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									FORD COUNTRY Michigan
Tech’s forestry program
uses 1,700 acres donated by
Ford in 1954.

  How one Ford Super Duty® and its
  dedicated driver help keep a Michigan
  forestry school running.

  By Evan Rothman Photos by J. Kane

        Load Out
     Every day is a different
      haul for Dave Stimac
       and his 2005 F-250
     Super Duty King Ranch,
     which he affectionately
      calls the King Bling.

                                  Treed Off
                                  Part of Stimac’s job
                                 is to clear brush and
                                keep the forest’s many
                                dirt roads passable for
                                  students and staff.

        The Man
Stimac studies a map in what he
 calls the school’s Nerve Center.
Below, he uses the truck to haul
a four-wheeler, which he rides to    dave stimac calls it the king bling. and
     spots deep in the woods.
                                     when you see it, you understand why: The King is
                                     a handsome Dark Copper and Arizona Beige 2005
                                     Ford F-250 Super Duty® King Ranch with heavy saddle
  leather-trimmed seats and a wood-grain-inlaid instrument panel—a luxurious beast
  powered by a 6.8-liter, 355-horsepower V-10. It is without question Stimac’s most
  essential tool when he’s working deep in the woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
     And Stimac needs a lot of tools for his job as the maintenance and repair foreman at
  the Ford Center at Michigan Technological University in Alberta, where he has worked
  since 1976. He is responsible for the upkeep of virtually everything here—35 build-
  ings and the back roads through more than 5,000 acres of forest, for starters.
     Given Alberta’s history, it’s no coincidence that the truck is a Ford. Henry Ford was
  on his way back from a trip with friends when he came across this pristine piece of
                                   property in the western Upper Peninsula. He decided
                                   then and there that it would make an ideal spot for a
                                   sawmill town and self-sufficient rural community. (Ninety
                                   percent forest, the U.P. makes up roughly a third of
                                   Michigan’s landmass but is home to only about 350,000
                                   of the state’s 10 million residents.) In 1935, construction
                                   was completed on what became the town of Alberta: a
                                   steam-powered sawmill, 12 houses, two schools and
                                   several ancillary buildings.
                                      The town proved useful in supplying wood for Ford
                                   vehicles, particularly the Woodie, as well as for Ford
                                   Charcoal Briquets, which later became Kingsford. It
                                   was also a successful public relations tool, as visitors
                                   were free to watch the carefully maintained mill in ac-
                                   tion. (The floors were repainted every two weeks.) Still,
                                   for a variety of reasons Alberta never developed into
                                   the full-fledged model community that Henry Ford had
                                   imagined. In 1954, seven years after he died, Ford Motor
  Company donated the town and 1,700 adjoining acres of timberland to Michigan
  Tech for research purposes. The mill continued to operate for training and study
  until 1981; Stimac, in fact, was its last head saw man. A $100,000 grant from Ford
  helped convert the sawmill into a museum in 1996. The company donated the King
  Bling to the Ford Center in 2006.
     Today, Alberta is the site of a 14-week fall semester Integrated Field Practicum—
  a.k.a. “fall camp”—for approximately 50 junior-year undergraduate forestry, applied
  ecology and wildlife ecology majors, Master’s of Forestry and Master’s International
  Peace Corps graduate students from Michigan Tech. Short- and long-term housing
  rentals are available year-round, and the Ford Center hosts conferences and gather-
  ings of organizations ranging from the state’s Department of Natural Resources to
  knitting clubs. Stimac’s duties, and therefore the King Bling’s, are no less varied.
     Stimac, 56, begins his workday at 7 a.m. with several cups of black coffee in the
  Ford Center’s cafeteria. After starting up the homemade wood stove and checking
  phone and e-mail messages, he has a plan-of-attack discussion with his part-time
  assistant, Terry Sikkila, in the maintenance building. Stimac has dubbed this place
  the Nerve Center. This jack-of-all-trades has nicknames for pretty much everything,
  includig his personal ride, a 2002 F-350 Super Duty Dually called the Land Yacht.
  We climb into the King Bling’s cab and head into the woods for a quick loop.

