A switch from bought-in timbers to in-house sawmilling has allowed a family restoring an ancient German estate to broaden its horizons.
The switch to sawing timber themselves also gives the owners more flexibility, improved quality of timbers and a valuable opportunity to branch out into retail timber as well as other independent sources of income.
Sylko Schlenstedt, 50 and his family own the estate in Saxony near the village of Hohenölsen-Kleindraxdorf. The small village which has 630 inhabitants, was founded alongside a silvermine 650 years ago.
The estate had belonged to an aristocratic family called von Reuß ältere Linie. After WWII and until the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 it was one of the communist regime’s farm cooperatives, where Sylko Schlenstedt's parents worked. As a child and unaware of the politics, Sylko played in the dungeons, cellars and haystacks, regarding it as something of an adventure playground. In 1998, the now run-down estate was put up for sale and his wife, made the life-altering decision to buy it.
Sylko and his wife, after struggling hard to put together the finance, succeeded with the purchase. However, after the euphoria it dawned on them that it would take twenty years at least to put the place right –– and there wouldn’t be any free time.
Amused but not bemused, their two sons joined in whilst noting that the Chinese proverb: The road is the aim had taken on a new meaning. They were all aware that the estate was too big even for the ever expanding family. The roofs alone cover 1000 cubic metres.
However, they grew into it. They needed space for family, friends and also a bikers’ club called The Dark Forces, founded in
1992 by Sylko, a Harley-Davidson enthusiast. In fact, five families live on the estate, working on repairs to the historic, mostly 19th-century buildings Sylko works as a truck driver from 7am to 7pm whilst planning work at home on the estate. Robert and Bastian, his sons are both metal workers at small companies in the area.
After work everybody including women –– far from watching television –– build brick walls, saw timber and tackle other tasks on the estate until late. At first it was difficult, repairing the roofs and generally tidying-up. It took months to scratch layers of whitewash from the vaulted roofs. Fortunately, volunteers came and worked for a few weeks, some for months.
Members of the motorcycle club saved the boards and beams of an ancient, derelict wooden bridge which was dismantled and reborn as a timber veranda in the main courtyard. In summer they sit there, talking Harleys!
The estate timbers presented an interesting problem as standard dimensions proved inappropriate for restoration of these
ancient buildings. It led to undue expense and inflexibility in buying in custom cut timbers. Often during particular restorations, just a couple of boards were needed and work ceased while they awaited them from a sawmill.
Almost inevitably, this led to the decision to saw their own timbers to their own, rather special requirements when they wanted the timbers and in the medium term at reduced cost. The price of logs was fairly low, anyhow.
After some research they homed in on Wood-Mizer’s small-to-medium band sawmill, the LT20B. Hydraulic loading was unnecessary because several materials handling machines operated on the estate but the Schlenstedts and their friends did want the as-standard powered log feeding capabilities. Another attraction was the price of the mill: €10000.
Now, when battens, boards, planks or beams are needed, they put a log on the sawmill and saw it to required shapes and
dimensions and continue their work without unnecessary breaks.
The mill was intended to solely serve their own needs but now, a year later, fifty per cent of its time is taken up with sawing timbers for customers. This presents a whole new aspect to the estate’s activities as well as income.
Wood-Mizer recently developed the LT20B by combining the attributes of two of its mills –– one small, the other small-to-medium. It aimed to meet specific requests from some of its customers who operate the small mills for something more rugged and having more functions without recourse to a larger, more costly version.
The Schlenstedts’ ‘chunky’ LT20B will move to an old, large, extended stable block with room for mill, forklift truck and logs. The mill’s first outside contract was to saw100 m³ of pine.
In the long term the family aim to achieve complete independence, self-sufficiency and reliance on their own stables, gardens,
solar power and income from contract sawing and firewood.
Almost all men dream of a Harley-Davidson and the Schlenstedts have several in a shed as well as a nicely-restored Norton –– plus an old MZ/RT hanging from the ceiling in Bastian’s bedroom!
The Dark Forces bikers meet twice weekly in their club house, a restored old building on the place. Twice yearly, they throw a big party for 3-400 guests and the air vibrates, the estate rocks and mead flows. The next such ‘thrash’ is on 27 November, www.dark-forces-mc.de/gera.
A man needs a task in life and appropriately, as a knight's proverb says: Siegen kommt nicht vom Liegen (victory doesn’t come from reclining). All his family agrees with that and Sylko Schlenstedt is a happy man.