Many mills dot the regions landscape

May 28, 2001 11:00 pm
The Brookings Plywood Corp. plant in the mid 1950s reflected changes around the mill. ().
The Brookings Plywood Corp. plant in the mid 1950s reflected changes around the mill. ().

After delays, forced by failure of equipment to arrive, Brimm Bros. Sawmill, located on the old mill pond, began sawing last Friday, when three logs were run through on test.

After all "bugs" were worked out over the weekend, sawing began in earnest Monday when a partial crew kept the mill going most of the day.

Logging crews, at work up the Chetco, have been bringing in timber for the pond, where already quite a reserve has been built up. The Pilot, Sept. 25, 1947

Six years later Brimm Bros. Sold this mill to the Brookings Plywood Corp.

The other major newcomer in the timber and lumber business was Sam Agnew. He bought a great deal of county-owned timberland for two dollars an acre, thus acquiring a billion or more feet of timber. For a very small investment he became the largest timber owner, except for the federal government, in Curry County. His company soon built a large veneer plant just north of Brookings. This plant, was later called Four-Ply, Inc.

Soon other lumber companies, most of them small enterprises, built their mills in Harbor, Brookings, and vicinity. Among them were these:

In Harbor

The Harbor Lumber Co., a stud mill, stood on the site of what was in 1979 the Chetco Marine building. It was owned by Fred Hedberg and Al Lousenberry.

The Chetco Veneer Corporation, same owners, was located on a pond adjacent to the Harbor Lumber Co. separated by a narrow channel through which logs could be passed.

The Landauer Lumber Co. operated where the commercial boat basin is now located.

The Thompson Lumber Co.s plant stood on the Lower Harbor Road, on the site now used by the Driftwood Travel Trailer Retreat.

In Brookings

Gadbury and Campbell ran a sawmill near the present Brookings City Hall. The George Chesser custom planing operation is where the Kalmiopsis Elementary School now stands.

Where the Square Deal store was in 1979, (at the corner of Railroad and Central), the Kessler Lumber Co. operated a planer mill, and also a building supply store.

The Carson and Moore Planing mill was constructed just off Pacific Avenue, on Easy Street, near where the Elks Lodge now stands.

Elmer and Gunnar Hedberg built a veneer plant just north of the present South Coast plant. In conjunction with it was a stud mill to saw peeled logs. This plant was later bought by Sam Agnew, and is now operated as Four-Ply, Inc.

Up the Chetco

Up the north bank of the Chetco River stood the Thomas Mill Co. plant. The L & P Lumber Co. was located on the Hamilton place, on the North Fork of the Chetco.

Other locations

Arthur Brown and his son, Bob, had a sawmill at the mouth of the Winchuck River. In 1967 that mill accidentally burned.

The Swan Lumber Co. ran a mill on the old Colegrove Ranch, below Carpenterville.

These varied lumbering operations were highly competitive and sometimes hardly efficient. Recognizing the economic and social importance of this lumber industry renewal, Henry Kerr strove to direct the growing industry along new and more productive lines.

First, he convinced the state to allow log trucks to be driven over the old coast highway. State officials had contended that long logging trucks could not negotiate the sharp curves. Kerr had had experience driving such trucks over similar roads in Washington State, and believed that he could do the same here. He invited the Highway Department representative to follow him, driving a long truck, to Gold Beach and back. The demonstration was a success. The lumber export business via truck from Brookings could now become a reality. Attempts at water shipping had failed, but the trucking of lumber was here to stay.

During the same year, Kerr talked to the Curry County assessor in Gold Beach who told him that "the timber here is no good it is rotten." In 1947, about 50 percent of Curry County timber was left in the woods due to conk, being over-ripe, and compression wood. Conk occurs when water seeps into an unsealed knot and causes decay. Over-ripeness is due to rot from age or wind scars. Black knots, created when a dead limb stays on the tree and the tree grows around it, were also a problem. When the timber is dried, the knots fall out. Kerr once shipped a load of Curry timber back east but never received payment. When he asked about it, the company replied, "we got the knotholes. Would you please ship the knots?"

Compression wood is formed when a tree is thrown out of balance and it tries to correct itself by growing hard grain on the leaning side. Because of the Curry County sliding coastline, a great deal of the local timber is compression wood. It is unusable for lumber because it is hard to saw, and a board made from it will curl. But Kerr saw compression wood in a different light. As early as 1921 he sold compression wood to plywood plants in Washington, and he knew that it made good plywood. He decided that a plywood plant was feasible in the Brookings area.

