Story by Rich Donnell
A couple of months ago I wrote in this space of my concern for the extinction of the Southern independent lumberman. I cited some corporate purchases of independents in recent years and I mentioned that another acquisition was about to come down. Well, it did come down, when Alabama’s Scotch Gulf Lumber announced shortly thereafter that it was selling its three sawmills to Canfor (the same company that purchased New South Companies back in 2006).
Of course Scotch Lumber and Gulf Lumber themselves had merged their sawmill businesses back in 2009, proceeded to invest heavily in the Scotch sawmill at Fulton, and had put on the table a pretty package when Canfor came calling.
Mind you, I have nothing against corporate-owned sawmills. I’ve visited many excellent ones. I’ve heard nothing but good things about Canfor, especially in regard to their sawmill savvy, and I know that the principals at Scotch Gulf would have only sold to like-minded sawmillers.
Still, an independent sawmill is a pretty special place, and none more so than Collum’s Lumber Products in Allendale, SC, which I had the privilege of visiting in August.
In all my years, I had never been there, and was truly blown away by the size of the operation. For some reason I was thinking it was an 80MMBF a year mill, meaning I was off by half, and I had forgotten it was heavy into the pole business, as well as treated lumber. The place was spread out and we covered most of it, including my son, Jay Donnell, who has joined our business and has written the story on Collum’s that begins on page 14.
It was only Jay’s second week on the job since graduating from Auburn University, and I figured why not break him in quickly with a road trip. And especially, as I told him, I wanted him to visit a family owned sawmill (and in the back of my mind I was thinking, questioning, “before they’re all gone?”).
Though I must say the Scott family seems to be doing quite well at Allendale. They continue to install technologies that do things like optimize their log gap on the DLI and optimize the performance of their fence at the trimmer. They continue to squeeze out more production; and in fact a couple of weeks after we were there, the mill set a daily board feet production record, which, considering they’ve been in business for 77 years, is pretty cool.
The thing I’ve always liked about visiting independent sawmills is that the people are nice and they don’t want you to leave unless you’ve asked every question you want to ask. At Collum’s Lumber, we started off the visit with Micky Scott at the big table in the conference room, and were joined for the next two hours by various supervisors and also his brother, Bill Scott, who has been engrossed in their transition from one automated grader to another.
As I hope my son learned fairly quickly, it is at these sessions around “the big table” when you find out a little bit about whom these people really are, beyond the x’s and o’s of the sawmill.
Then, they gave us all the time we needed to walk through and take photographs of the mill, and talk to anybody we needed to talk to, about the x’s and o’s the sawmill.
It was sawmilling at its best, and the people at Collum’s Lumber were happy to treat us to it.