My parents brought me along that summer on a trip that took us from our ranch on the Blackfoot River all the way to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and back. We had a near-new 1959 Ford pickup and a new slide-in camper with a sleeping compartment hanging over the cab. They were the latest invention. We saw exactly two of them on our two-week trip.
And that has what to do with beehive burners? I spotted one on our way north out of Idaho Falls. Pop told me that they were used to burn off wood waste from lumber mills. Not many miles down the road, we saw another, then another. My mother had bought 10-year-old me a book, or series of books, called I Spy to keep me entertained on the long road trip. I was already geared up to check off various objects I spied from chickens to radio antennas, so it made sense for me to start counting beehive burners.
I spent much of the road trip sprawled across the bed above the cab staring out of the tiny forward-facing windows, flouting future road rules. If I didn’t see a beehive burner first, my parents would pound on the roof to let me know there was one nearby. By the time we got back home I had tallied 50 of them.
Take that same trip today and you might see a few, mostly relics of bygone days not yet turned into scrap.
Beehive burners were typically fed by a conveyor belt that moved sawdust, woodchips, and snaggled branches into a hole near their top. The wood detritus fell onto the pile of burning debris below. On top of the burners was a smoke vent covered in steel mesh to help keep sparks from flying too far.
Air quality concerns have shut the things down in many places. They belch a lot of smoke. Lumber operations produce much less waste today, too, using what was once burned for particle board and mulch.