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Oregon Trails: Rough & Ready Mill

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CAVE JUNCTION, Ore. — By the end of this month, the last production sawmill in Josephine County will be shut down. The closure of Rough and Ready Sawmill a few weeks ago caught many people by surprise, but mill owners say it’s been coming for several years under federal timber sale policies.

Lumber trucks are hauling away some of the last lumber produced by Rough and Ready Lumber Company. Long a producer of high quality pine and other sawn wood products, the 90-year old company is forced to close its operation because it cannot keep a steady supply of raw material.

“As logs became scarce we tried to find other ways to, to keep ourselves going on the smaller log scale,” said Jennifer Phillipi. “We really need to run 2 shifts and we need to make more investments in our conventional mill and we just can’t do it because we can’t count on the log supply. It’s been 23 years and there still hasn’t been a solution to this Federal timber controversy and we just can’t wait longer.”

As Phillipi and her family look over photo albums of mill staff get-togethers and historic pictures, they recall how her grandfather and great uncles got started in the lumber business soon after world war one with a small mill near Selma.

“It was Krauss Brothers in Selma, and then they bought an existing mill here in 1943. And my grandmother named it ‘Rough and Ready Mill’ because we’re on Rough and Ready Creek here. My grandma named it Rough and Ready back then,” Phillipi recalled.

Her brother, Joe Krauss, has worked for the company all his life – first as an 8-year-old doing cleanup in the pine lumber yard.

“Us kids would come along with my brother Greg. He’d have a forklift and we’d stack all these blocks and I got paid 50 cents an hour, and that was in about 1972,” Krauss recalled.

Krauss later learned the millwright’s duties and says he had a hand in construction of most every part of the mill as it grew over the last 40 years.

“I grew up with everybody that was out there. Most of the people that I worked with, and work with presently, I went to school with! I went to grade school with some of them,” said Krauss. “I grew up, went to weddings. Went to funerals. It’s part of the community. They are. We are. We all grew up, it’s a family. It’s the Rough and Ready family.”

“The day we had to make our announcement, we just felt like we were breaking up a big family. It was really, really a tragic thing,” said Phillipi.

So, generations of Illinois Valley families have helped Rough and Ready make it when other companies might have gone under. So much so that this is the last production sawmill left standing in Josephine County where once there were dozens.

“We really focused on grade and the quality of our products and so the idea was to get more money out of each piece of lumber instead of needing more logs,” said Phillipi.

Early on the company built a mill just to saw the smaller diameter timber that seemed to be becoming more available, than the traditional mature logs. They also built a co-generation plant to burn wood waste to produce steam for drying lumber and electricity to power the plant.

It was also designed to utilize undersize logs from forest thinning and fuel reduction projects. So now, the last of the dry pine is being surfaced and shipped to customers anxious to get their hands on rough and ready shop lumber. This is the material prized for making window and door frames, moldings and other wood products. And what’s next for the mill?

“If there was another company that had access to timber we don’t have access to, or, had a different formula you know, somebody that wanted to make products for their own consumption,” said Phillipi. “Or you know, somebody else could do it. We would be thrilled to be partners or have then do it, because this community is really important to us.”

Until then, you can almost hear the echo of the saws and other equipment drifting through the mill, even though cleanup crews are picking up the last of the sawdust, sharpening the saws and putting them away. Within a couple weeks, this will all be silent, and 90 years of Illinois Valley history will be shut down. This has been a family business, not just for the Krauss family, but for many of the families of the Illinois Valley.

Jennifer Phillipi says even though the company owns about 25,000 acres of former Medco timberland, it only provides about a fourth of the timber needed to keep the mill running on a financially sound basis.