Mill Visits in Juniper Country: South Fork Gardens
Exploring the area where Western Juniper is growing with reckless abandon and meeting some of the sawyers who are removing it and turning it into beautiful lumber was an eye opening and surprisingly heart- warming experience. It changed me. Moved me. Stirred something familiar in my memories of growing up in a small, rural town in Eastern Kentucky. Something about the close-knit community, the hard-working people with a deep connection to the land, the struggle to patch together a decent living. In this place of unparalleled beauty, I make my second stop of this mill visit journey at South Fork Gardens, located in Dayville, Oregon. If you missed the first stop at In the Sticks Juniper Mill and want to learn more of the back story about the grassland and watershed restoration work we are involved with, you’ll find it at this link. https://snwwood.com/Blog/Mill-Visits-in-Juniper-Country
I’ll start by saying it feels pretty great to be part of a company that is doing good work in the world. I began my adventure to Juniper country knowing that we are supporting the restoration of the grasslands and watersheds in eastern Oregon, that we are working with small rural sawmills turning an invasive, water thief into beautiful lumber and that juniper is a very cool wood. Colorful, character rich, dense, durable, and super rot resistant, juniper makes great products like landscape timbers, garden box material, decking and siding, butcherblock countertops, flooring, tongue and groove wall paneling. I can (and do) talk about juniper all day, every day. But the heart-warming part of this experience came from meeting these sawyers face to face, in their element, and seeing first-hand how our support directly affects real people in these small communities.
The population of Dayville, Oregon is about 150 people. Tony Hand brought his family here from the Portland metro area when his kids were about to hit middle school. He wanted a better life for his family, off the grid and away from the growing concerns of urban life. His son David, now in his early 30s, runs the portable saw mill perched on the rugged mountainside of their 363-acre property. I asked David what it was like to move away from the city to a cabin with no electricity in the middle of nowhere, and he lit up and smiled at the question. “It was like camping every day!”
There aren’t many options in the way of commerce, jobs, and sources of income in Dayville. When he’s not cutting juniper, David works at the Dayville Public Water Works. His brothers are machine mechanics supporting the logging industry. His mom runs the general store, Twisted Treasures and Gnarly Goods, where you can get the best cup of coffee in town, fill your growler and buy a piece of local art.
This father and son team supplies some of the best quality 6x6 landscape timbers we can get our hands on and are a go-to resource for custom cuts.
The Hands’ property is a rare find with a spring fed creek that runs year-round. The juniper that grows here is high quality because of this precious water source. Tony selectively logs the property, cutting and thinning to remove fire hazards and allow room for younger trees to grow for the next generation. His intention is to leave a legacy for his grandkids, and he is logging in such a way that ensures they will be able to not only utilize, but also protect the natural resources of this beautiful land for generations to come. One of the surprises of this trip is the level of stewardship and respect for the land these sawyers have. It touched me deeply.
The mill they operate is portable and the same kind Tony used as an arborist in Portland to mill slabs of fallen trees on site. It’s a very hands-on, manual, physically demanding process compared to the last mill I visited. The adjustments of the saw blade to cut at the correct dimension and pushing the blade through the lumber are all manual. I watch father and son work in harmony, without a lot of words between them, and a sense of pride emanating when the final cut turns the log into the timber. When they’re on a roll, they can mill a log in about 6 minutes. David finishes the demonstration and shows off the chainsaw end trimmer contraption he built to chop the rough ends to a uniform finished length. It’s pretty dang clever and gets the job done.
David is the primary sawyer and mostly works alone, milling timbers while Tony works in the woods, thinning, pruning, logging, keeping his son supplied with premium logs to cut. They have an impressive load started that will soon be headed to our shop in Portland. Their lumber has been used on hundreds of projects around the country like the Oregon Zoo, PCC Sylvania, and a load for a homeowner project in New York just left our yard. There is a growing demand for this durable lumber, and that demand supports these two juniper sawyers and many more. We thank you for that.