                                                                     Fall Camp
                                                                   For one semester every
                                                                       year, the Upper
                                                                   Peninsula is home to a
                                                                    group of forestry and
                                                                   ecology students from
   “Turn on the heated seat,” Stimac instructs.                    Michigan Tech. They all
                                                                    rely on the King Bling.
“That’s starting to come in real handy about
now. It’s not the King Bling for nothing. This
thing is absolute cherry.”
   It’s mid-autumn and frost covers the ground,
but the trees still have a full complement of
leaves—the forest and its foliage are stunning. “I
just love the woods,” Stimac says. “I like to say
that 906 is God’s area code.”
   Our first stop is the well house, where we
check on the water levels to make sure that no
underground leaks have developed; Alberta has
its own water system, and Stimac is a licensed
water-systems operator. There are no problems,
but a little farther along we encounter a com-
mon one: A maple tree has fallen across the dirt
road. Stimac eases the King to a halt—he rarely
goes more than 10 mph in the woods—and
grabs a chain saw out of the truck bed. It’s one
of the things that Stimac always has on hand,
along with a tool kit and, in winter, a chain and
a shovel. Fallen trees in the forest, whether
heard or not, abound here.
After five minutes of sawing,
the road to the forest for
instructor Jim Schmierer’s
tree-climbing seminar (see
picture, opposite page) is
clear again.
   Back in motion, we head
a few minutes northwest
to the Baraga Plains to
check on some security
gates. En route, we find
several potholes that will have to be dealt with later—the King will
be called upon to pull a trailer full of gravel. (For more hard-to-reach
problems, the King will often haul an all-terrain vehicle as deep into
the forest as the truck can go. Stimac will park and set forth on the
smaller vehicle from there.) Someone has indeed rammed the gates
— possibly a frustrated hunter — but because they remain stand-
ing, there is no need to bring in pieces of gate and concrete and a
post hole digger, as in times past.
   Next it’s over to Erickson Lumber & True Value hardware store for
two pallets of salt for the village’s water
softeners before a quick lunch break
at the Nite Owl Cafe. Stimac orders his
regular customized omelet: western                      Old Mill Town
but with bacon added, sausage replac-             The sawmill that Henry Ford built
ing the ham, and extra grilled onions,             in Alberta was last operational
                                                     in 1981. In 1996 it was converted
                                                      into a museum with help from a
                                                        Ford Motor Company grant.

                                                                       songs (“Pride and Joy,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Rock
                                                                       Around the Clock”), takes as long as 300 hours to make. They
                                                                       have sold for upwards of $17,000 apiece.

                                                                       for now, it ’ s back into the king bling and off
                                                                       to Alberta. This is the medium-size trip; last week saw one of his
                                                                       longer drives, 65 miles to Eagle Harbor Beach and back on a mis-
                                                                       sion to get lake stones for the village sauna. In a freak mishap that
                                                                       day, the King got hung up on a hidden stone on the beach, the
                                                                       first time it has ever been stuck. What came to the King’s rescue?
                                                                       Another Ford truck. “This old buck gets out of his brand-spankin’-
                                                                                          new truck and says, ‘I’ve got a Ford, and you’ve got
                                                                                          to help a Ford man,’ ” Stimac recalls.
                                                                                              The early afternoon sees the usual vast array
                                                                                          of activities for Stimac and his truck: carrying ca-
                                                                                          noes used on a student field trip from the dorms
                                                                                          back to Ford Lake. Parking the boat. Clearing more
                                                                                          brush from the back roads. “It’s a part of me, this
                                                                                          truck, like a pair of pants,” says Stimac.
                                                                                              Although it’s hard to believe, this is the calm
                                                                                          before the storm for Stimac and the King Bling.
                                                                                          Stimac says that one can tell the seasons by what
                                                                                          he’s hauling around in the truck, and next week
                                                                                          he will begin to winterize all of Alberta’s buildings.
                                                                                          Very cold winters like the one last year mean days
                                                                                          and days of –20° temperatures, which can freeze
                                                                                          water lines. A portable welder that weighs about
                                                                                          a ton will get hooked up to the truck; lines will
                                                                                          be thawed. Then, of course, there’s snow to be
                                                                                          plowed. “If we get a good blow here, we could be
                                                                                          out plowing for two days straight,” says Stimac.
                                                                                          “So if the Bling goes down, we’ll be hurting. But
        On Belay!                                                                         it’s a very impressive truck. It has a lot of power.
                                    with a side of homemade            Bottom line is, it will do the job. This King Ranch is crucial to this
           Tree climbing is
          an essential skill        wheat toast. It’s a working-       town—I can’t stress that enough.”
         for those studying         man’s lunch, and he is nothing         We take a quick tour of Stimac’s former stomping ground, the
        forestry. Instructor
       James Schmierer, in          if not a workingman.               old sawmill. This was a remarkably efficient operation, capable
       tree, teaches a class           In fact, when his day’s labor   of being run by as few as a dozen workers. If the milling meth-
              on the art.
                                    ends at 3 p.m., Stimac will        ods themselves belonged to the first half of the 20th century,
                                    head not for his couch or his      Henry Ford’s commitment to sustainable forestry practices, such
                                    bed but back to the Nerve          as selective cutting, proved very much ahead of its time.
Center: He rents half of the building from Michigan Tech for his           Back at the Nerve Center, word has come in that there may
woodworking studio and personal furniture-making business,             be some broken glass over at the school’s firing range that needs
both of which he calls Nature’s Way Woodworking. (A brief ex-          to be cleaned up. We’re back in the Bling—“like a pair of pants”
amination of the labeled machines reveals Joanie Jointer, Sandy        indeed. It proves to be a false alarm, with only a few tin cans scat-
Smooth and Plane Jane.) The Upper Peninsula is home to the             tered about that Stimac quickly gathers and throws into the back
vast majority of the country’s bird’s-eye maple, Stimac’s favor-       of the truck. We reach the security gate. “You know, I’ve got a
ite raw material. Each of his exquisite bird’s-eye-maple rock-         good job,” Stimac says after closing the gate and ending his work-
ing chairs, featuring wild designs and named for rock-and-roll         day. “I’ve got the King Bling and the keys to all the locks.” m f


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