Portable Mill Provided Means for New Lifestyle

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Campbell-Dice Enterprise: Lucas Portable Mill Provides Means for New Lifesytle

PRIEST RIVER, Idaho — Smooth running is the essence of portability— here, there, or anywhere. Paul Dice knows all about what makes a sawmill portable,and how getting it there is just half the challenge. Durability and flexibility mustfigure in the equation, too.

A Lucas portable sawmill meets the requirements for Paul, the owner ofCampbell-Dice Enterprises. (Campbell is his mother’s maiden name.)

lucas1.jpg (29589 bytes)When Paul launched the company in Washington in 1985, itwas a crate manufacturing business. Campbell-Dice served customers in the aircraftmanufacturing industry, in which Paul worked at the time. “I spent most of my life inaircraft manufacturing,” he said. By 1998, however, Paul “wanted out” ofthe aircraft industry. He relished thoughts of living in a rural setting, so he moved hisfamily and business to Idaho.

Located in the northern edge of the Idaho panhandle near the Canadianborder, Priest River is about an one hour’s drive east of Spokane, Wash. The BonnerCounty town of 3,000 caters to skiers, hunters, fisherman and outdoor enthusiasts of allsorts.

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With little demand for crates in a small, rural community like PriestRiver, Paul changed the thrust of his business from assembling wooden packaging tosawmilling. He had looked at portable sawmills for years before reaching the point wherehe knew a machine would be a good fit for his business. A friend encouraged him toconsider buying a portable sawmill from Lucas, but it took some persistence. Paul finallyagreed to take a look at the Lucas machines and quickly was hooked on their features. Hebought a Lucas portable sawmill in late 1998.

Lucas makes several different machines of various size; Paul settled ona Lucas Model 8, which is powered by a 20 hp Briggs & Stratton engine and has anelectric starter. His machine can saw up to 8 1/4 inches in one pass; by rotating thehead, it can saw up to 16 ½ inches in two passes. Lucas portable sawmills can betransported in the back of a pick-up truck; no trailer is needed to move it from place toplace. Normal production on the Australian-made machines ranges from 2,000 to 5,000 boardfeet per day, depending on the size of the logs being sawn and type of lumber beingproduced.

Campbell-Dice fills a specialty niche, producing lumber for customerson-site. “I saw for people building houses, sheds, barns and fences,” said Paul.”I haul the mill to [a customer’s site].”

“When we show up, the trees are cut, limbed, bucked to length andstacked in a deck. Our responsibility is cutting the lumber, mostly 2×4 or 2×6 or2x8.”

Paul saws mostly pine — white pine is the state tree — andsome Douglas fir and tamarack (larch). Although Idaho may be known for its potatoes —it grows two-thirds of the U.S. supply — the state also contains the world’slargest stand of white pine.

Most portable sawmills that are available on the market run bandblades, but the Lucas mill utilizes a circular blade. “A unique feature of the Lucasblades is that they only have five carbide cutters,” said Paul. “Most bladeswould have many times more — 40 or more. It doesn’t seem like it should work,but it does. The performance is outstanding.”

“It takes five minutes to sharpen the blade — seven minutes,most,” he said. “Other [portable sawmill blades] can take hours.”

Campbell-Dice was booked up “two months out” when Paul talkedto TimberLine. He runs the portable sawmill in all seasons — breaking only”when the snow is too deep.” Priest River averages 72 inches of snow; on atypical winter day, at least two feet of snow cover the ground.

Most Campbell-Dice jobs are within a 150-mile radius of Priest River,although Paul has taken the portable sawmill as far as Seattle — about 400 miles tothe west.

The toughest part of the work is loading the logs. Sometimes they are”really big,” said Paul. How the customer has the logs decked also can make thejob easier or harder. Basically, it still comes down to moving a log with a peavey.

There’s no question that running the machine takes physicaleffort. “Other [portable sawmills] are real push ‘buttony’,” saidPaul. He has no regrets, however, and he enjoys the work. “It’s a good physicalwork-out,” he said.

lucas2.jpg (33214 bytes)Paul also is pleased to be working with his family in thebusiness. His wife works with him regularly. His three teen-age children — a daughterand two sons — participate as their schedules permit. There are no other employees.

Paul does not know precisely where he developed his yearning to movefrom an urban area in Washington to a rural setting in Idaho. But he recalls fondly thechildhood time he spent with his grandparents, who had some land in Washington —enough acreage for a definite retreat from the pace of urban life. “They hadhorses,” Paul recalled. “We rode them. And I developed a love for the lifethere.”

The acreage that Paul and his family own in the Gem State is enough forsome cattle and goats. “Because of the ups and downs of the sawmill business,”he said, he knew he could only make the transition to a more pastoral life if he didsomething to generate additional income. Although there is no market for crates in his newcommunity, he has been able to tap that experience and skill in a new way. In fact, Paulhas been able to combine agriculture, sawmilling and his skills previously acquired incrate manufacturing into a side venture that is producing some extra revenue. “Ourcattle and goats needed hay feeders,” said Paul. If hay is simply deposited on theground for the livestock to feed on, up to 30% is wasted, he said.

Sawing his own material and using his carpentry skills, Paul built hayfeeders for his animals. He liked the results, and so did a local feed store; henegotiated to sell them through the feed company. So by combining his interests, Paul cameup with a way to make a wood product that will add to his company’s revenues.

Priest River provides the perfect backdrop for Paul’s businessinterests and lifestyle. The community observes Timber Day each July, an event thatincludes logging competitions. Hay is an important crop in the region. And the seasonalresidents in the area require lodging that combines strength and aesthetics, and theyfavor wood.

For finish work and doors, vertical grain or quarter sawn hardwoodlumber is more popular than ordinary flat sawn, and the swinging blade on the Lucasportable sawmill makes it possible to quarter saw with no extra effort. The log does nothave to be turned.

The more Paul uses his Lucas portable sawmill, the more he likes it.”It has exceeded my expectations,” he said.