The open maws of barn-red storage buildings give Arlington Coal & Lumber the ambience of a remote farm. But out back, bright yellow forklifts scuttle between islands of lumber like crabs ahead of the rising tide, anxiously stabbing at piles before backing off, hydraulics whining, with another load for waiting flatbeds. The patrons are largely a work-boot-and-Carhartt crowd, and judging by the scrimmage of rack-topped pickups in the parking lot, they're here for studs and joists, plywood and posts.
This Old House master carpenter Norm Abram walks among the stacks of dimensional lumber that sit briefly paused between the anonymity of life inside a tree and dry entombment in some wall. He grazes his hand over the piles, stopping to pick up a stick and study it. Long before Norm learned how to swing a hammer, his father encouraged an appreciation of wood's strength and versatility. "Like people in a city, every board cut from a tree is different, an individual," he says. For what it's worth, this is one metropolis where Norm clearly knows everyone in town.