Josephine County Historical Society's "Passport To History" - Rough & Ready Lumber Co. - Cave Junction, Oregon
Rough & Ready Lumber Co. has been in its' current location since 1943.
What a tour we received! And what a company! We were welcomed by owner Jennifer Krauss Phillippi and her Sales Manager, Ed Cunningham.
We completely forgot that is was 100 degrees outside as we stepped into a prospering and fast paced, obviously well run company! Our guides enthralled us with the operations of the only remaining lumber mill in Josephine and Jackson counties.
The company specializes in high-grade lumber, and sells to high-end companies who manufacture windows and doors, such as Pella, Anderson Windows, Rogue Valley Door, and many others.
As we began our tour, it was like walking across a New York street. Everywhere we went we had to watch for forklifts, loaders, etc. constantly passing in all directions. I'm sure the drivers were more aware of us than we were of them, but we immediately realized the need for the orange safety vests.
We are looking at an $8 million dollar "biomass co-generation plant." This facility produces renewable power, while drying lumber using forest biomass and wood waste. The overhead pipes that you see coming into the buildings are bringing waste materials from the sawing operations, such as sawdust, bark, and other waste pieces to the furnaces. The other pipe coming from the other direction brings forest waste material brought in and dumped by other companies, which helps the other companies to dispose of their waste, and adds to the fuel for drying Rough & Ready Lumber Co.'s lumber and generating electricity. The electricity generated is sold to Pacific Power, which I'll cover more later.
In 2009 Rough & Ready Lumber Co. was "green" certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), it makes sure that products for customers come from well-managed forests, and that the timber is grown, harvested, and processed in an environmentally and socially responsible manner.
This is a view of the hopper where the material is piped in from the overheads shown in the previous photo. It is ground up suitable for burning.
The wood waste is now sent to the furnaces.
The furnace supplies the heat for the kilns and to generate electricity.
The operation is computer controlled, and the following photos show some of the equipment necessary for this process.
There are several levels in this building, and as we ascended, so did the heat!
This is the massive generator that creates a tremendous amount of electricity. As previously mentioned, the power is all sold to Pacific Power, and Rough & Ready Lumber Co. buys the power back for the lumber operation from Pacific Power.
The one problem with that arrangement that I can see is what's happening right now, where Pacific Power has been granted a rate hike, but Rough & Ready Lumber Co. is still locked into to their contracted rate, and they don't automatically receive more money for the power they are selling to Pacific Power. Plus that, because Pacific Power is charging more, Rough & Ready Lumber Co. is subject to increases just like the rest of us. I had no idea when I heard they generated their own power, that they weren't able to take what they needed and sell the rest. That would make a lot more sense, but when have we ever won against a power company?
From this juncture, if I can remember what our guides, Jennifer and Ed said, from here the heat goes to the kilns, and the exhaust from the entire operation goes up the pipe on the left.
Take a close look at the tip of the exhaust pipe -- this is the exhaust from a furnace going full-blast in the middle of the operation.
In order to explain this process, I had to refer to Wikipedia for a complete definition; An electrostatic precipitator (ESP), or electrostatic air cleaner is a particulate collection device that removes particles from a flowing gas (such as air) using the force of an induced electrostatic charge. Electrostatic precipitators are highly efficient filtration devices that minimally impede the flow of gases through the device, and can easily remove fine particulate matter such as dust and smoke from the air stream. In contrast to wet scrubbers which apply energy directly to the flowing fluid medium, an ESP applies energy only to the particulate matter being collected and therefore is very efficient in its consumption of energy (in the form of electricity).
In layman's terms, it acts like a magnet that takes the particulates out of the air.
This blue overhead pipe is bringing in sawdust and other forest waste that is brought it by other companies, and dumped into a pile. Now, the next photos will show you how they unload the 18-wheelers that bring it in!
No drivers are allowed to remain in the vehicles, as these structures have been known to collapse, although it is rare. Jennifer said she has always wanted to ride up in the truck, but has not had a chance to do it.
All done, the ride is over!
In the center of the photo, is where the electricity leaves the co-generation plant, and goes to Pacific Power.
More finished lumber headed from one of the 12 kilns.
More of the massive facility. It seems every surface in the valley has been paved. Everywhere you turn there is another road leading to more buildings.
These pieces of ponderosa pine stand at the end of the "green chain." The one on the left is probably worth about $250 wholesale. They are keeping water on them so they do not split, check or get "blue stain," which I'll show you later.
This is part of the "green chain," which I have always heard is the hardest job in the sawmill. This is where the "green" lumber is sorted as to its' size and purpose. All of the people pictured in every photo were working with very little conversation, intense concentration, and efficiency I could not believe.
