New Montana Company Rises from Closed Mill

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Select Sawmill Co. model 4221 double-cut band mill Is a key machine for North End Timber Products

OLNEY, Montana — The shaky economy of the past few years would discourage many people from starting a new business. Not so for John Alt, owner of North End Timber Products.

John launched his business two years ago. Although it has been a struggle in the current economy, he has managed to develop enough customers to support the company while the entire forest products industry is looking forward to better times.

There are other sawmills in the region, near Kalispell and Eureka. “There was a big mill here called the American Timber Company,” said John. “They were cutting about 500,000 board feet a day. It’s a good location, and when they closed, I thought there should be the timber base and the qualified employees to put in a small mill that would run about 40,000 or 50,000 board feet a day, about a tenth of what they were doing.”

John bought a lot of American Timber’s equipment when it was sold at auction, and he leased a portion of the same property and some of the buildings from the property’s new owner. Within just a few months, he opened the doors as the North End Timber Products. Including the log yard, the company’s operations comprise about 15 acres and three buildings.

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John, 37, is no newcomer to the forest products industry. He has worked in the industry all his adult life. When he was in his 20s he worked for a logging contractor that supplied logs to his father’s sawmill in Hall, Montana. He later managed his father’s sawmill for a number of years prior to starting North End.

North End Timber Products cuts about 600,000 board feet of lumber a month, including 2×4 studs of fir and larch. Most of the company’s stud production is shipped green to California for the construction industry. “They build with all kinds of green studs,” said John. “It’s easier to drive a nail in, and when the wood dries, the nail never comes out. They claim it helps with buildings being earthquake-proof, but I don’t know too much about that—we don’t have that problem up here!”

Although John plans to continue producing studs, he also wants to move into more specialized products and markets. “We’re starting to do a lot of beams now, such as six-by-six and six-by-eight beams,” he said.

North End Timber Products buys logs and standing timber, contracting for the cutting. Most of the wood comes from Flathead and Lincoln counties. Although most wood is supplied through private timber sales, North End is currently engaged in a project on federal land in which it was the highest bidder.

John and his 18 employees operate six band sawmills. One of his most important pieces of equipment — and his first — is a Select Sawmill Co. Model 4221 double-cut band sawmill. Powered by a John Deere diesel engine, it can saw logs up to 42 inches in diameter and 22 feet long, so it well suited for milling large beams and timbers.

“Before we bought our first band saw mill, we looked at just about all of them,” said John. “The Select Sawmill looked

the best, and now I’m sure glad we bought it. For a while it was pretty much the whole company. It was all we were sawing with at first. We run it 10 hours a day, every day, and it’s been an incredible machine. It has no problems with any of the hydraulics; it has a really powerful hydraulics system on it.” The mill has required only basic maintenance and a few minor repairs, John said.

The Select Sawmill is not customized in any way, but John placed a belt alongside it to automate material handling. “When you kick the logs off, they fall on the belt,” he said. “The side lumber goes back into the sawmill and gets edged and stacked, and the center cuts go out a different way.”

The Select Sawmill Model 4221 can saw more than 10,000 board feet a day, according to John. A feature about the Select Sawmill machine that John particularly likes is the computerized automated setworks. “It’s all computerized,” he said. “It has memory buttons so that when you’re squaring the cant, if you’re cutting a six-by-six and take a slab off, you can hit the correct memory button and it will go right back down to six. It also has 12 pre-select buttons that work in automatic. You just hit the button for the head to go down, and it goes down the pre-selected amount automatically. When you do that, you always know you’re right.”

The Select Sawmill Model 4221 is made of heavy-duty, durable components and construction, John noted. “It has real heavy band saw wheels, and a really good tensioning system. And the wheels have big, heavy bearings on them. That eliminates a lot of trouble you could have.”

The Select Sawmill Model 4221 is designed and built for fast cutting, John added. “It’s a really fast machine, and it’s not underpowered like some are.”

John has a simple business plan for growing his company, and it has helped him to succeed so far despite the slow economy. “It’s all about hard work,” he said. “And good machinery helps.”