Monday, May 20, 2013

Oregon family’s sawmill fails as logs, way of life dwindle

Jennifer Phillippi’s grandparents started producing lumber in this corner of Oregon timber country in 1922, when a man could set up a mill, log the trees within range of a team of horses, and move the mill to a new stand when those trees ran out. In those days the forests were full, timber and work both plentiful. But now what was the last sawmill standing in Josephine County has hit the end of the line after yet another timber family had to give up hope the lands surrounding them could provide enough of the big pine logs they needed to stay afloat. Phillippi and her husband, Link, are spending their last days at the helm of Rough & Ready Lumber handing out severance checks and hugs to their 88 employees, many of them also the third generation in the mill. The sawmill shut down in mid-April and will ship the last finished lumber in June. “What they tell me is, one door closes and another door opens,” said Ron Hults, 50, who worked at the mill for 18 years operating the various machinery it takes to turn a rough log into a smooth piece of lumber. “I’m waiting for the open door.” So are many of the nearly 1 million who live in Oregon’s timber country. After World War II, the U.S. Forest Service began selling timber to build homes for baby boomers. Bulldozers carved roads into the hillsides to haul out the logs. Mills operated round-the-clock. No tree was too big to be cut. “You could get a job anyplace,” said Jim Ford, 85, of Grants Pass, the Josephine County seat. Ford quit high school during World War II to work as a logger. At 14, he threw steel cables around giant logs so they could be hauled and loaded onto trucks. After the war, he and his brothers started their own logging business. It closed in 1993. All that remains now are faded photos of logging trucks and a collection of hard hats, chain saws and pulleys hanging from the walls and ceiling of the shop behind Ford’s house...more

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