This is a story of the sawmill plant of The Texas Long Leaf Lumber Company, at New Willard, Texas.
The New Willard mill is the largest of the three mills of what is called the Sabine group, because the lumber is sold through The Sabine Lumber Company, of Houston. The other two mills in the group are The Texas Long Leaf Lumber Company plant at Trinity, Texas, and the Sabine Lumber Company mill at Zwolle, Louisiana. Paul Sanderson, who lives at Trinity, is the executive head of these milling concerns as well as of The Sabine Lumber Company, of Houston, which does the selling. He lives at Trinity, Texas, and handles the three mill operations from there.
The New Willard plant is a result of the sawmill genius of a mighty fine mill man, the late Alex. Thompson. He was living at Doucette, Texas, and managing the big mill of the Thompson & Tucker Lumber Company at that point, when they built the New Willard plant. When they gave him charge of the building as well as the managing of the proposed plant on the H. E. & W. T. Railroad, he found plenty of room to do a splendid job. The country was flat, and furnished an ideal mill site. So he laid out a grand milling institution, so arranged that the lumber that left the mill moved continually in one direction until it finally arrived at the shipping docks. There was no cross-hauling, and no back-moving of the lumber.
Alex. Thompson had with him at Doucette as his assistant manager a mighty fine young sawmill man named Joe Richards. So when he moved to New Willard he took Joe along in the same capacity. The New Willard plant started operations in 1910, and in 1912 Mr. Thompson and Mr. Richards moved to that point to live, and there Mr. Thompson stayed until he died in 1925, and there Mr. Richards still remains. He has been manager since Mr. Thompson's death, and rates one of the most efficient mill managers in the South, and a man for whom the whole Sabine organization feels the highest regard.
In the beginning the New Willard plant contained one big sawmill, located on a big log pond. It is equipped with two bands, a gang, two edgers, a big trimmer, and all auxiliary machinery. It is a big, roomy, open mill, and with those two band mills slicing thick cants for the gang, it cuts a whale of a lot of lumber.
Later they built a single band hardwood mill at the far end of the plant from the original sawmill. After cutting hardwood in it for several years they discontinued the hardwood business and converted the smaller mill into another pine mill. Today they find it a most efficient and useful manufacturing unit, the lumber from which finds its way to the yards, sheds, and kilns of the main plant, just like that from the original mill. So Joe Richards has three bands and a big gang slashing away at New Willard, making it one of the biggest pine-cutting plants in the entire South.
They kiln dry about 75 per cent of the product of the New Willard plant. That which goes to the yard, including most of their dimension, is dipped in a Lignasan tank as it leaves the mill. As in their Trinity mill (already described in these columns) the lumber leaves the mill on a long take-off chain. The stock that is to go to the yard is dipped, then pulled off the chains. That which goes to the kilns goes to the end of the chains, where it enters an automatic edge drop sorter, and goes down in front of the kilns, where it drops off the sorter according to its length, is piled on kiln cars, and goes on its way to be seasoned in six big double kilns.
They make a specialty of air-dried dimension free from stain and discoloration, carefully manufactured and graded, square-ended, eased-edged, and fine looking stock of any size or length the market desires.
A battery of big sheds houses all the kiln dried stock both before and after it visits the planer, and the stock that comes from the planer and starts for the loading docks does credit to the sawmill ability of Mr. Richards. Beautifully made lumber, that appeals to the eye at every turn. They make better lumber at New Willard today than they did twenty years ago when they were cutting into one of the biggest forests of Texas. They have learned how. Smooth, sleek shed stock, grain that catches and pleases the eye, flooring, siding, shiplap, trim, dimension, all made with care and intelligence, and showing plainly the effects of same.
They go a long way to save their small clears at New Willard. At the end of the mill they have a small saving plant where they grab all the slabs and edgings that have clear lumber left under the bark. They rip, re-saw, and trim, and grab all that short clear lumber, kiln dry it, and take it to the planer to make things out of it. They convert it into box stock, crate stock, framing of various sorts that requires small lumber, end-matched flooring, center-matched and end-matched sheathing, mouldings, table stock, handle stock, etc. Besides a department where they make worlds of knock-down crates the year around, they have an end-matching machine, and likewise a specially patented machine they call a "Gainer," created by Mr. Richards and his assistants. This machine takes small strips of lumber and notches it in various places so that it can be easily interlocked with other strips to make lightweight frames for signs, etc. They do a big business the year around with this machine, which takes the place of a dozen men in notching these strips to fit one another.
A big mill and a good mill is that at New Willard, and a very interesting one to visit under the guidance of Joe Richards. The product, like that of all the Sabine mills, is sold through the sales office in Houston, Texas, of which Frank Wherrit is in charge. W. L. Yardley is Vice President in charge of sales in the St. Louis district and general territory. His office is in St. Louis.
New Willard and Trinity are cutting away at opposite ends of what was once one of the greatest forested areas in Texas, and which still holds enough fine pine timber to keep both these mills running for many years to come. Hundreds of private property owners all over this territory who have pine standing on their lands, cut it and bring it to New Willard for sale. This supply is growing steadily. Augmenting their own virgin forests this timber supply stretches far into the future, even for so big a mill as that at New Willard, which cuts about four and one-half million feet of pine monthly.