MONROE, Ore.— One of the oldest saw mills in Benton County still cuts wood the old fashioned way. And the workers at Hull-Oakes Lumber Co. are happy to give you a free tour. It would seem no tree is too heavy for this mill. Our journey begins at a pond near Monroe, with a little tug boat with an odd paint job.
“The Duck guy says, 'if you paint it all orange, we're not running it.' The Beaver guys say, 'if you paint it all green, we're not running it’,” retired forester Don Wagner said. Wagner has decades of experience at Hull-Oakes.
That's just one of the first steps at Hull-Oakes Lumber. This 77-year-old company situated somewhere between Duck and Beaver territory specializes in custom timber cutting, done the old fashioned way.
“We have a tremendous value in the employees that work here because they're taking the place of computers that we see in other businesses today,” Wagner said.
The fourth-generation family owned mill's secret isn't complicated. If it's not ordered, don't cut it. From the time each log is stripped, sawed and sorted and stacked, it's carefully watched by a crew of skilled veterans.
“We cut material that no one else is willing to slow down and custom cut anymore,” Wagner said. “An awful lot is for restoration. And that could be covered bridges, recently we got an inquiry for three masts for a sailing ship in Seattle.”
The mill is also one of the last places on earth with its own steam powered engines, even though they won't be running much until winter.
“One is a 1906 Ames and that runs our head rig and our edger. Up until less than a year ago, we were running at eight hours a day, five days a week,” Wagner said.
Everything cut at Hull-Oakes is 100 percent Douglas fir. They don't take any old growth here. But unlike many other mills, everything on this lot is pre-sold. It's also one of the only places in the world that can cut an 85-foot-long picnic table that you'll find in nearby Bellfountain Park.
“Yeah, we're the only guy that can do that, but you have to treat the customer accordingly,” Wagner said. “If you're out of reason with your pricing, there's an alternative to everything.”
It would seem this fourth-generation mill is all but immune to the fluctuating timber economy. And from the pond to the loading dock, you can see it all in a day's drive.
Hull-Oakes is open to tours on Tuesdays and Thursdays by appointment only.