Plywood plants

In 1948, Henry Kerr and Warren Smith, a partner in the Brim Brothers Company, went to Washington State to confer with lumbering interests there, with a view to getting a plywood mill constructed in Brookings. Shortly afterward, Kerr met with Ed Sund and Carl Mason from Myrtle Creek, Oregon, lumber men also interested in prospects here. They were ready to build a plant, provided they could be assured of an adequate timber supply. Kerr teamed up with Jack Kronenberg from Bandon, who also held timber lands in this area, and together they agreed to supply the timber needed by the proposed plywood plant. Elmer Bankus had the land for a suitable plant site; the Brim Brothers sawmill already stood on it.

After many meetings it was decided that a plywood plant would be built, with timber provided by Kerr and Kronenberg, and with Sund as organizer. Sund later became president and general manager of the company. Kerr was vice president and remained on the board of directors for many years. Kerr and Kronenberg signed a contract which guaranteed the mill 410,000,000 feet of timber. The Brimm Brothers mill was later included in the total transaction. Bankus agreed to rent space in the Central Building for the office.

The new mill was to be cooperatively owned. 250 working shares were sold at $5,000 each. (At a later date, 50 additional shares were sold). Production began on a small scale on Jan. 7, 1952, when the first sheet of plywood was run off the assembly line. That sheet was cut into small pieces and given to the workers and others as souvenirs. Before the mill was fired up, however, Henry Kerr, an ardent photographer, had climbed up inside the smokestack to take motion pictures of the surrounding area. The mill was officially opened in May, 1952, and monthly production was soon 3,000,000 board feet of plywood (3/8 inch thick).

Trucks were used to transport the product to California markets and tot he Arcata railhead, where it was loaded in cars for Texas and Arizona. Several years later shipments by barge from Brookings began going to Hawaiian ports.

In 1979, the Brookings Plywood Corp. employed about 265 worker-owners and over 100 employees who are not shareholders. Working on a three-shift basis, the company produced between 9 and 10 million feet of plywood per month. Its payroll exceeded $7 million a year.

NEW DEVELOPMENTS

South Coast Milling Initiates New Plant

The newly-formed South Coast Milling Company opened its new plant at Brookings this week, and at the same time inaugurated water shipment for their finished products

As important as the mill itself are the methods by which the company plans to market its products. Finished lumber from the mill will be transported by barge from Crescent City to Los Angeles.

Eight local sawmills are included in the group which will feed rough lumber to South Coast.

The Pilot, Sept. 24, 1953

First officials of South Coast were C. L. (Bill) Fallert, president; Charles Ames, vice president Warren T. Smith, secretary; Estes Morton, treasurer.

During the 1960s the "wigwam" sawdust burners that used to serve as beacons for travelers were outlawed in Oregon by legislative action. The lumber companies were given 10 years in which to comply with the order.

First Wood Chips

Delivered to Port

The Brookings Plywood Corporation topped off more than ten years of planning Tuesday when the first load of 10,000 cubic feet of wood chips were hauled to the Port of Brookings.

Plywood officials have worked for more than ten years in an effort to utilize wood waste materials in the form of chips.

The Pilot, Sept. 3, 1964

Thompsons Mill to Close

After 14 Years in Harbor

One of Harbors better known landmarks, Thompson Bros. Lumber Co., goes on the auction block

The company, owned by Iva and Walter Thompson, shipped more than ten million board feet of lumber during its peak operating years, and employed more than 20 men at peak run.

Thompson said a combination of the shortage of available logs, a poor California market for lumber for housing, and a scarcity of good labor forced the sale

The shut downleaves only Agnew Timber Products, South Coast Lumber Co. and Brookings Plywood Corporation as operating mills in the area.

The Pilot, Dec. 2, 1965

In 1968, the South Coast Lumber officials embarked on a million dollar expansion project, including equipment for a new stud mill and a new chipping facility, which accommodated whole logs. The following year the Brookings Plywood Corporation announced its half million dollar modernization plan for a large addition to the main building and installation of improved machinery. In 1972, Agnew Timber Products Company installed air cleaner equipment at a cost of $30,000. Every year the Company burned in its "wigwams" over six million tons of bark and other wood refuse, and this cleaner was designed to prevent any cinders from pouring out at the top.

In the Brookings-Harbor area, the years since 1912 have brought a boom, a bust, a fresh start in the lumbering industry, and finally a considerable degree of stabilization. Plentiful timber resources together with the foresight, determination and competence of a new breed of lumbering leaders have built and sustained our community. They continue to do so.