JACHIN, Alabama — When a coach is in the game to win, the next play is the one that matters. What just happened – the strike-out, air ball, or first down missed – cannot be changed, so it’s time to move forward. Greg Lewis, owner of Jachin Tie and Timber, exemplifies just that sort of focus.
On Friday, August 30, 2013, Greg lost his band sawmill in a fire. That was the Friday before Labor Day and he spent his weekend looking for a replacement mill on the Internet. Having identified a possibility, he contacted Luc Carrière, owner of Select Sawmill Company in Plantagenet, Ontario, Canada, for help with procuring it. (That was Tuesday after Labor Day.)
What Greg did not expect was Luc’s immediate declaration that he would provide Jachin Tie and Timber with a loaner mill. “He told me not to worry, he would have the mill here a week later – on the following Tuesday,” said Greg.
“I started making arrangements on site – power run and so on,” said Greg. He wanted to be ready when the Select 4221 double-cut bandmill from Select Sawmill arrived. By September 10, the loaner mill had been installed and production restarted.
Years before the fire, Greg had identified the Select 4221 as the best fit for his operation. “Efficiency” is the top reason that he bought his first Select 4221, he said. The six-inch, double-cut blades cut at three feet per second. It’s a seamless movement, which gets the attention of expert sawyers.
“We bought the original 4221 in 2006,” explained Greg. “We were looking to cut long timbers – 24 feet to 26 feet.” And he wanted a thin-kerf saw with a horizontal mill. (The mill from Select Sawmill is designed to cut logs as big as 42 inches in diameter by 22 feet long or can be extended as needed.)
“The original mill was diesel,” said Greg. “The replacement is totally electric. Because of where I’m located – Rural Electric [service] – electric is less than one-half the cost of diesel.”
When we talked with Greg in mid-December, he had reached a pivot point on the loaner. “I’m purchasing it now,” he said.
The name Jachin Tie and Timber dates to 2009, when Greg became the sole owner. “I started operating on my own – taking over from my father-in-law,” he explained. (The original name was Kelley Wood Yards.)
“We’re a hardwood sawmill and we primarily cut mat timbers for oil and gas pipeline companies,” said Greg. “I primarily cut an 18-foot mat timber. I have a customer – Kykenkee in Vance, Alabama – they build four by eighteen mats, 16s and 14s.”
Loggers deliver raw material. They come from a 50-mile radius around the Jachin home base of the company.
Jachin is an unincorporated town of approximately 120 residents in Choctaw County. It is in the far southwestern corner of Alabama.
Occasionally, Greg buys standing timber and contracts with cutters to fell and deliver to his yard. “I logged from 2000 until June 2013,” he said.
A 624 John Deere loader is used to load the bandmill. “I basically run the loader every day,” said Greg. “We cut 14s, 16s, and 18s, primarily 18s. I know exactly the sorts to make.”
The Select sawmill runs 10 hours per day, four and one-half days per week. Friday afternoon is reserved for maintenance, all of which is done in house.
“We have our own flatbed with an International Tractor from Waters International in Meridian, Mississippi,” said Greg. It is used to make deliveries.
A workhorse at the Jachin yard is a farm tractor. “I run a 70 horsepower M7040 Kubota. We use it for timber stacking,” said Greg. “We’re on our second Kubota. We put over 17,000 hours on our first – and we still have it.”
Sawdust is sold to paper companies. Slabs are sold to a firewood processor. “I cut edging strips into firewood length,” said Greg. And he has begun looking for a processor of his own. “I’m looking to evolve into that business. We will actually be using every piece of wood for product.”
Mat timbers drive Jachin Tie and Timber and keeps 10 employees busy. But that has not always been the case.
“When my father-in-law and I bought the mill in 2004, there was an existing pine Salem band mill with a headrig, resaw and combination gang edger,” said Greg. “In 2007 and 2008, we downsized.”
When the first Select 4221 was purchased, it was used to cut pine. “We were cutting a lot of high-grade pine at the time,” said Greg. The Select machine was a great match. “You can saw, saw, saw – it’s a double cut. That was a big thing.”
With the downturn in the housing industry, the markets changed – even overseas markets that Greg’s company had served were not building. “We are not cutting any pine at all now,” he said. But if there is a change in the market, anything is possible – and made so by the capability of the Select 4221.
“We could go back to grade,” said Greg. “I’ve been making inquiries. Mat timbers – that business is still good. Oak lumber is still good – I sell it mill run to Buchanan Lumber Company in Mobile. He grades it and sells it – adds it to his production.”
Greg purchased his original Select 4221 because it met his wish-list of features and he was persuaded it would fulfill its promise. “We watched it on video,” he said. “It was enough.” Even so, he knows some mill operators want to inspect a machine in the real world instead of the virtual one before buying. So he has often welcomed fellow members of the industry who want to see his mill in operation.
“I’m just totally comfortable with Select Sawmill,” said Greg. “They have never not done what they said they would do. In the business we’re in, the double-cut system really increases our production.”
Greg and Luc have not met (yet). “Up until the point that our mill burned, Select Sawmill and Luc Carrière and his team were just business associates,” said Greg. “But once our mill burned and he offered a loaner – I never saw that coming- Luc and his team mean much more to us now, of course.”
We asked Patricia Carrière what motivated Luc and the team. “It is important for us to be able to support our customers in any possible means,” she said. “In this particular case, we were able to offer a temporary solution by sending another mill down – and within one week, the customer was back up and running. It’s a good feeling to be able to help someone who has been through something as devastating as a fire.”
Patricia explained that across the years, Greg and other Select Sawmill product owners have offered valuable feedback. “It gives us satisfaction to know a customer’s business is doing well… We appreciate their feedback to make certain we are always improving whether it is in the quality of the equipment or the quality of our service.”
Customer attention is part of customization. Each mill has a unique character and singular needs and Select Sawmill understands. The company offers sawmills in stationary and portable configurations. Select Sawmill can provide a complete layout to a mill, including debarker, edger, trim saws, conveyor systems and infeed/outfeed decks. That’s the short list.
Greg earned a degree in education and physical education at the University of West Alabama in Livingston, AL, which was known then by the name of the city. Then, in 1987 he began his tenure in the wood products industry, starting out as a timber technician at Georgia Pacific. Next, he worked for Fulghum Industries, Inc.
“My grandfather was a saw-miller and a logger,” said Greg. “So was my dad until he went to work for a paper mill.”
Before Greg and his father-in-law bought Kelley Wood Yards in 2004, they had a whole-tree, in-woods chipping business in Arkansas. Greg has experience in just about every facet of the wood products industry.
As for the applicability of his formal education, Greg explained that he puts it to use every day. “That’s all I do is coach and teach.” Moreover, he enjoys doing both.
Greg’s two daughters were high-school athletes and cheerleaders. He coached some of their teams. Both young women have now graduated from the University of Alabama, as Greg’s wife, Leanne, also did. (In fact, he notes that he is surrounded by graduates of that university, which is a lot of Crimson enthusiasm.)
Motivating people – whether athletes or employees – is what it takes to ensure that everyone stays focused on a goal. It would be all too easy to waver after a setback as big as a fire, but that just would not carry a company forward. It’s the old “pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and do it all over again” refrain – and a reminder that we all need from time to time. Greg takes it to heart and mind.
Greg enjoys spending free time with his family. As for what he likes best about being a business owner, he has a firm answer. “Independence, just the independence,” he said. “I’m just comfortable in the industry.”