Tennessee Sawmill Prefers Local Supplier

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L& R Sawmill likes simplicity and durability of Hurdle Machine Works equipment.

BROWNSVILLE, Tenn. — Tradition is a powerful motivator. Larry Hooper, owner of L&R Sawmill, said it was “a family tradition, so to speak” that got him into the sawmill business. He followed in the path established by his grandfather.

Now 40 years old, Larry has worked in sawmill businesses ever since he graduated from high school. He got started in his profession by collaborating with other family members who have mills. Ten years ago, he struck out on his own. L&R Sawmill produces high-grade lumber at the rate of about 25,000 board feet per day, year around.

“We buy mostly logs,” said Larry. “The majority is red oak, then white oak, then poplar, then ash — mainly from west Tennessee.” All the logs are weighed with truck scales when they arrive at the mill yard.

The 30-acre site that supports the operations of L&R Sawmill is adjacent to railroad tracks, and the proximity to rail service expands possibilities for receiving tree-length logs and shipping lumber. Seventeen employees keep the business humming. A John Deere TC-62 loader is used to offload logs from the 80-foot-long trucks that arrive, and a Barko loader equipped with a CTR slasher bucks the tree-length wood to the appropriate length. A Fulghum debarker readies the wood for the sawmill.

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The company manufactures grade lumber. Cants are sold to pallet manufacturers, and L&R also saws some cants and low-grade material into pallet stock. Gum logs are milled into railroad ties. All the principal saws in the mill were supplied by Hurdle Machine Works of Moscow, Tenn. Larry has worked with Hurdle equipment since he got into the sawmill business more than 20 years ago. Other members of Larry’s family also are in the sawmill business. Among them they have seven Hurdle mills in operation. Larry currently has one Hurdle circular sawmills and a Hurdle band resaw, but at times he has had three deployed simultaneously.

In fact, every piece of equipment that supports the main saw line at L&R Sawmill was purchased from Hurdle Machine Works. There is a fundamental reason for the loyalty to Hurdle machinery, Larry explained. There are “not a lot of components,” he said. “We like the simplicity of them. There’s not a lot of maintenance.”

“I bought a Hurdle circle saw with a vertical edger in 1999,” said Larry, “and added a band resaw in 2001. The resaw upped our production over the head saw 22 percent. It really surprised us. We thought maybe we would get an increase of 15 percent.”

Most logs going to the Hurdle head saw are between 14 and 16 feet long. The head saw and edger are used to square up the log, and L&R aims for 18×18 squares. The Hurdle band resaw can take squares up to 18×18 and 16 feet long. The Hurdle vertical edger on the head rig gives the sawyer control over the cuts, said Larry, because the “sawyer is looking at the cant” and has a clear view when the edger saws are down. The result is an improvement in grade. The patented Hurdle vertical edger also eliminates an extra edger man, which saves money. The Hurdle vertical edger in service at L&R Sawmill is actually the second one that Larry has owned. The very first vertical edger that Hurdle produced went to L&R.

Larry has a long working relationship with E.J. Hurdle, Jr., the owner of Hurdle Machine Works. After serving as a ship machinist in the Navy, E.J. transformed his foundation in tool and die work into building sawmill equipment. He founded Hurdle Machine Works in 1969. E.J.’s son, Jeff, joined his father’s business in 1998 after graduating from the University of Alabama.

One of the goals at Hurdle Machine Works is “continuous improvement,” said Jeff — to “make it work longer” and “make it work better.” Jeff has been putting his expertise to work on computer controls. His younger brother, John, recently completed college and joined the business, too. Hurdle computer controls are in use on the Hurdle band resaw at L&R Sawmill. “It positions the saw,” said Jeff, “and measures the cant sent down to the resaw.” The setworks also position the resaw properly to cut the first board.

After the first board is cut, the operator can decide if he wants to cut a different board. The 48-inch wheel Hurdle band resaw is unique, said Jeff, because “each cant is sawn to finish.” There is no run-around or return system. The sawyer can extract more grade lumber from each cant by sawing each cant individually. A patent is pending on the Hurdle resaw.

The town of Brownsville, which is home to L&R Sawmill, has about 10,000 residents. The town is so far west and south that fewer than 75 miles separate it from each of the neighboring states of Missouri, Arkansas and Mississippi. L&R Sawmill contracts for all trucking. It has no dry kilns and ships most lumber green, although some is air-dried.

Most of L&R Sawmill’s production is sold to companies that process it further into molding and flooring. In the summer, lumber is treated with chemicals to prevent mildew and discoloration. The company has an Eagle Dip Tank system, manufactured by Niels Jorgenson Co. Inc. in Burgaw, N.C. to treat lumber.

Bark is sold as bark mulch. Slabs and edgings are fed to a Fulghum 60-inch chipper, and the chips are sold to Westvaco and Inland Container paper mills. A Master Certified Logger, Larry also belongs to the Tennessee Forestry Association and the National Hardwood Lumber Association. His brother-in-law, Ronny Simer, is the manager of the yard at L&R Sawmill.

Larry is a native of Hardeman County, the most productive region of Tennessee for hardwood species, he said. He enjoys opportunities to get outdoors — like getting out to logging sites to “haggle over price” and just to “meet with loggers.” After more than two decades in the sawmill business, Larry said his perspective has not changed. Quite simply, it is a “pretty good business” to be in.