Sunday, September 9, 2012

Thursday Sept. 6 Sutton-Braxton Co. WV

Today, we begin with a tour of the Weyerhaeuser Co. OSB plant near Sutton WV in Braxton County.  OSB stands for oriented strand board.  This board is produced with the leftovers of the timbering process utilizing parts of the tree (tops, crooked pieces, and logs too small for other uses) that have no other use.  These pieces of trees are debarked and cleaned, then fed into two lines for stranding. The strands are dried to a certain percentage then are laid out on a screen into a conveyor after being mixed with resin and wax.  For each layer(2 core and 2 surface layers are concocted), the strands are laid in opposite directions and then pressed together into 12 x 24 ft. sheets.  The sheets are then typically cut into 4 x 8 ft. sheets.   They are comparable to plywood in strength and application.  The plant uses its own waste for fuel but can utilize natural gas when necessary and has a zero discharge system for pollutants into the environment.  All waste is recycled or treated.  Today they have 135 employees.  In 2001 at peak production, they had 170 employees. The product is shipped by truck and also by railroad. What happened between 2001 and 2012 to cause this reduction in employment?

After lunch we visited a business split into two parts providing materials for two groups of customers.  One part is Appalachian Timber Services which produce railroad ties and related products.  The other part, Strata Worldwide makes wood products that aid in mine supports.   In 2012 they employee 70 people.  This company no longer has a rail spur so must ship all products by truck.

Railroad ties being processed.  They are cut to size, the ends are plated to prevent splitting an they are perforated so that the treatment will penetrate the wood.

At this part of the business, workers pre-make bridges using specifications provided by the customer.

Wood pieces cut to specifications for the mining industry.

These post used in mining for roof supports are notched at the top and banded with steel wire to prevent their failure when used as roof supports for coal mining.

Appalachian Timber Services buys these already cut from suppliers then processes them as explained above.     Today, they have a hard time getting enough of these to keep up with their business demand.  They have had to scramble to find timber outfits to supply their raw product.  Their # 1 supplier, Coastal Lumber closed last year.  Other suppliers have went out of business too.
Why do you think this is the case?
How could the company solve this problem?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Day 6 The Last Day of The Forest and Rail Trip

Today we start out by driving to nearby Caldwell to do our 3rd and final water quality test on the Greenbrier River.  (see page at top of blog for water quality test procedures)

Testing the Greenbrier River near Caldwell WV.

From Caldwell we head toward Clifton Forge VA on Interstate 64.  Clifton Forge is the site of the C & O Museum.  After the Civil War in 1869, Collis P. Huntington began forging together smaller railroads creating the C & O Railroad.  His Idea was to link to Ohio Valley to Richmond and then later on to Hampton Roads and the Atlantic Ocean.  The great feat was crossing the Allegheny Mountains.  The line was completed to the Ohio Valley in 1873.  The city of Huntington, named for Collis P., was the Ohio River terminus.  Later the line was extended to Newport News which allowed coal mined in West Virginia to be shipped overseas.  Clifton Forge had the 2nd largest shop on the C & O line.  A shop is a place on the line where maintenance and repairs were completed on the engines and equipment of the R.R.  Where do you think the largest shop on the line was?  Later, the railroad was completed to Chicago Ill. connecting it to the great lakes.

Pictured above are just some to the many interesting exhibits that can be found at the C & O Railroad Museum at Clifton Forge.  The last picture is one of a coal pier at Hampton Roads VA.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Day 5 of the Forest and Rail Trip

Today we start out at Gaudineer Knob in Randolph County.  Gaudineer Knob is one of the two remaining places in West Virginia that has standing virgin timber.  Due to a survey mistake, an area of about 50 acres was never timbered.  Unlike the Hemlocks at Cathedral State Park, the area at Gaudineer Knob is a mess of fallen trees, but it has magnificent examples of Maples, Cherries, other hardwoods and Red Spruce.  It is also home to the Cheat Mountain Salamander

Below are pictures from Gaudineer Knob, the last picture is a scenic view from the overlook.

After our visit to Gaudineer Knob, we go to the confluence of the west and east forks of the Greenbrier River where the historic town of Durbin West Virginia is located.  First, we complete our water quality testing at site one.  (see page above for procedures)  

Water quality testing at Durbin, East Fork of Greenbrier River.

Then we ride the Durbin Rocket, like Cass it is another excursion train that tracks the timber history of the Greenbrier Valley.  Instead of going up a mountain this train travels 5 miles down the Greenbrier River.

Pictured below is the Rocket and some of the scenery from the trip.  The trip took about 2 hours and was a lot of fun.  Along the trip, are sites where former sawmill etc. existed back in the early 1900's.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Day 4 of Our Timber and Rail Trip

We leave Elkins and travel down toward Pocahontas County and Cass Scenic Railroad.  At Cass we do a water quality test of the Greenbrier River.  (see the water quality testing tab at the top of the page for the process).  We will check the river at 3 places and do a comparison at the end of the trip.  We will test at Durbin, Cass and Caldwell or use desk maps. 
Vintage Picture of Log Train at Cass
Tools used by Cass Lumberjacks at Cass
taken at museum 

Map Sign at Cass of Pocahontas County , site of water quality testing

The town of Cass was the center of the logging operations of the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company.  The town was named Cass in 1901 after the timber operations were bought by the company.  It was named for Joseph Kerr Cass and company vice president.  Cass was the site of a sawmill and company town.  The mill processed timber cut from nearby Cheat Mountain and the Greenbrier  Valley.  In order to access the vast virgin forest of the area, the company utilized mountain railroads.  Mountain railroads used track laid in switchback (zig-zag) fashion in order to climb the steep slopes and geared steam locomotives.  The locomotives used at Cass were the Shay Locomotives built at Lima Ohio.

