As I Like It!


ice storm photo

On Monday evening, February 10th 1994, Memphis went to bed with a severe winter storm approaching from the Southwest. The TV stations were projecting the path of the storm to cross the Mississippi River between Vicksburg and Greenville, Mississippi, destined to hit Memphis in the early morning hours. The storm was expected to bring sleet, snow and freezing rain to all of North Mississippi and the Southwestern part of Tennessee. Memphis was dead in its path.

In the early hours of Tuesday morning, we were awakened by what sounded like an artillery barrage. Large oak trees in our yard were losing major limbs, due to an enormous build up of ice from freezing rain. Each loss of a limb was announced by a loud cracking sound that echoed off the ice covered landscape, and of course, our power went out.

Finally, I had the opportunity to use the little hand cranked emergency radio, and at least part of the candle stash that we had laid in to deal with the next earthquake along the New Madrid fault. By the time the sun came up, all we could see were downed trees in a Siberian snowscape. We lived at the end of a cul-de-sac, and access to our neighborhood was completely blocked by fallen trees. According to the radio, the entire Memphis area and most of North Mississippi faced the same predicament. Over a million people were without power, and most major roads were blocked by fallen trees.

We were without electricity for a few days, and it took several days to clear the roads enough to allow travel around the City. We lived in Germantown, and the local government was much better prepared to deal with the situation than Memphis and Shelby County. Our next challenge was to start the cleanup of the mess in our yard. The entire Memphis metropolitan area of well over a million people faced the same problem, and you can guess what it would cost to have a tree removed.

When a major disaster strikes it brings every con man in the nation hurrying to get in on the action. In the case of the ice storm of 1994, every Bubba and Junior with a pickup truck and a chain saw descended on the City. People were paying thousands of dollars just to have their driveway cleared. We were fortunate that the limbs down in our yard didn’t block anything, and we decided to let them lie until the panic subsided. We held off until early summer, when some level of normalcy had returned to Memphis tree removal, and Bubba and Junior had returned to Arkansas.

In late June, I contacted a local tree service and got on their waiting list. I needed the limbs removed, and two very tall, very dead pine trees cut down and hauled off. After much delay, they came out and gave me an estimate of $12,500 to do the job, and they hoped that they could get to it before Christmas. I told them to book it, and gave a $500 deposit to hold my place. I figured that if I couldn’t come up with a better plan by Christmas, I deserved to pay the $12,500.

I began to examine other options in hopes of coming up with Plan B. Toward the end of the summer I got a letter from The Tennessee Valley Authority—whose power line right-of-way abutted my back property line—informing me that one of their crews would exercise their right to come onto my property in order to remove two dead pine trees that threatened their transmission lines. They cited the statutes that allowed them to do this, and informed me that I had no recourse in the matter.

I called the TVA office and spoke to their public affairs person, and told them that I would agree to the removal of the trees, if they would haul off the downed limbs in my yard while they were doing the work. They came and took off my limbs and the two dead pines, and were gone in one day. Plan B proved to be simpler than I expected, and I had saved $12,000. I called the tree removal service that I had booked and told them to keep the deposit; I had tended to the work myself. The whole experience was like getting unexpected money from home.

When Clista informed me last month that we had two dead trees in our yard, the debacle of 1994 immediately came to mind. She pointed out the two offending trees, and sure enough, one was a seventy foot pine that was losing its bark, a sure sign of a dead tree. The other was a marginally sick gum tree that bordered our drive, and kept it covered with those damnable little gumballs that fall year-round. The pine was definitely in Opelika Power Services right-a-way, and I thought back to my experience with TVA, and gave them a call.

I started the conversation by asking if they had the right to come onto my property to remove trees that threatened their lines. They assured me that this was indeed the case. Hope swelled in my heart. They asked for my address, which I quickly gave them. They checked their records, and found that the power line in question was a local service line leading to my house, but did not in any way interest them.

I was reconciled to pay to have the pine removed, but figured that when Clista found out how much it would cost, she could learn to live with the gum balls. Our wonderful handy man, Norman, knew two brothers who had a tree removal service, and suggested that I call them for an estimate. With serious dread of the pending bad news, I called Justin and Johnathan Cantrell, owners of Tip Top Tree Service.

They were glad to come right out and take a look at the offending trees to give me an estimate. When Justin arrived, I showed him the pine, and he noted that it was growing next to the transformer, which provided electrical service to both our house and my neighbor’s home. He said that it would require the large bucket truck, and they would have to take the limbs off before they could take the trunk down in pieces. I readjusted my fear level to take this into account.

Then he asked me if I wanted them to haul off the downed tree? I replied that I thought the City would take it with the trash pickup. He said that they would if I did the work myself, but if a commercial firm did it, they wouldn’t. My fear level went up another notch. I didn’t intend to even mention the gum by the driveway, but Clista came out and insisted that he include it in his estimate. My mental cash register went cha-ching.

Justin left, assuring me that he would give me a call at my office with an estimate, and Clista and I went in to have lunch. I must have looked a little pale, so she asked me what I thought it was all going to cost. With 1994 still in the back of my mind, I said that I would be shocked if it was less than $1500 per tree to cut them down, and another $1500 to haul them off. My guess was $3.000 to $4500. Clista choked, and said that maybe we could live with the gum.

The next day Justin called and told me the bad news. He said that he hated that they would have to take the pine down with the bucket truck, and that since they were there with it anyway, they would also use it for the gum. This would run the price up, but there was no way to avoid it. The total price for removing both trees and hauling them off would come to a total $750.

I must have hesitated for more than a moment, because Justin said that he would understand if I wanted to get another estimate. I assured him that since he came so highly recommended by Norman, the job was his. When I got home that evening, I hesitated to tell Clista about the estimate. I was afraid she’d want to clear-cut the whole yard.

Within a week of agreeing to do the job, Justin, Johnathan and three helpers, five pieces of equipment—including a huge bucket crane—came and took down the trees and hauled them off. They cleaned up the debris and we couldn’t even tell that they had been there. I love living in a small town where people still take pride in their work and provide real value.


Ice storm photo from the blog of Joe Spake/

Categories: As I Like It!

8 replies »

  1. Well, you could have purchased an adequate chain saw for $350 and rented a bucket truck for $150/day, so you could have done it cheaper yourself and gotten a nice workout in the Opelika sun!

    • David, have I ever told you about the weekend I replaced a food disposal unit under my kitchen sink? If not, I’ll have to and you would never suggest that I touch a tool of any sort. As far as workouts go I have found that they can cause sweat and I avoid sweat like Satan avoids holy water

  2. My Mom was living in Cleveland at that time. You remember the tranission lines on 82 near Greenville they came down. Worse than ice storm of 51 tc

    Sent from my iPhone


    • The Delta was really hit harder than Memphis. Clista lived in Greenville and they used generators for weeks. It is amazing how quick nature recovers, today you would never know that thousands of old oak trees were toppled. Natures way of pruning them I suppose.

  3. There was a local father and sons tree service in Ocean Springs that hauled ass up there after that storm and returned as wealthy “bidnessmen”. That put them on track to have a major power line clearing business and a huge regional following. They actually got RICH.

    • Considering the prices that they were charging it would have been hard not to get rich. Buzzards can smell a body from miles away and they all turned up in Memphis

  4. I just paid to have a pine tree removed that was leaning toward my house. I got an estimate of $700 and thought that was fair. While he was here I asked him how much he would charge my neighbor to take a hollow magnolia tree down he said $1,200 because it was so big. That night we had a waterspout (tornado) come between my house and my neighbors house. God took her tree down and part of her roof and I gladly paid the $700.

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