Story by Rich Donnell,
Editor-In-Chief

We’ve been reading a lot about Canadian forest products companies buying southern pine sawmills. We haven’t read so much about U.S. independent ownerships taking over formerly corporate sawmills. But our cover story in this issue, which begins on page 14, is about three partners who formed Franklin Lumber LLC and have re-started up the southern pine sawmill at Franklin, Va. In 2013 their new entity purchased the mill from International Paper, which had shut it down in 2009. Of course before IP took over the mill, it ran under the Union Camp flag. Not surprisingly, as the article written by our reporter David Abbott notes, is that the mill equipment is about the same as it has been for some time.

This caused me to reflect a little on when, in December 1987, this magazine published the first article on the new Franklin sawmill. I was managing editor at the time and we had been following the evolvement and startup of the sawmill project. Finally we received the “okay” from Union Camp and we sent reporter Mike Caswell up to do the article. It was also the 100th anniversary since the Camp family had operated a sawmill in Franklin.

The much anticipated $16 million project had begun construction in late 1984 and while it was going on Union Camp dismantled an adjacent Chip-N-Saw and bandmill sawmill. The log yard was converted from multiple length to treelength and a second crane was installed. The mill started up in December 1986.

Bill Skipworth was production manager at the time at Union Camp. The project and startup went so smoothly that Skipworth commented, “The only disappointing thing is that we only get to do this once.”

Skipworth worked closely with engineering consulting Bill Bowlin of The Bowlin Co., based in Shreveport, La. Bowlin was instrumental in the design and implementation of new technologies at many sawmills during the production surge of the 1980s in the Southern U.S.

Bowlin said about the new Franklin mill, “It’s one of the least manpower intensive, most attractive I’ve seen.”

The mill, which produced 100MMBF annually, featured the classic Log Boss sharp chain/McDonough twin band/Schurman chip heads primary breakdown with Applied Theory scanning and optimization. Every main sawing station included scanning and optimization, and perhaps most unique was that the mill not only ran the twin band for primary breakdown, but broke down cants with a twin and also sawed doubles with a vertical twin band resaw, and then of course there was the bandmill on the large log carriage side.

I remember that Union Camp also did considerable work with its filing room and our magazine featured their sawing program in 1989. The filing room was a spacious 26×110 ft. and had been built in the basement below the mill floor in order to minimize vibration from the sawmill. The saw filing supervisor was Sam Butler, who was a 42-year employee of Union Camp at Franklin.

Our writer, Mike Tankersley, asked Butler to gauge the importance of the filing room to the new modern sawmill. Butler’s response: “You take the saw out of the word sawmill, and all you’ve got left is a mill.”

Certainly the new owners of the Franklin sawmill have a great foundation and tradition beneath them. Best of luck to them.