Friday, May 28, 2010

Story of Virgil Storm's Sawmill in Lucas County

On March 5, 2010 the Sawmill Story was printed on this blog.  This is another story taken from the Lucas County Newsletter of April 2009.

Cutting Straight and True - Farmer Virgil Storm, 73 has been operating a country sawmill since he was 16.

The pungent odor of fresh sawdust mingled with fumes from a diesel powered engine surround Virgil Storm as the 73-year-old powers the blades on his sawmill.

"I just like to make boards," said Storm, also a livestock and grain farmer.  Push come to shove, he'd rather be sawing logs as long as the temperature is above 20 degrees.  "I like to saw about as well as wrestlin' with them cattle," he admits.

Storm holds his short, stocky frame as straight as any healthy 20-year-old as he steps off a skid-loader and rolls another log off the machine onto the carriage by using cant hooks (metal hooks with long wooden handles designed to turn logs).
52 inch Blades

He squares the log up with four slices from the blade, turning the log each time with a winch he lowers from above the carriage.  He sets the mill to the necessary measurements, in this case to make one-inch-thick boards.

The carriage moves forward, allowing the 52-inch steel blade to slice through the large cottonwood log.  The teeth on the blade have been freshly sharpened and move through the length of the log with no tangible resistance.  If the log were larger, the 48-inch blade from above would help saw through the wood.

Spewing sawdust falls into a pit underneath.  A conveyer pulls the sawdust out of the lean-to covering the sawmill and into a bin, to be used for livestock bedding.

"Some people might think running a sawmill is a hazardous situation," Storm said,  "but it is no more dangerous than doing other things on the farm."

The rural Lucas man isknown for his expertise and straight boards.  "That's why I get the business, because people know I can saw true."  And no wonder, with 36 years of experience operating his own mill.  Storm started helping his father, lester Storm, cut lumber at the age of 16.

"I was just a young boy when my dad bought a used mill," he recalled.

His father bought the mill for making fencing lumber and to build sheds, gates and for barn use.  They lived near Humeston at the time.
Crabb Mills

"the mill is still down there, but it's not being used.  We moved up here in 1961," he said.

Storm had an old "piece of junk" Bell Saw he fixed up and used for a while.  But it was too small.  In 1969 he bought a Crabb Mill, which he has run ever since.  He points out that the Crabb Mills are no longer made but were at one time manufactured in Independence.

Storm's wife, Dorothy, 72, used to help him with the mill, situated in a pasture area several hundred yards from their house and other outbuildings.  "I used to help him a lot, but I retired," she said with a smile and a shrug of her shoulders.  She calls the sawmill being a good second business.

He agrees.  The sawmill business proved a decent supplemental income, helping the family through the trying farming years of the early '80's.  "It has bought a lot of groceries and paid for some trips," he said.  He now clears about as much money on the sawmill as in farming.

Farming, which he does with his son, Ken Storm, comes first, he said, but any other day it's the sawmill.  Storm can saw up to 1,000 board feet a day, but usually does less than that, opting to go at his own pace.  He usually fires up the mill after he's done with his morning chores.
Stays Busy

Though he does not advertise, he stays busy.  His largest orders come from Johnson Machine Works, a steel fabricating company in Chariton.  Storm cuts dimensional lumber the company makes into boxes for transporting their goods.  Most of what he makes for them are 2x4's and 1x12's from cottonwood.

He also cuts lumber used by Hy-Vee Food Stores, which has warehouse facilities in Chariton.  The boards are used to line steel racks.

Otherwise, the majority of lumber he cuts is for livestock farmers, and "horse-people" are the most vocal in spreading the word about his sawmill business.

One of those horse people, Gene Bogash of Des Moines, started buying lumber a couple years ago from Storm after someone recommended him.

"I just like the old guy," said Bogash.  "He's a real go-getter."  Bogash used a lot of cottonwood for stalls at Le-Marie Ranch near Bondurant.

"Everybody who sees it wants some.  It's really worth the money," Bogash said of Storm's lumber.  Before he started buying lumber, he checked out four or five different mills.  Storm had the best prices and was very knowledgeable, Bogash said.

"J. Marion Nicholson of rural Woodburn has done business with Storm for years and has helped at the sawmill occasionally.  "I don't know why he wants to work that hard," Nicholson said of his neighbor.

"He is pretty good at what he does.  A sawmill is a very temperamental thing.  There might be frost in the ground one day and it thaws out the next, which will affect the way the mill operates.  You have to work with it every day."

The lumber Storm uses comes from about a 30-mile radius.  He likes logs 20 feet or longer.  The longer length is good for cutting boards for livestock trailers and trailers used for hauling heavy equipment.

"My loggers know to bring them in as long as they can," said Storm.

He also has cut lumber used for furniture or carving, shipping some as far away as Oregon and Colorado, where the hardwoods are more difficult to come by.

Storm said he plans to operate the mill as long s he is physically able.  "I'm slowing down, can't run it much longer I suppose.  But as long as I can keep a-goin, I'll keep a-goin."

No comments:

Post a Comment