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February 2005  - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal


Solid lumber assets

BC-based lumber producer Interfor has added some solid lumber producing assets with its purchase of Crown Pacific; Crown Pacific’s Gilchrist sawmill underwent a $20 million upgrade just a few years ago.

By Alan Froome

Although it may have lost out in the bidding war for BC forest company Riverside Forest Products this past fall—with Tolko Industries winning the battle—International Forest Products (Interfor) of Vancouver still has a lot on its plate on the sawmill side these days. This past July, the company purchased the US sawmill operations of Crown Pacific. This US $57.3 million deal was for three sawmills: at Gilchrist, Oregon, and Marysville and Port Angeles in Washington state. When added to the cedar remanufacturing plant the company opened in 2003 in Sumas, Washington, Interfor now has four lumber operations in the US, plus its seven sawmills and three reman plants in BC.

Total lumber production is now almost 1.3 billion board feet per year. Duncan Davies, President and CEO of Interfor, has stated that the Crown Pacific deal is part of an overall company expansion in terms of geography and products. “The personnel at the three mills have a high level of expertise and this purchase give us a strategic position in the US Northwest,” says Sandy Fulton, Interfor’s senior vice-president in charge of operations. “It also allows us to assess other possibilities and provides a stable base for future expansion.” Fulton adds that a new office is opening shortly in Bellingham, Washington, to form a headquarters for the US operations and a centre for its marketing activities.

Logs under 17 inches go to a USNR double length infeed canter line with six-foot twin air-strain bandmills.

Logs go through the bucking saw (left) at the Gilchrist operation. Gilchrist is basically a two-line sawmill, with logs separated into large and small diameters. Logs with over a 17-inch butt are processed by a Warren & Brewster Maximill line, equipped with an eight-foot Klamath twin bandmill.

The town of Gilchrist is located at an elevation of 4,500 feet in eastern Oregon, on highway 97 between Bend and Klamath Falls. It is the largest of the three mills purchased by Interfor and has been renamed Interfor Pacific, Gilchrist division. “Our future was a bit unclear, so it was like a breath of fresh air when Interfor took over,” says mill manager John Straw. “The change of ownership went smoothly and it’s business as usual. “The mill is up-to-date and is the highest production mill in the Pacific group. We went through a major upgrade in 2001, when we spent over $20 million to modernize the sawmill and planer mill.” A visit to the Gilchrist operation this past fall showed the paint was barely dry on the new mill sign and some job descriptions were still being defined. A new office has also been proposed at Bellingham, Washington, to serve as a projects and administration centre for the Interfor Pacific group.

The story of Gilchrist is part of Oregon’s pioneer history, with the Gilchrist family being associated with the lumber business for six generations, starting around 1830 in New England. Around the turn of the century, the family invested in timberlands in Mississippi and Oregon. Under Frank R Gilchrist’s leadership, the family operated a sawmill in Laurel, Mississippi, until he died prematurely in 1917. At this time his son, Frank W, was only 14, so the company continued with S M Jones as president until 1937, when the timber supply in Mississippi started to run out. By then Frank W Gilchrist had taken over and he decided to move west and build a mill near the timberlands in eastern Oregon, land his far-sighted grandfather had purchased decades earlier.

Mike Fuller does some scaling of logs in the Gilchrist mill yard. The purchase of the Crown Pacific operation did not include timberlands, so the mills purchase all of their logs.

Without fanfare or publicity, Frank W hired Portland architect Hollis Johnston to design the town and set about building not only a sawmill and power plant, but a complete community in a park-like setting, with a school, library, theatre and eventually 135 houses for the workers. Just after the takeover by Interfor this past fall, the mill was running on a diet of burnt logs from a fire in the area two years ago, resulting in a large proportion of blue stained boards. “The fungus affects the outer sapwood mostly, but we kiln dry everything which takes care of it,” says Mike Fuller, quality control engineer.

As part of his QC responsibilities, Fuller also keeps a close eye on the many optimization systems in the mill and has been working there since 1996. “The purchase of Crown Pacific did not include the timberlands, so we have assigned a senior person, John Ernst, to put a log purchasing structure in place,” says Sandy Fulton. “We give this responsibility a high priority.” “At Gilchrist, we run logs from five to 50-inch diameter and, as Sandy explained, we purchase 100 per cent of them,” adds John Ernst, whose title is log procurement manager.

At present, the breakdown is 45 per cent ponderosa pine, 45 per cent lodgepole and 10 per cent white fir. The mill produces a mix of sizes from 1x4 to 2x12, categorized as industrials, which are used primarily in window and door manufacture. The mill currently employs 119 people and runs two 8-hour shifts, 5 days a week. Maintenance and electrical work is outsourced to local contractors. Gilchrist is basically a two-line sawmill, with logs separated into large and small diameters. Logs up to 32 feet long are trucked into the millyard and are first bucked to lengths from eight to 16 feet.

With the purchase of Crown Pacific by Interfor, comes packaging with a new name: Interfor Pacific.

Three debarkers are used, two VKB’s, a 22-inch and a 27-inch, plus a Nicholson 50-inch, to remove bark, after which the logs are conveyed into the mill. Logs over a 17-inch butt are processed by a Warren & Brewster Maximill line, equipped with an eight-foot Klamath twin bandmill and an older style photocell light curtain scanner. Logs under the 17-inch diameter break point go to a USNR double length infeed canter line with six-foot twin air-strain bandmills. Scanning, slew and skew optimization and PLC controls were supplied by Porter Engineering of Richmond, BC. Secondary slab breakdown is handled by a very unusual machine, a triple five-foot Salem horizontal band resaw. Cants are sawn by a Coe/McGehee horizontal curve gang, also running with Porter Scanning, optimization and controls. Two other edgers are used, a Coe machine with Newnes scanner system and a Salem with an Innovec scanner.

Downstream after grading, a Lucidyne grade reader works with a TECO trimmer with Innovec scanner system, followed by a 65-bin TECO lumber sorter, before the lumber is stacked on a USNR unit and transferred to a complex of 18 kilns for drying. A planer mill on site has a Stetson-Ross planer, currently running at 1,450 fpm. Also on site are a number of L-Size grade control monitoring systems, assisting the quality control department, which were supplied by MicroRidge of Sunriver, Oregon, and installed behind each basic machine centre. The town of Gilchrist looks very much the same today as it did back in the 1940s, with most of the original homes still intact, although the original office complex is now the Gilchrist Mall. But it’s clear that there have been many changes to the mill, and they’ve had an impact.

The original mill, which started up in 1938, was designed to produce 50 or 60 million board feet of pine lumber a year. The mill’s annual production has grown way past what Frank Gilchrist ever visualized, however, and is now turning out close to 160 million board feet.

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