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Mississippi Sawmill Forges Beyond Katrina

Beatrice Sawmill Relies on Three Wood-Mizer Portable Band Mills for Cutting Pine

By Pete Hildebrandt
Date Posted: 1/1/2007

PERKINSTON, Mississippi — After running a sawmill business for 27 years, Hurricane Katrina was not going to get in Tim Garrison’s way.

        Beatrice Sawmill is located about 30 miles north of Biloxi. Tim, co-owner, chose the name from the old Beatrice Turpentine Still, which was located on the site in the late 1800s. Turpentine was produced from the area’s longleaf pine trees.

        The sawmill location is just north of Mississippi’s ‘ground zero’ for Hurricane Katrina. The company’s buildings withstood sustained winds of 100-120 mph for about four or five hours, followed by gusts nearly that high continuing for some time. The storm winds damaged lumber sheds and roofs of the sawmill facilities.

        The mill, as much of the rest of the area, was without power for 14 days after Katrina. With diesel generators, though, it kept running on a limited basis. “It was hot then,” Tim recalled. “It was about like being in Guam. We did our best to take care of the many old people helpless after the storm. No one was prepared for anything like that.”

        Tim compared Katrina to Hurricane Camille, another devastating storm that struck in 1969. “Unlike the storm back then, Katrina lingered around for some 10 or 12 hours, hammering on everything and never letting up.”

        The property around the sawmill can accommodate rustic camping and RVs, which came in pretty handy after Katrina, Tim noted. “For a time you couldn’t get any water or electricity here.  We were able to feed many of the Baptist men and others involved in reconstruction efforts out of our big camp kitchen because of our generators.”

        Beatrice Sawmill, cutting mostly pine, produces a lot of specialty lumber products. For example, it saws timbers used for boat keels. The company also is producing a lot of lumber used for constructing barns, sheds and other outbuildings.

        Mississippi is still quite busy with rebuilding and reconstruction efforts. Tim’s company produces a lot of lumber that is being used to build or repair houses, barns and other structures.

        “The storm blew everything down pertaining to a barn,” said Tim. “Barns built 60 years ago are now mostly gone as are outbuildings, pump houses, sheds, carports, fence posts — anything not tied down to the ground. We’re also doing much cutting of one-by-fours for strips on roofs that must be replaced.”

        Tim got started in sawmill work as a teen, through an uncle. “My dad, my grandpa and I always fooled with wood, logs and paper wood growing up,” said Tim. When he started years ago he had a circular saw mill.

        Tim bought his first Wood-Mizer portable band sawmill in 1999. The Wood-Mizer LT40, with full hydraulics, has cut 1 million board feet. “That Wood-Mizer sawmill is still running today,” said Tim.

        Tim changed to Wood-Mizer band sawmills because the pitch, dirt and debris that accumulated on the circular saw blades was a constant problem. Also, Wood-Mizer hydraulic equipment made log handling much easier. The old circle sawmill, manufactured in 1937, required four men to load the log on the carriage. With the Wood-Mizer LT40, a single man running the hydraulic controls can load a log onto the mill.

        Tim has a partner in the sawmill business, Julius Bond, 50, a life-long friend who is co-owner of the company. “Julius is the most honest person I know, and he’s been a blessing to me in this business. He helps me find timber and does mechanical work with me. Recently he hauled dirt for a church being built at no charge to them. Julius does that twice a week as well as a lot of other charity work.”

        The company has a number of pieces of heavy equipment and also performs construction, excavation and road-building services. The company contracts for the U.S. Forest Service, the state of Mississippi, and private individuals.

        “This is a heavily forested area of the country, also known as the ‘long-needle pine belt,’ ” said Tim “We’re right in the middle of it. Forests are mostly longleaf pines with some oaks.”

        Beatrice Sawmill now has two other Wood-Mizer portable band sawmills. A Wood-Mizer LT15, which can cut logs up to 44 feet long, is used mainly to make specialty timbers. “I just got through cutting some 22-foot logs,” said Tim. The logs were milled to 5x10 beams for the interior of a house.

        A Wood-Mizer LT70 is set up in a semi-permanent location. “It’s still moveable but now is under a shed,” said Tim. “I put a 1965 Chevrolet fire truck cab mounted at this saw. The components have been taken out of the dashboard, and I’ve now placed computer components there, as well as heating and air conditioning and a buddy seat. I put men in the buddy seat to train them how to use the computers. Now you’re looking right down at the mill, you’re comfortable, it’s quiet, and it makes it easy to train workers. You can train there for eight hours if you’d like — in comfort and quiet out of the noisy mill environment.”

        Tim, 49, is proud of his family history and heritage surrounding Beatrice Sawmill. The land originally was his grandfather’s homestead, called the Lamar-Bond homestead. “Grandpa bought these 40 acres for one dollar in 1931,” said Tim. “I have the old deed with Governor Theodore Bilbo’s signature on it. While mowing the grass here, I actually found 75 cents in coins dated from 1931 — nearly the amount of money paid for all the land surrounding me.”

