September 2005 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal
BACK TO LIFE
An old abandoned sawmill has come back to life as a reman plant south of the line, and is using Canadian lumber— which they’d like to use more of if there wasn’t a countervail—to produce high-value product.
By Alan Froome
The 300-acre site in Sweet Home, Oregon, was at one time a centre of activity, being the home of no less than two sawmills, three planing mills, a veneer mill and a plywood plant.
Willamette Industries, bought out several years ago by forestry giant Weyerhaeuser, operated a sawmill on site until 1998. But a new company named Willamette has recently set up operations here.
Part of the site may still be covered with brambles, but this past February US Timber Company of Eagle, Idaho, reopened part of the property as a remanufacturing plant. Everyone loves a good news story and the Sweet Home city council was delighted to see the mill reopened, and local people being hired to work at the site once again.
US Timber owns and operates a total of four mills including the recently opened Willamette Forest Products (WFP) in Sweet Home. The others include: US Timber, Baker City, Oregon; US Timber, South Booneville, Arkansas; and Southeastern Forest Products in Cordele, Georgia.
The Sweet Home site itself is leased from the Western States Land Reliance Trust, which purchased the land when Willamette Industries closed its mill in 1998. Western States buys up land as investments and leases it. It’s not your usual corporate entity in that the income is used to fund numerous charities.
“The arrangement we made with Western States works well for both of us,” says Kevin Caldwell, general manager of the Sweet Home mill. “We looked at many old industrial sites before we selected this one, which has the advantage in that it has a blacktopped yard, is not far from I-5 and has an active rail line.”
Caldwell explained the US Timber business model of buying low-grade lumber, sorting it, remanufacturing it and turning it into higher value products. The lumber in the Sweet Home yard at the time of a visit earlier this year was principally supplied by the Weyerhaeuser operation in Cottage Grove, Oregon, and— interesting enough—two British Columbia operations, J S Jones and Tolko Industries.
Caldwell made an interesting comment about the Canadian lumber. “The softwood tariff actually hurts us. We could buy a lot more low-grade lumber from Canada if the tariff was gone.” The operation is processing 100 per cent green timber bought on the open market, 99 per cent of it Douglas fir.
A basic concept the company adheres to is the “KISS” principle. In other words, Keep It Simple Stupid. This approach translates into a low-tech operation compared to most, but also a plant that is simple to operate and maintain, with no automated systems requiring specialist maintenance personnel.
The Sweet Home mill is best described as a planer/reman operation at present, as the central machine centre is a planer used to rip down waney lumber to smaller dimensions—but of highergrade value.
Earlier this year, consultant Mark
Lowry was busy supervising the installation
of a new four-saw trimmer, which
will form the heart of a second line that
Lowry called the stud line. In effect, this
will be a length trimming line and work
parallel to the ripping line. It will allow
the mill to length-trim lumber and produce
stud lengths from longer lumber. In
fact, the decks and associated equipment
are designed to handle lumber up to 24
The stud line set-up naturally means an expansion in workforce. The mill employed 20 people and they had plans to hire 10 more people when the stud line started up earlier this year.
When WFP made it public that they were re-opening the mill and hiring, they received more than 100 applications the first week alone. At one time there were a lot of skilled mill workers in the area, but almost all had moved on when the old mill closed in 1998. Only three production people at the mill today have prior sawmill experience: Kevin Caldwell, Mark Lowry and a forklift operator.
Lowry was hired as project manager to get the mill up and running and works for MC Consulting of Carson, Washington. Other key personnel in the Willamette Forest Products management team include Brad Bower, president, and Darrel Garoutte, vice-president.
Lowry outlined what was involved in re-opening the mill. “First we rebuilt the planer, which is a Stetson-Ross 612 from about 1948. It’s a good machine and we’re running it at 500 fpm. We have also been able to re-use some of the old conveyors, but are building lug chain decks in-house for the new stud line.”
The new four-saw trimmer is already on site and was built by West Coast Industrial of nearby Lebanon, Oregon. Caldwell said that renovations at the mill will cost several hundred thousand dollars and most site work, so far, has been handled by local contractors Moose Creek Machine and Pacific Crest Electrical.
The mill runs one shift, five days a week and the lumber is sold for general construction use through a network of smaller lumber yards on the West Coast from Seattle to San Diego. “We’re shipping a lot to the Los Angeles area right now,” Caldwell said.
He declined to state the rate of production at present—with the mill still ramping up with new employees and under construction—but indicated it is around four million board feet per month. Featured products include 2x4 to 2x12 dimension lumber, 4x4 and 4x6 timbers plus 2x4 and 2x6 studs.
In April, the new length trimming line was under construction and only ripping was going on at the plant. The layout is very simple in terms of flow plan. Four fork lifts were being used around the site to off-load trucks, move lumber into the mill building and later carry the remanufactured products out to one of the numerous storage buildings on site, left over from the old mill.
Incoming lumber is first unstacked by a tilt hoist on to a deck feeding a belt conveyor, which in turn feeds the singulated pieces into the Stetson-Ross 612 planer. At present, this is not used as a planer as such, but rather as a rip saw, usually removing wane from one edge.
After exiting the planer, lumber is fed on to a transfer deck where up to four graders hand stamp it. The pieces are then fed on to a lugged deck forming a green chain. Four people pull boards off on to wheeled carts. Up to six sorts are common. When full, the wheeled carts are pushed back to a spot where a worker bands each bundle and tags the lumber size and grade, ready for a forklift to lift the bundle off the cart and carry it out to a storage shed.
The new stud line will be installed in the same building as the existing ripping line and be operated separately, with its own tilt hoist singulating lumber on a series of 22-foot wide lugged chain decks feeding the new trimmer. After being cut to stud length, the lumber will pass through grading to a second green chain for sorting on to more wheeled carts, where the studs will be stacked and banded, ready for shipping.
Overall, the new Willamette Forest Products mill may be simple in concept, but as the other US Timber plants have already shown, the KISS principle really seems to works well in the remanufacturing business resulting, simply, in successful operations.
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