March and April 2006



Back in Business

Important safety information about Highline Logging and
Highline Power

By Kurt Glaeseman

The 300-acre site in Sweet Home, Ore. was at one time a center 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 onsite until 1998. But a new company named Willamette has recently set up operations here. In February 2005, U.S. Timber Company of Eagle, Idaho, reopened part of the property as a remanufacturing plant. The Sweet Home city council was delighted to see the mill reopened, and local people being hired to work at the site once again.

U.S. Timber owns and operates a total of four mills including the recently opened Willamette Forest Products (WFP) in Sweet Home. The others include: U.S. Timber, Baker City, Oregon; U.S. 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 U.S. 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 was principally supplied by the Weyerhaeuser operation in Cottage Grove, Ore., and two British Columbia operations, J S Jones and Tolko Industries.


Keep it Simple

A basic concept the company adheres to is the “KISS” principle. In other words, Keep It Simple Stupid. This approach translates into a lowtech 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 center is a planer used to rip down waney lumber to smaller dimensions – but of higher grade value.

In 2005 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 lengthtrim lumber and produce stud lengths from longer lumber. In fact, the decks and associated equipment are designed to handle lumber up to 24 feet long, so there are many reman length possibilities.

Kevin Caldwell, general manager of the recently opened Willamette Forest Products mill in Sweet Home, Oregon. Behind him is low-grade lumber, ready for ripping.

More Jobs

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, Wash. Other key personnel in the Willamette Forest Products management team include Brad Bower, president, and Darrel Garoutte, vice-president.


Getting it Up and Running

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, Ore. 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, 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.


Simple Layout

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 onto 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 onto a transfer deck where up to four graders hand stamp it. The pieces are then fed onto a lugged deck forming a green chain. Four people pull boards off onto 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 onto 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 U.S. Timber plants have already shown, the KISS principle really seems to work well in the remanufacturing business resulting, simply, in successful operations.




This page was last updated on Tuesday, September 19, 2006