        Restoring old buildings and log cabins is a hobby and passion of Tim’s. He has a growing number of them adjacent to the mill.  One cabin is sided with 3,600 hand-cut cypress shingles. An old schoolhouse on the property was converted in the 1920s to a polling place. Painted on its walls were these directions: “Dry You Ballots - Before Folding.”

        Tim is an auctioneer and also plays the fiddle. (He cut the lumber for his fiddle at the sawmill — spruce and curly maple.) He has been involved with organizing auctions for several charitable causes, helping raise money for crippled children and Special Olympics. His auctions raised $32,500 for the Special Olympics and cancer patients in 2005 alone.

        “We have our auctions right here on the premises,” said Tim. “Two to three hundred people show up for these events. We’ll have trail rides, and people donate all the tools, furniture and equipment to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. My wife Evelyn and I have been able to help a lot of people here.” Evelyn runs the company office, and her duties include buying parts and other tasks.

        The Garrisons have two sons and two daughters. Their 14-year-old son helps out at the mill; his older brother works on an offshore oil drilling rig.

        Tim’s company is diversified; it does not make commodity lumber products. The approach has worked well.

        “I had older people in the business tell me it couldn’t work being so diversified,” said Tim. “But I’ve managed to make it work for us. Our dream has always been to work for ourselves. While in school, I did some work in the oil fields, or I did any type of other work to make ends meet. It didn’t matter what it was.”

         “My grandpa used to say: anytime you have to go out there and pick it, dig it up, scrape it or dip it, you have to go out there and get it yourself, but anytime someone could bring you something to manufacture, to make or to finish, half of it was already done.”

        “We do a lot of sawmilling, and we are in business to make money like everyone else.  But we also try to make it as pleasant as we can with our customers. It seems like it’s turned into a dog-eat-dog world. If you have money to spend and you have to spend your money, at least be happy and go ahead and spend it. That explains a good bit of our attitude.”

        Tim also is a dealer and authorized service center for Wood-Mizer. Besides running his company, he demonstrates Wood-Mizer sawmills and supplies parts for Wood-Mizer mill owners.

        “We dug in here, started getting sawmills in here, trained people, sold parts and we are the only operation for Wood-Mizer in Mississippi,” said Tim. “We deal with people in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Texas, working with Wood-Mizer’s Georgia office and Nathan Collins.”

        Once when he was training a new Wood-Mizer sawmill owner, the man’s wife told Tim that his company was located in the most God-forsaken place she’d ever been.

        He recalled the conversation. She asked, “Why would you have your place way out here?”

        “I answered, ‘Ma’am, not to be disrespectful, but we can’t do sawmilling in the Wal-Mart parking lot. You have to go out where the trees are.”

        “Linking up with Wood-Mizer was a natural transition,” noted Tim. “I was already using the Wood-Mizer sawmill and had nothing but good feelings from doing business with them.  When I realized they were a real God-fearing company, I wanted to do everything I could to be affiliated with them. That put coal oil in our relationship. They’ve been both a real good company to work with and a blessing to me.”

        After Katrina, Tim worked closely with Wood-Mizer and its office in Georgia. Within days after the hurricane, Tim had helped established a pick-up location with Wood-Mizer so that the portable sawmills could be more readily distributed in the region.

        Wood-Mizer, based in Indiana, introduced the first portable sawmill with a thin-kerf band blade 25 years ago. The log is milled on a fixed bed; the sawmill head and blade travel the length of the log in the sawing process. Traditionally, logs were fed on a carriage system and traveled through a circular or band saw blade. Although the technology has been emulated since by other companies, Wood-Mizer established itself as the leading manufacturer of portable band sawmills.

        “Out of the seven different models we offer, Tim actually uses three of them at his business,” noted Deanna Bunten, a spokeswoman for Wood-Mizer. “He obviously has a big operation if he’s using three of these. All three have different roles to play at his sawmill operation, including the largest portable mill we make, the LT70. The LT70 produces the most lumber, has the biggest horsepower engine, and has unique features, such as a remote control station.”

        The Wood-Mizer LT15 that Tim also has in his business is one of Wood-Mizer’s smallest models. However, bed extensions enable Tim to mill very long logs on the LT15. The LT15 can accommodate as many bed extensions as desired.

        The LT40 Super Hydraulic is Wood-Mizer’s most popular sawmill. Although it does not have quite as much production capability as the LT40, the hydraulic features make log handling quick and efficient.

        Wood-Mizer portable sawmills also can be operated as stationary mills — in the open or under cover of a building. Some models are available that can be powered by electricity instead of gasoline or diesel engines.

        Tim remains amazed at the havoc in his area wreaked by Katrina. The hurricane damaged thousands of acres of timber. He credited the Forest Service with acting quickly so that damaged timber could be sold and harvested. The timber has supplied sawmills throughout the region.

        “If they could have acted a bit quicker, they could have gotten all of it up,” said Tim.  “Under the circumstances though, they did an admirable job.”

        Tim recalls another favorite saying he heard from his grandfather: “Get all you can and can all you get, because you might need it one day.”


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