Updated mill puts 35 to work

July 2, 2005

Cliff Sellers had been working for SD&S Lumber Company for four years when on March 1 of last year he received the offer from Mt. Hood Forest Products. Managers there wanted him to use his 34 years of mill and millwright experience for their new project off Highway 35 near Parkdale. The old Hanel Mill.

Sellers accepted the job without bothering to ask about details, like vacation time.

"I guess I wasn't too concerned with things like that," the Dee resident said. "I didn't care for the drive over there (SD&S). Didn't feel like I fit in over there. Plus, I already knew the place (Hanel Mill)."

Sellers had worked at the Parkdale mill before, back in the mid-’80s when Sterling Hanel was running it and through the tumultuous ’90s when Quality Veneer and Lumber (QVL) bought it then, two years later filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy for it in Fall 2000.

"Well," Sellers continues, "I guess I knew the place. Now everything is different. It's all new."

Starting in March 2004, Sellers and a score of other workers — both contract and staff — helped transform the compound from a skeletal collection of obsolete machinery into a working saw and planer mill, complete with state-of-the art technology.

Now he is one of 35 laborers at the mill who help produce 250,000 board feet of two-by-fours and two-by-sixes in a single shift.

That amount represents about 70 percent of Mt. Hood Forest Product's end-of-the-summer goal.

"At this time we have adequate staffing on our one-hour shift basis," said Charlie Allen, vice president of the mill. "For our current level of production, we are complete at our hiring process."

Most Mt. Hood Forest Products employees are earning $10 to $18 an hour, or what Allen calls “family wages.”

Mt. Hood Forest Products redesigned the mill at one of its most fundamental levels last year by installing Autolog machines. Some of these computer-based machines can read timber for its quality - by the size of its knots and the sharpness of its edges - and make cutting decisions based on those variables. All in a matter of seconds.

These machines can produce six to eight different grades of lumber, from the lowest quality someone might use for a doghouse to the highest quality builders use for trusses.

"We have a half-dozen spots in the mill where timber is processed by automated optimization equipment," Allen said. "So no humans are necessary there. That's what makes this process so neat and also what makes it so cost-efficient."

Four and a half years ago, the Carson-based company invested in an Autolog machine for its Carson mill, then one of the first on the West Coast, says Allen.

The most drastic modification at the old mill was WKO's installation of a planer mill. This planer mill allows Mt. Hood Forest Products to produce a bundled stack of finished two-by-fours and two-by-sixes out of green Douglas Fir logs in just two hours.

"You see," Allen says, pointing to a vehicle that is carrying a bundle of logs toward the mill. "In two hours that will look like this." He points to a rectangular stack of two-by-fours.

"That's pretty neat," Sellers said. "I've never seen a mill like this. To have raw logs go in on one end and come out finished lumber on the other."

Mt. Hood Forest Products cuts most of its timber from Hood River County's forests.

"Our logs here lend themselves to higher grades," Allen said. "Most of the lumber is higher quality."

California, Allen says, is where most of Mt. Hood Forest Product's lumber goes to supply a steadily booming construction market that uses green Douglas Fir almost exclusively.

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