If you keep your eyes peeled on the way out of town toward New Denver, you’ll spot a new sign on the side of the road just before Brouse Loop. It says: Box Lake Lumber 3 km.
If you turn off Highway 6 and drive up Wilson Lake Road to the mill, you’ll quickly see it’s a very busy place. Large trucks back in and are loaded, and forklifts and other machinery roam around the work yard.
It was bright skies and good weather the day that the Seniors Association took their tour with Dan Wiebe, the mill’s owner, who guided the group of ten through the site’s operations, which employs around 40 people in two shifts.
Danny handed out bright orange earplugs to the seniors, and there were a few jokes about just turning down hearing aids instead. Outside, the noise of the mill isn’t that bad, it’s the trucks and machines making their way through the site that are loud.
This is the third incarnation of the Wiebe mill that Dan has been part of, thanks to fires. With each rebuilding, Dan and his father took advantage of the opportunity to try something a little different. Box Lake Lumber now specializes in cedar products, from split rails to chips to bark mulch.
The lumber mill is a much-admired business, and Dan Wiebe was nominated for an Order of B.C. for his innovative, positive and hard-working approach. His nomination was supported by the Village and the Development Board as well as Tom Zeleznik, and the letters they wrote all emphasize the importance of the mill for the Village, as well as Dan’s upstanding character. Unfortunately, he wasn’t chosen, but that’s alright; he’s still busy doing good work here in Nakusp, including taking time out of his busy day to lead a tour of seniors and one Nakusp journalist through the work site.
Walking through the muck resulting from many days of rain, we were fortunate to have only a few inches of mud to deal with, thanks to the concrete on the site. We made our way up to where the logs come in to the mill.
It all starts with loads of cedar logs that come in by the truckload that are scaled then decked, or stored, in a gravel-pit area of the mill site.
It’s an efficient operation; every part of the wood gets used, from the bark to the wood in rotten logs. First, the trees are peeled, with the bark being destined to be ground and sold primarily as mulch.
Cedar fibre is ideal as mulch, Dan explained. Its sponge-like quality makes is perfect for retaining water while it protects roots from sun and stops weeds from growing. For the most part, the mulch is sold by the 5.5 cubic yard bale, but the company will sell truckloads to people wanting smaller amounts, and the same is true for any of their products. Box Lake Lumber hopes to have smaller bags of the mulch available by next spring. Right now they’re waiting on a replacement part for a robot (I’m not kidding) that will make the smaller bags of mulch possible.
The seniors and I moved to the next station of the tour where a continual flurry of chips was being blown from a pipe onto an enormous mountain of the bits of wood. Box Lake Lumber chips are shipped all over North America, and are primarily used for paper, Dan told us. Rotten trees, which were once seen as not worth transporting, now gets shipped more than once: as logs, as chips, as paper and as retail product. (Next time you’re stuck behind a chip truck on the long and winding road, remember they’re carrying what turns into that great stuff: paper, so relax, sit back and appreciate.)
By the way, the trucks full of chips and other cedar products from Box Lake Lumber drive their cargo to faraway locations like Chicago, Wisconsin, and Texas as well as places on the same side of the border.
Trucks and forklifts were going about their business on the site, and there seemed to be a lot of business, as the group of seniors headed down the hill toward the mill itself. At one entrance, large logs were being hauled up and chopped into lengths to be made into fence beams and posts.
Even standing outside, the sound of the mill was loud enough to make everyone in the group to stuff their earplugs in, or turn their hearing aids down, while trying to listen to Dan.
Once inside, the noise was even more intense, with only the folks closest to our tour guide able to hear what he was saying. Sawing and splitting was the focus of the labour inside, with machines and saws kachunking and screeching along.
Outside on the other side of the building where the sounds of industry weren’t as intense, Dan showed the group a sample of the posts and beams with pre-cut gaps that allow them to be easily assembled into attractive fencing. He also brought out some of the tapered shingles the mill produces, and handed them around the group.
When asked if the mill was computerized, Dan replied that it was “people powered.”
“It’s nice to have a computer, but the logs vary so much,” he said. It is the skill of workers that produces Box Lake Lumber’s fine products.
As we move along to the packaging area of the plant, a sprinkler is continually watering the shake blocks so they are kept wet inside and out.
“One day without water and they can be completely destroyed,” said Dan, who explains that one dry day could cause the entire load to crack as they dry.
Not far from the pile, a packaging machine wraps plastic around a bale of mulch like a spider enveloping its prey: the plastic wraps around the bale that is spun like a spool of thread on a pin. Then, it’s pushed down the ramp to where it will be loaded on to one of the many trucks driving in and out of the yard.
As the seniors and I made our way down to where we parked, a line up of trucks was now taking up the roadway in to the busy little lumberyard, waiting to be loaded up and on the road taking Kootenay cedar to parts all over the continent.