More to the Story – From Forgotten to the Doors of the Capitol of Democracy

FPL’s vintage lumber arrives in Washington D.C. and is unloaded by the skilled carpenters of the Architect of the Capitol. Photo credit: Architect of the Capitol

Robert Ross & Shayne Martin USDA Forest Service Forest Products Laboratory

A year ago, the Forest Products Laboratory staff received a unique request.

That request came through a relationship built on cooperative research between the Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory (FPL). This connection resulted in an amazing story of a 3,000-lb stack of legacy mahogany and other vintage lumber of incalculable value being used in the restoration of many historical wood objects at the U.S. Capitol building.

While our country reflects on the attack of January 6, 2021, which resulted in the damage or destruction of many treasured historical artifacts, we also reflect on the story of the wood used to repair what was thought to be irreplaceable. That story shone as a bright light and sign of hope in an otherwise dark situation.

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FPL Sends Historic Legacy Mahogany to Help Restore U.S. Capitol

On Wednesday, January 6, 2021, the U.S. Capitol building was the target of an attack that left it ransacked and vandalized. The destruction of many irreplaceable historical wooden artifacts and objects, including doors, intricate millwork, moldings, desks, and podiums, was extensive.

Enter Nathan Kamprath, U.S. Army DEVCOM and leader of a current joint project between the Department of Defense (DoD) and Forest Products Laboratory (FPL). Recognizing the significance of the damage, Kamprath contacted FPL research engineer Robert Ross for assistance with the U.S. Capitol repair. He then connected Ross with Architect of the Capitol (AOC) historic preservation specialists overseeing the restoration of the U.S. Capitol building. 

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Salvaging an American Icon with Ground-Penetrating Radar

Two Route 66 signs on the road at California Mojave desert highway – By AR Pictures

Imagine being able to look straight into a wood beam and know its structural integrity.

It’s almost like a super power, except its really just amazing science—science that Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) researchers are practicing in order to be at the forefront of investigative timber safety and restoration.

During a recent study, “Ground-Penetrating Radar Investigation of Salvaged Timber Girders from Bridges Along Route 66 in California,” FPL’s Adam Senalik, James Wacker, and Xiping Wang along with colleagues from Jiangnan University School of IoT Engineering, were able to practice this amazing science on two bridges located on Route 66.

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From Vacant to Vibrant: Forest Service Brings Restoration Expertise to the City

The Forest Service has always been a conservation agency, focusing most restoration efforts during the past 100 years on rural environments. Today, however, the agency can use that century of experience and put it to work in urban areas as well.

The Forest Service and its partners are deconstructing and restoring vacant buildings in Baltimore, Maryland, to the benefit of many. Jobs are created in the process, along with economic opportunities and improved quality of life for neighborhood residents.

The Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) has been involved in deconstruction research for many years, and the Lab played a critical role in the Baltimore project. In 2015, FPL researchers, in partnership with the Coalition for Advanced Wood Structures, completed a feasibility study that provided a framework for collecting, processing, and distributing the material collected from the vacant buildings.

The yearlong study involved securing a contract with the City of Baltimore to complete a pilot deconstruction project involving 50 row houses. Leaders then tracked the volume of extracted wood, analyzed the costs associated with the deconstruction activities, and built partnerships with organizations to establish a distribution chain and market outlet.

Take a minute to watch this short video, where you’ll hear from Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell and several partners about the impact of this work on the surrounding communities. You’ll see that the Forest Service can fulfill its unique mission, “caring for the land and serving people,” not only in the wilderness but also in the heart of the city.