Life of a Lumberman

6:51 pm Business Stories

Friday, August 23, 1996
Page: 1
By DAWN SHURMAITIS; Times Leader Staff Writer

Lumberman Dennis Lamoreaux runs a calloused paw over the rough bark of a
just-felled hemlock.

“You can read a log,” he says.
“There’s a lot of history in a log.”

There’s a lot of history at Lamoreaux Sawmill, too. Worked by third- and
fourth-generation sons of Maine woodsmen, the sawmill relies on a
reputation honed by decades of hard work and fine craftsmanship.

If you call the mill, don’t expect an answering machine. If you’re lucky,
either Dennis, Dennis Jr. (known as Sam), Harry or Nora will answer and
happily give directions over the rotary phone.

The sign pointing the way to the five-acre plot, which straddles Plymouth
and Lehman townships, is located miles off the main road, Route 29. Once
there, you’ll be greeted by Daffodil the dog, not a salesman with a fancy
name tag.

Lamoreaux, one of a handful of sawmill operators still in business in this
area, does things the old-fashioned way.

The right way, he says.

He’s never advertised, relying on word of mouth. When he speaks of the mill
started by his grandfather, his voice swells with undisguised pride.

“Why are we timbermen?” he says, soon answering his own question.

“Because we come from generations of timbermen.”

Throughout the day, customers — some sent by lumber yards — visit what
passes for the “showroom.” It’s actually a low wooden shed where Lamoreaux
and his sons toil over floor boards and moldings.

Against one long counter rest samples of their craftsmanship:
tongue-and-groove boards of oak, ash, maple, tulip poplar, pine and hemlock
that soon will be turned into kitchen cabinets and floors.

In addition to the standard sawing, grading and shipping, Lamoreaux adds
another step: fine finishing.

To prove his point, he shows off a board he cut and finished 12 years ago.
It’s still straight as, well, a board.

“We’re making good material,” he says. “We’re sold out all the time. Our
wood goes all over. Guy called me last night from Boston.”

The boards sell for between $1.80 and 84 cents a square foot. Moldings
usually sell for 50 cents a foot.

The prices are competitive.

When customer Anthony Toluba talks about Lamoreaux’s prices, his voice
drops to a whisper, as if he’s afraid word will get out and a customer
stampede will ensue.

Lamoreaux can stay competitive, he explains, because he’s a small,
family-run operation.

“Labor costs kick you,” he says. “Worker’s comp is so high I can’t afford
to hire more men. That’s why I keep it just me and the boys.”

The boys are Dennis Jr. and Harry, who work alongside their father Monday
through Saturday. The mill is open officially from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.

But, Lamoreaux jokes, “We only work half days. From 6 to 6.”

Lamoreaux refuses to let out any of his trade secrets, the special touches
that distinguish Lamoreaux lumber.

“We’ve learned the hard way,” he says. “So why notify the other guys?”

In this business, patience is essential.

Oak grows for 70 years before it’s harvested. If taken too early, the young
wood will warp and twist.

Once, Lamoreaux cut open an oak to find a musket ball wedged deep inside.
It must have waited there a hundred years or so.

Lamoreaux harvests most of his wood locally. It’s good wood, he says,
because it’s dense and less subject to rot.

“We select cut,” he says.

“It’s just like going into your garden and picking out ripe tomatoes.
You’ve got to be able to judge it. You know what boards will come out.”

Stacks of mixed hardwoods in various stages of drying are piled 10-feet
high in the yard. The lumber, which gives off a pleasant woodsy scent, will
stay in the yard, turning slowly from blond to gray, at least nine months,
until much of the wood-bending moisture is gone.

Then, for about 10 days, the wood is kiln dried in a kind of giant oven,
whose temperatures reach nearly 100 degrees. The finished boards will
almost certainly stay straight for years and years to come.

The sawmill itself is located next to the kiln. Most of the cutting is done
in the summer, leaving the finishing and flooring for winter. The
diesel-powered, 56-inch, 50-tooth Swedish steel saw can cut logs as wide as
48 inches.

Scrap is either burned as boiler fuel or chopped into landscape mulch,
which is sold by the truckload. Sawdust is used for horse and cattle

Nothing is wasted.

The mill man started out 40 years ago, at age 15.

“The schoolhouse burned down,” he says. “So I quit school and went to

His sons are the fourth generation of Lamoreaux to work the wood. The first
family sawmill was built on the same grounds.

“It never had no name,” he explains of his father’s mill. “We sawed mostly
for the mines, for mine flats thrown down in the mud to put the railroad
cars on.”

Both sons say they will continue the Lamoreaux tradition.

“I like everything to do with wood,” says Harry, 33. His brother is 35.
Both live with their parents in a small home located next to the sawmill.

The family keeps mostly to itself. A big night out for Lamoreaux and Nora
is a trip in the pickup to McDonald’s for hamburgers.

“Work is my hobby,” he says. “Sunday is the hardest day of the week to get
through because I’m not doing anything.

“The fellow that works will always work.”

Cut 1: At left, a stack of logs awaits processing at Lamoreaux Lumber Sales
in Lehman Township. Inset, from left, Sam Lamoreaux, Daffy, Dennis
Lamoreaux, and Harry Lamoreaux.

Cut 2: Above, Nora Lamoreaux works alongside the men, helping to cut timber
into log planks. At right, Harry Lamoreaux stacks fresh cut boards, which
will be stacked and dried before being sold.

Cut 3: Dennis Lamoreaux operates the sawmill as pine logs are cut into
boards to be used for paneling and flooring.

Cut 4: Lamoreaux Lumber Sales in Lehman Township.

Lewis Geyer

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