PIERRON, Ill. — In the beginning, J.R. Potthast saw it as just another job.
But the metro-east carpenter later learned that this order would literally be a mission ... from God.
"It was quite an experience," Potthast said. "I was awed and humbled by it."
This job was completed last month over the course of 10 days about 20 miles northeast of Kansas City, Mo. Potthast, who owns Thick & Thin Hardwood Lumber & Sawmill near Pierron, was hired to cut the lumber for a new temple for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Specifically, the 8-acre construction site is just southeast of the intersection at Interstate 435 and Shoal Creek Parkway. It was selected two years ago for historical significance.
The Mormons believe that the Garden of Eden — which is described in the Bible in the book of Genesis as where Adam and Eve lived — was located in the Kansas City area.
Church Elder Rodney Rasmussen believes that this historic holy land was somewhere in neighboring Independence, Mo.
The church owned this property for year and years, and they figured that they would go back through this site," Rasmussen said. "This is where you may have heard of the story at the beginning in the Bible of the Garden of Eden."
"I always thought it was somewhere in the Middle East," said Potthast, who is Catholic.
Potthast's prior biblical knowledge was of no concern to these Kansas City Mormons. What Rasmussen and fellow members were looking for was a craftsman to cut boards from the white oak that came from this sacred ground to build a new 32,000-square-foot temple.
Potthast was referred by one of his customers in St. Louis who knew one of the contractors working on the temple.
"They are very, very particular with who is making these temples," Potthast said. "They are magnificent structures. They are built to last, maybe centuries."
His body of work and his experience and expertise in sawing lumber with a rift saw into precise cuts impressed the Mormons. Apparently, Potthast was the answer to their prayers.
"They told me that they had been praying for the project for years and to find the right person for this job," Potthast said.
So he set off in his truck towing an industrial band mill on a trailer. Over the course of 10 days, every day from 5:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Potthast and a couple helpers did nothing but saw logs. Potthast called them "holy logs."
"It was all white oak, and it is the real good kind," he said of the lumber he cut. "There are 13 different kinds of white oak that grows in the Midwest, and they have the best kind. It has a pink tone to it and lightens when it dries. But after it's cut, it is a pink tone when it's fresh."
The foundation of the new temple had been poured and steel beams were already in place by the time Potthast arrived at the site. He proceeded to cut boards as wide as 30 inches with thicknesses ranging from a quarter of an inch to 8 inches.
By the time the sawdust had settled, Potthast had cut 26,300 board feet of lumber.
Rasmussen is very pleased with the work Potthast did.
"J.R. did a fantastic job," Rasmussen said. "He is a hard worker and stayed with it. We feel that he did a really good job on this. His craftsmanship was good. He did a job well done."
Potthast is back home, where his family has been sawing lumber for 98 years. His great-uncle Joe established the saw mill in 1912. His father, Clarence, took over the business in 1958, and J.R. has owned it since 1977. He has worked outdoors for the past four years because a fire destroyed his shop.
But right now, he said the work he did for the Mormons is still fresh in his mind.
"It's quite a religious experience," he said. "To me, it seems almost like God was involved in this."
Information from: Belleville News-Democrat, http://www.bnd.com