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Starting Out As A Helpful Neighbor, Wood-Mizer is Now at Home in Mississippi
By Guy Johnson
Date Posted: 9/1/2006
They will talk abut Hurricane Katrina for a long time in Wiggins, Mississippi. The storm was huge. It was fierce. “It hammered and hammered and hammered and hammered,” says Tim Garrison, owner of four Wood-Mizer sawmills.
There was something else: Katrina was an unwelcome guest who stayed a long, long time. “Twelve hours,” says Patty Rogers, local coordinator for the Coastal Plains Resource Conservation and Development Council. She lives outside Wiggins and her family had a few hours’ warning that Katrina would be big and bad. They secured their livestock and hustled to a neighbor’s basement.
“It was so loud you couldn’t hear the trees fall right outside,” she says. “We never went through the eye. The wind changed directions, but we never got a break.”
Wiggins is a rural community twenty miles north of the Gulf Coast. The area has been through numerous storms, but nothing like Katrina’s 200-mile-per-hour winds and sustained fury. Area residents say Katrina was worse than Camille, which was once called the worst storm to hit the U.S. Camille earned its reputation by slamming the Gulf Coast and adjacent delta areas in August, 1969. It was a Category 5 hurricane, compared to Katrina’s Category 4 status. But Garrison says that the worst part of Camille – and it was bad – was gone in three hours. “Camille was minor compared to this,” he says.
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita pulled off a deadly sister act beginning on August 29, 2005 when Katrina bulldozed ashore. Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Texas sustained heavy damage. Stone County is one of 14 in the Mississippi Delta to suffer “moderate” damage according to the Mississippi Forestry Commission. It was worse, of course, on the Gulf Coast.
Damage is more subtle in Stone County, but it is everywhere. Stone County is rural, with Wiggins, the county seat, in the middle. Forests of longleaf, yellow and other pines, plus other trees such as cedar and oak, contain huge hollow fields where trees once stood. The storm carved out the vacant spaces, leaving behind broken trunks, trees bending away from the wind direction, and splinters pointing at the sky.
Wood-Mizer knew immediately that action would be needed to salvage the area’s timber crop. Stone County is in the heart of the Mississippi Delta lumber belt, an area that is 80 percent woodland. Lumber is Mississippi’s second largest agricultural crop (behind cotton).
Wood-Mizer’s first response to the disaster was to enlist dozens of Wood-Mizer owners who made themselves available through the Wood-Mizer website (www.woodmizer.com) to bring their portable sawmills to the Gulf Coast area.
Just as quickly, Garrison called Wood-Mizer to offer his property outside Wiggins as a distribution center for new Wood-Mizer sawmills. Just three weeks after the storm, Wood-Mizer was delivering truckloads of sawmills to Garrison’s temporary pick-up location for new customers.
Garrison says he makes a nice living using his four Wood-Mizer mills, so in a way this was payback. His property, known as Beatrice Sawmill, includes a camp with a kitchen and open areas for unloading and loading. It is perfect for new purchasers to pick up their mills and receive a half-day’s instructions.
Realizing the enormity of the recovery needed after Katrina, Patty Rogers of the Redevelopment Commission and Stone County Sheriff Mike Farmer, sought a sawmill for the county to use. They wanted to put it at the Stone County Regional Corrections Facility, a medium-security prison in an industrial park outside Wiggins, because its vocational education participants were available to learn how to run a sawmill.
Responding to the request for help, Wood-Mizer dispatched John Hicks to Stone County in October 2005. He set up a familiar, orange Wood-Mizer LT40 Hydraulic sawmill and their Twin Blade Edger just outside the razor wire fence which surrounds the prison.
More than a dozen inmates in Obey (oh-bee) Parker’s wood shop class learned from Hicks how to cut and trim logs hauled in from surrounding forests by the Mississippi Forestry Commission. Hicks stayed for two weeks. After he left, Parker, who also teaches at nearby Gulf Coast Community College, continued to tutor the prisoners. The cutting continued even on days when Parker wasn’t there, the inmates working for hours most days in a red-clay yard just outside the fence.
“Some of these guys jumped all over that sawmill,” says Parker of his prisoner voc ed students. “This is an awesome thing because they can take these skills to work on the outside,” he adds.
Heavy-set tobacco-chewer Sammie McCann wants to parlay his new wood-cutting skills into a job. When he is released, he wants to go to Waynesboro, Mississippi where his family lives.
“It was easy to learn the Wood-Mizer, and mill work is an option for me,” he says.
