white and gray, bleached by the sun, and there is nothing left but that beautiful red wood. I think that two or three strong men could easily cut up to 100 logs a day. And it is legal, the Corps of Engineers allows you to take any wood off the lakes as long as it is dead.
I once got a permit to take some cedar off of Bull Shoals and I took it to a sawmill and made some great lumber out of it. Now that regular two-by-fours cost upwards of $10 or $12 each, one cedar log can produce $50 worth of wood or more. A 10-inch cedar log can produce an eight-inch fireplace mantel worth a hundred dollars or more.
I will guarantee that on some of the Ozark lakes there are a thousand or more of the cedar logs as large as 20 inches in diameter and easily 20 feet long. And if they were cut and brought in, the market for them is widespread and the price paid is sky high. I think that with the barge and a truck and trailer it would be easy to bring in enough logs in a few days to build an entire cabin of impressive size.
Back in the mid 1980s I lived in north Arkansas and Bull Shoals Lake was my playground. I fished it hard, hunted deer and turkeys and duck from one end of it to the other. One day my Labrador and I were there hunting fishing lures on the high water line of the lake, when I heard a little pig squealing. My Lab, Beau, came running back to me, and up the hillside there was a big white sow quite upset with him, hot on his heels. I jumped in my boat and backed out into the lake and Beau swam out toward me. Thankfully, that mad momma hog didn’t want to swim.
Later that day we were in another spot, looking for lures again and I came across a beautiful big rock that looked as if it were full of diamonds. I took it home and gave it to Gloria for an anniversary present and to this day it sits on the buffet in her kitchen. There were, on the wave-washed shores of the lake, tons and tons of beautiful rock.
I don’t know why I got the idea, but that afternoon I loaded the bed of my pick-up with extraordinarily beautiful rocks. On top of the rocks I loaded some cedar driftwood that an Illinois woodcarver asked me to bring him and a few days later headed north. With the cedar delivered to the wood carver, I started stopping at aquarium shops, selling the rocks a few at a time. At Rock Island, Illinois, I was guided to a wholesale aquarium dealer and emptied the entire amount of those beautiful rocks for $750.
I could have done that again and again but I never did. I found out that while I could sell the dead cedar to that woodcarver, it was against the law to sell the rocks off of Corps of Engineers ground.
Today I still fish hard on Ozark lakes, but when the fish aren’t biting, or I get tired of casting, I just tie my boat up somewhere and search the high water lines for fishing lures. Sometimes I will find 15 or 20 in a couple of hours. I have found some valuable antique lures doing that. But I can’t stop noticing hundreds of beautiful rocks as I do so, and I think of how that aquarium dealer’s eyes lit up when he saw those in the bed of my pickup.
But I am an outdoor writer and it was easier for me to sell manuscripts to outdoor magazines back then. They paid well and I made a good living that way, which curtailed any desire to load up rocks and driftwood on any regular basis. Still, I recall that up in those northern states, they don’t have beautiful rocks. I do…up here on Lightnin’ Ridge, I have them all around my place, some of the most unbelievably beautiful and unique rocks you have ever seen.
And when someone says I must be crazy out on some lake looking for lures and rocks and driftwood, I just remember how much money I made in the 1980s, hauling in a pick-up load of both. And back then, I fished and hunted a lot too. Bull Shoals Lake for me was living the good life. So, guess what I still do, out on the lakes I visit, when the fishing slows or the ducks aren’t flying? My Labrador and I hunt driftwood, rocks and fishing lures! I am never happier doing anything.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Larry Dablemont is an outdoor writer from Bolivar, Mo.