In the distance you'll notice piles of raw logs, with sprinklers continually keeping them wet. Prior to the availability of sprinkling systems, that entire area up to the trees was a massive pond, where logs were kept until needed. I always thought that they watered them to prevent spontaneous combustion from starting fires, but our guides explained that the reason is actually to keep them from splitting, checking, and the dreaded "blue stain."
This is an example of "blue stain." Obviously this is not one of the products that will go into door and window manufacture, but it does make pretty wood.
Now we enter the saw building, where all of the different types of blades are sharpened, repaired, welded and stored. These blades you're looking at probably start at $200 each, and go up.
Talk about band saw blades! These are the largest saw blades you could ever imagine. The ones that have been sharpened, or are brand new, hang from the ceilings, ready for use. There were band saw blades all over the place in every stage of preparation and sharpening.
There were operators standing by and controlling the sharpening processes. Even though it is computer-controlled, an operator must monitor and control the settings continually. These people are the best in the business! Ed Cunningham, who has been with the company for 35 years, and has done everything in the operation has also worked in this room before being promoted to Sales Manager.
You can see how exacting a process this is, and you don't learn this job overnight!
Here is an example of glass insulators that evidently at one time had been attached to a living tree, rather than using a separate pole, which was quite common years ago. Eventually, the tree grew around the insulators, and can you imagine how devastating it was when the saw blade cut through them? Not only ruining the saw blade, but also a tremendous danger to the operator!
Everything has been found in trees, all types of spikes, nails; and the gentleman pictured in the saw room (sorry I can't recall his name, but the racket was so tremendous in the sharpening room, and we were wearing ear protection) recalled the time when they found a musket inside of a tree, which was probably set down by a hunter and forgotten about. How many years has it been since anyone fired a musket? It must have been from the 1700s anyway.
This is what happens to band saw blades, and I believe these remnants were sliced off the damaged blades, and probably a new piece was welded onto the damaged blade, and new teeth were cut into. These band saw blades probably cost a "minimum" of $1500, so you can see why people that can do these repairs are invaluable to a company such as Rough & Ready Lumber Co.
After being scanned from end to end, and on all sides by metal detectors, the logs are brought from the yard to the mill.
They are brought forward until the operator takes over and brings the logs in one at a time. Note the blue mark on the end of the log. This is how they mark them on the lot so they can tell when a log has made a complete rotation for the person doing the metal detection. You saw previously how dangerous it is to have any metal in a log at all.
Here the operator is stripping the bark from the log.
The log is next cut to the desired length,
and continues on to the next process, where the next man takes over.
Next, an outer layer is sliced off the log, so the operator can view the inside structure and determine what section of this piece will best fit the orders that he has in front of him. Note the operators' glassed in booth, in the very upper left corner of this photo. Mike is an expert in "reading" a log, so as to maximize its potential.
These are the screens in Mike's control tower, and the one with all the numbers on it are the orders he must fill. As a tree grows, the lower branches will gradually fall off, and the quality of the lumber will vary throughout the log, the better parts being where the branches have left little or no trace. We watched him slice off a section of a log, analyze it, and immediately determine how large a section he can cut out that will have no visible knots. It was fascinating to see how much experience it takes to be able to just look at a side of a log and know what your end product is going to look like.
Here Ed is consulting with the man who controls as many as four saw blades at a time. (What do you suppose he's saying about that goofy photographer in the 100 degree heat?)
Here he is trimming off the edges with laser guidance.
We have now arrived at the beginning of the "green chain" that we observed from the other end when we first came in.
The "green chain" continues down the line, with men at every stage, constantly pulling out the correct sized pieces for their station.
The silos are compartmentalized to house the various non-usable pieces, such as bark and wood chips. You can see the conveyors on the left that reach up to sort the materials into the bins. From there they will go to various places, such as wood chips will go to paper companies, bark and other scraps will continue to through the pipe on the upper right to the co-generation plant.
The finished product has been through the kiln and is ready to be packaged for market.
This is the sight we have been waiting for; the culmination of everyone's hard work. The truck leaves Rough & Ready Lumber Co. and enters the Redwood Highway (Highway 199), headed for its' new home.
Our sincerest thanks to Jennifer Krauss Phillippi and Ed Cunningham. Ed, I really must apologize for "sawing off" the top of your head in this photo, as even the camera was suffering from heat stroke.
But I want you folks to know that this was the most impressive operation that I have ever seen. Your employees were amazing! Everywhere we went, everyone was working hard at their jobs and they all seemed to know exactly what to do at every stage. There was no wasted effort, and everyone was working at top speed.
I've observed a lot of companies, and there's always somebody goofing off somewhere, but not in this company. You can be very proud of your employees, and they must really be proud of their employers, because it really shows!
Please visit the Josephine County Historical Society's website for more information on the Passport To History program.
Below are the links to my earlier Josephine County Historical Society's Passport To History blogs.