The Sublette County Journal
Volume 3, Number 26 - 7/29/99
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
Sawmill has been in operation since 1952.
by Rob Shaul
"We started the sawmill on the 28th day of May, 1952," Bob Dew reflected. "We were sawing in the forest three miles above the Flying A." (An old ranch on Twin Creek near the Hoback Rim.)
Later this fall, forty-seven years after its start, Mr. Dew will close down his sawmill at Dew Lumber, ending an era.
Bob says he and his father gave $3,000 for the sawmill, a gas engine, a chainsaw, and a timber sale, "and we were in business." At that time, five or six other small sawmills were also in the county.
At first, running the sawmill was a part-time job for the Dews, who also dude ranched (the Flying A in the Upper Green). They spent four months during the summertime timbering and sawing logs in the forest. In 1955, Bob and his father leased land from Chauncey Clark near today's Dew Lumber site and put in a planer to smooth their rough-sawed lumber.
In 1959, the Forest Service evicted all the sawmills from the forest. "We complained most bitterly," says Bob. Both he and his father thought this would be the end of their operation, but it actually had the opposite effect. The Dews moved the mill down to their leased property and worked all summer logging. They then would spend the fall and early part of the winter milling the logs into lumber. With the Forest Service's eviction of their sawmill, "It converted us into a year-round operation," says Bob.
Back then, prior to the invention of plywood, Dew Lumber specialized in 1-inch boards, which were used for subfloors and roofs. Then, in 1963, the company moved slowly into retail. Bob says besides Dew Lumber, in those days there were two other hardware and lumber businesses in Pinedale. However, two or three contractors approached him about being a source for contracting. He specifically mentioned Harold Taylor as being the key to the Dews going into the retail lumber and hardware business.
Over the years, the sawmill kept operating. The same old rig has continued to be used even though it's been rebuilt and "re-concocted" several times, says Mr. Dew.
"It's kind of amazing when you think about it," he continues, pointing to the iron wheels on the carriage where the log rides as it's drawn toward the saw blade. "Those wheels each have about 60,000 miles on them," from carrying thousands of logs.
The reason Dew Lumber was able to operate the sawmill for so long was that they "took pride in what they made," says Bob. He then led me to another shed, and pointed out the three grades of 1-inch lumber that came from the mill.
The Dews have taken time to dry and mill the lumber correctly and were rewarded with business, he says. Their fine "D" grade 1-inch lumber "opened up a lot of markets."
At its height, the sawmill employed 5-6 Sublette County people, Bob continued. This included two loggers and three men to operate the sawmill.
Unless they're able to get a good timber sale, they will spend a week "cleaning up" the remaining logs in the yard, then this fall Bob will shut down the mill forever. (The retail store will continue on.) Mr. Dew says in addition to a lack of supply of lumber, there are other reasons the mill will be shut down. Often, he's able to buy the lumber cheaper than he can mill it. And to be efficient, he would have to spend thousands of dollars modernizing his sawmill. The market simply isn't there.
"It's kind of amazing," Bob says, nostalgically, "how this $3,000 capitalization went from way back then to now."
Photo credits: Rob Shaul
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