Richard Harvey keeps the sun off with a black baseball cap as he works. He says he probably will work for two uncles in their landscaping business when he returns to Jackson. “A sawmill, such as a Wood-Mizer, would give the company another way to make money,” he says.
One of Scooter Robinson’s blue tattoos is the name of his son, Burton Lynn. The five-year-old is a motivation for Robinson to leave prison with a way to make a living. “I picked up on the Wood-Mizer pretty quickly,” Robinson says.
Twenty-four-year-old T.D. Roach says working with the sawmill and edger, “helped me learn how to cut in relation to the characteristics of the wood.” He is a New York City native who went to high school in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.
Even inmates whose release is years in the future are glad to help the area recover from the storm. They believe their new skills will help them eventually.
“I’m enjoying it,” says Kerry Keller of his Wood-Mizer sawing experience. A 30-year-old inmate from Biloxi, Keller is tall, well-spoken and knows his past will be held against him when he leaves prison. Keller, a carpenter and glazer before he was convicted more than two years ago, hopes his new talent as a sawmill operator will help him.
“When you apply for a job and tell them you are a convicted felon, it’s hard enough. If you have skills, like this, you have a better chance of being hired.”
The Wood-Mizer LT40 and Twin Blade Edger stayed in the prison yard for months and cut thousands of feet of pine and cedar. The finished lumber is trucked off almost immediately to be used to repair homes and businesses.
About $1.3 billion worth of trees is on the ground, according to Dr. Glenn Hughes of Mississippi State’s agricultural extension service. “There are some pine stands where 80 percent of the trees are snapped over,” he says. The biggest loss may be in pinesaw timber: logs at least 12 inches in diameter that can be sawn into 2x4 and 2x6 lumber. Hughes guesses that two years’ harvest of such premium logs may be lost.
The dollars are one thing: jobs are also at stake. Dr. Hughes says 120,000 Mississippi residents (8.5 percent of the workforce) are employed in the forestry and forest products industries. Fortunately, at least two idled sawmills near the coast opened in January, creating new jobs – temporarily perhaps – for sawyers.
Mississippi adjusted its life to cope with the hurricane aftermath:
• Special “wet deck” storage yards were set up so logs could be prayed as they gradually dried – a tactic meant to discourage infestations of beetle-type larvae known as the southern pine sawyer.
• Temporary dorms were built for construction workers.
• Trucks are allowed to carry more weight if they are hauling lumber from fields of damaged timber or from sawmills-to-market.
Still, damage will remain in plain view for years.
Today, more than a year after Katrina, the sawmill and edger is still be used at the prison nearly everyday, making lumber.
“We would rather not have had the hurricane,” says Warden Dwain Brewer. “But working with the Wood-Mizer sawmill has been a positive for the inmates.”
Work also continues for Tim Garrison at Beatrice Sawmill. Garrison is a big man who will sing and play his guitar with little or no prompting... a nice treat for new Wood-Mizer owners who pick up their mill, a half-day of training, and a meal at Garrison’s camp. “Timmy never met a stranger,” says a friend. He invites a lot of people to visit his property: customers who buy lumber from his modern Wood-Mizer mills (they may also take a look at the antique, 1926 sawmill set up nearby); and country music fans who attend shows on a stage he built to raise money for charities.
Still, six days a week, – Garrison takes off Sunday for church and family – Longleaf pine logs are trucked in for Garrison to convert to 1 x 4 lumber, a staple of roof construction. “Biloxi is thirty miles away,” says Garrison. “Since Katrina, I’ve cut enough 1 x 4s to stretch from here to Biloxi and back and then some.”
Garrison has achieved another milestone, as well. To continue to serve the Gulf States, Wood-Mizer established Garrison as an Authorized Sales Center. The company has worked for a number of years to make sales and service more accessible to customers and potential customer and converting Beatrice Sawmill from a temporary pick-up location to an official Authorized Sales Center was a natural tranistion.
A grand opening celebration took place on Friday, July 14 and Saturday, July 15. More than 200 guests enjoyed refreshments, live sawing demonstrations on a variety of Wood-Mizer’s portable band sawmills, and DoubleHard blade presentations.
Dave Mann, Vice President of the Sawmill Divison for Wood-Mizer, commented, “We are delighted to have Tim part of our team. He will help bring Wood-Mizer’s equipment and legendary support closer to home.”Editors Note: The preceding is paid advertorial submitted by Wood-Mizer.
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