Throwback Thursday: The FPL Rotting Pit

Thanks to Grant Kirker for writing this fascinating look back into Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) history and science. Kirker is a Research Forest Products Technologist at FPL in the Durability and Wood Protection Research unit.

Throughout its 110-year history, FPL has participated in groundbreaking wood research both nationally and internationally. The FPL research libraries contain a virtual treasure trove of information pertaining to the wise use of wood and wood-based materials. Historical overviews like this would not be possible without them.

One of the earliest endeavors at the newly established Forest Products Laboratory, then located at 1509 University Avenue in Madison, Wisconsin, was the testing of preservative treated wood for the expanding railroad sector in the US. The swift growth of railways across the country had created a huge demand for suitable hardwoods. But high decline rates due to wood rot fungi was a constant concern leading to an unreasonable amount of wood being used to replace rapidly rotting railroad ties. The dawn of wood preservation research at FPL was aimed at increasing the service life of rail ties to reduce the demand on America‚Äôs forests.  

Original Forest Products Laboratory Building at 1509 University Avenue
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Meet the Researchers: FPL Scientists Featured in Crossties Magazine

The Railway Tie Association publishes a magazine, Crossties, for producers and users of treated wood crossties and related products. The May/June 2017 issue introduces a new regular feature called “Meet the Researchers,” and it kicks off by showcasing researchers from the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL).

This makes perfect sense, as one of the original goals for early FPL scientists was developing preservatives for railroad ties. More durable rail ties lengthened the service life of ties in use, and helped ease the demand for lumber, as trees were being cut at alarming rates across many northern and western forests.

Over time, lumber treatment and preservation research focused on environmental concerns as well as durability. Today, FPL researchers in the Durability and Wood Protection group continue to work on improving the treatment of wood.

You can read the full issue of Crossties here. See page 13 for the Meet the Researchers feature.