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Powder pest has taste for history


Grosse Pointe Farms



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Dr. John Singelyn taps a log ruined by powder post beetles. Photo by Brad Lindberg
June 12, 2008
Dr. Thomas Singelyn figures that a good way of contributing to Grosse Pointe's future is by preserving links to its past.

Singelyn is volunteer manager of the Grosse Pointe Historical Society's headquarters and roughly 170-year-old log cabin.

He's been occupied lately with getting to the core of a bug problem. The cabin behind the Provencal-Weir house on Kercheval in the Farms is being chewed up by powder post beetles.

Singelyn this week tapped on an infested log supporting the ceiling to show how the beetles earned their descriptive name. A mist of sawdust cascaded from the nearly hollow piece of wood.

"Larvae eat the wood and turn it into a powder a lot like baking flour," said Singelyn, a retired dentist from Grosse Pointe Park. "It's amazing. They turned the whole inside of one log into this flour mass."

Dust fell to a wooden floor laid down within memory of U.S. Superintendent of Indian Affairs Thomas McKenney's June 22, 1826 trip up the Detroit River to "Grosse point." It was a time not far removed from when ribbon farms owned by families with names such as Trombly, Moran and Vernier lead down to the shore.

"The grounds, for the whole way, are certainly excellent," McKenney wrote in "Sketches of a Tour to the Lakes" and excerpted in "Tonnancour, Vol. 1," "and are for the most part cut up into small farms, on which are as fine apple orchards as I have ever seen."

The cabin dates to about 1840 and was originally located in Macomb County. Christ Church Grosse Pointe owned it from 1938 to until giving it to the Historical Society in 2000.

For the past several years, those powder-covered floorboards on which homesteaders once trod have supported school children taking class trips to an era gone by.

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Carpenter Norm Johnson cuts replacement wood. Photo by Brad Lindberg
"We have a one-room schoolhouse upstairs," Singelyn said. "Kids who come for the day say the cabin was their favorite thing to do. The cabin gets unanimous votes from the young set."

Bugger off

Exterminators fumigated the cabin for 48 hours recently to kill the bugs and preempt future attack.

"The fumigant penetrates to the core of the wood to eradicate the powder post beetles," said John Lemons, vice president of special services at Rose Pest Solutions. "Bugs can do real damage to houses and cabins. You can find powder post beetles in anything that has wood."

Powder post beetles normally emerge from wood as adults in the spring. They hatch from eggs laid in cracks and crevices in the wood. Larvae eat tunnels through the wood leaving a dusty residue, called frass, behind. Infestation can escape discovery for many years. If untreated, beetles can destroy the structural integrity of buildings, boards and other wooden items.

Lemons treated the cabin with a chemical called Vikane.

"It's a one-time fumigate," Lemons said. "There is no residual. We made a fumigation chamber by covering the cabin with a tarp. If new logs are put in the cabin without treating them, they could bring in new bugs."

He said signs of powder post beetles are frass and small exit holes.

Singelyn pointed to scores of exit holes on logs slated for replacement beginning this week

"If we didn't do a replacement, sooner or later this whole log would fall on the floor in dust," he said.

Volunteers helping with restoration include society trustee John Hinkins of Grosse Pointe City.

"I'm interested in history," Hinkins explained.

Singelyn has maintained his sense of humor during nearly 20 years of volunteering for the society.

"A volunteer should never do a really good job because they'll be asked to come back forever," he said.

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