Article by Rich Donnell

You probably recall the movie Saving Private Ryan. If you do, you’ll remember that Captain Miller and his Ranger company, following their heroic contribution to the breakthrough at Omaha Beach, was assigned to find Private Ryan and escort him back to safety behind the lines so he could return stateside and not become the fourth Ryan brother to die in combat.

During their pursuit, through continued fighting and the brave death of more soldiers, Captain Miller’s company finally found Ryan with his company guarding the bridge at Ramelle. When Miller told Ryan of the special expedition and all that the Rangers had sacrificed to find him, and that Ryan’s mother didn’t need another letter from the Department of the Army concerning her last surviving son, Ryan courageously still refused to leave his squad defending the bridge.

That was when Captain Miller sighed and said to Sergeant Horvath: “We have crossed some strange boundary here. The world has taken a turn for the surreal.”

Okay, I’m going off the deep end a little bit with this analogy, but when I thought about the number of new southern pine sawmills announced, and the rumors of others forthcoming, it was that exchange between the captain and the sergeant that came to mind, and more specifically the one word: “Surreal.” As in, the southern pine lumber industry has taken a turn for the surreal.

Surreal is the endless wave of announcements from companies planning to build (and already building) sawmills in the South. GP, Rex, Hunt and Canfor come to mind, each announcing specific locations. GP announced the locations for two of them, but plans to build several, or perhaps however many it takes until they feel they’ve built enough. There has been a rumor percolating for some while that somebody is building a new one in east central Alabama. Westervelt announced it is building a new one, but as of this writing hadn’t pinpointed where.

And then we hear that Angelina Forest Products is building a new sawmill near Lufkin, Texas. Who? Well, AFP is led by several former Temple-Inland guys. Why not?

I haven’t even mentioned the ones already started up in the past year by Biewer LumberJordan Lumber (the cover story of this issue), and Two Rivers Lumber, the latter of which was put together by a logger and a trucker; again, why not?

The thing is, there’s more out there for sure, and as soon I finish writing this, more specifics will come across my desk. As mentioned in this issue in our story on the results of the Softwood Sawmill Survey, several lumbermen indicated their company is considering building a new sawmill.

These new sawmills tend to overshadow all of the other capital expenditure that has been going on at existing sawmills. Our article on the survey sheds some detail on some of this heavy action. The article also whispers in some concern about too much production capacity ruining a good thing; but right now let’s enjoy the good thing that’s going on—as surreal as it seems.