Above are pictures of Shay Engine # 11 at Cass Scenic Railroad  The company had over 100 miles of track in the Greenbrier Valley.  What remains is the last section of track added to reach second growth timber at the top of Cheat Mountain at Bald Knob (3rd highest point in West Virginia)

Above is picture taken from Bald Knob of the Greenbrier Valley below.  Hardwoods harvested were turned into lumber and flooring at the mill at Cass.  The virgin Red Spruce from the higher elevations.  Trees that would have been hundreds of years old, were ground into pulp and used to make paper.

Which one is a picture of hardwood trees from Cass today and which is a picture of Red Spruce at Cass today?  The last company to own the timber business at Cass went out of business in 1960.  The State of West Virginia bought the railroad and in 1963 turned it into a state park.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Day Three Of The Forestry and Rail Trip

Day three starts out sunny with an 8:00 am stop at the historic railroad station at Elkins in Randolph County. 
The station was built in 1908 for the Western Maryland Rail Road.  This was one of the many railroad lines that allowed the cutting of the state's timber discussed in yesterday's entry.(see day two blog).

  We then visited Colonial Mill Works in Beverly Randolph County ( find on your map) They follow the same process as Wilson Mill Works (see yesterday's blog)  but on a larger scale.  they make different moldings.  They produce moldings and speciality pieces for the flooring made at our next v visit Armstrong Wood Products.

Pictures from Colonial Mill Works.

The main species that they use is Oak, Maple, Cherry and Hickory.  They buy wood from all over the U.S. and Canada.  (why do you think this is the case, Why don't they just get their lumber from WV?)  They bring in a very light but tough wood from Oregon State called Albus?  (why do they do this do you think?)  All waste from cut pieces are ground to dust and sold?  (From previous blogs who do you think they sell it to?)

As with the other wood products businesses we have visited their business is tied to the housing market.  In 2007-2008 they had over 200 employees and ran 24 hours a day 7 days a week running 3 shifts of workers.  Today they have  ____ ( take a guess)  employees.

One problem they have staying competitive in the world market is the FSC.  The purpose of the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council)  is to protect workers and forest in 3rd world countries (what are 3rd world countries)  Its goals are to protect forest around the world from over cutting and to stop the world black-market in exotic species and to protect workers from being mistreated.  But since none of those practices apply to the United States they still need the FSC certification to sell their products on many contracted jobs.  This puts companies like colonial at a competitive disadvantage and cost them money and jobs for potential extra employees. To change these policies businesses like colonial must go against powerful lobbyist.  (Why are lobbyist so powerful?)
Our last stop was at Armstrong Wood Products-Bruce Hardwoods also at Beverly  The plant was built in 1989.  It is the largest east of the Mississippi.  It covers 15 acres and has 650 employees.  They use hardwoods like Oak, Maple, Ash and Hickory to make primarily hardwood flooring of widths of 21-4 in. to 5 in. 
They bring in rough sawn lumber from everywhere.  They produce a finished product that goes into a box to be shipped to their customer like Lowe's or Home Depot.  They bring in green lumber and let it sit to dry to a certain moisture content in the air of their yard.  Then it is placed in one of their 38 kilns to be dried to (what moisture content do you think from previous blogs).  They also have the most kiln capacity east of the Mississippi.  They produce 12 trucks of saw-dust per day!!! 
Workers either work the yard and kilns or one of their 3 production lines through the plant which takes the kiln dried boards and turns them into the finished hardwood flooring you would install in you house.  First, boards are graded by graders (see pictures from previous plants) then sent through a ripsaw which uses lasers to determine how to cut the board into widths to get the most use out of the board.  then boards are cut to lengths depending on knots and defects again the machine uses lasers and does this job. 
Once cut to size, tongue or groove is cut in both sides and the end plus the board is sanded on both sides to get the correct thickness.  Defects are filled with putty and left to dry for 24 hrs before the finish is applied.  A total of 5 layers of finish are applied.  Scuffing with sandpaper by machine happens between the first 3 coats.  The final 2 coats of finish are put on wet.  Drying is accomplished by running the wet boards under lamps that produce UV rays.  We were not allowed to take photographs at Armstrong so pictures are from other places but are the same processes.  (why is the plant at Beverly so big, list your predicted reasons)

Monday, July 16, 2012

Day Two of our Forest and Rail Trip

Monday morning,  cloudy but not raining.  We start the day at the Hamer Lumber Company Pellet Fuel Plant in Elkins WV ( look at your map and locate Elkins or locate on google earth).  This company, started by the Hamer Family in Knova WV( find on map or google earth), takes a once waste by-product of producing lumber (saw-dust)  and turns it into a valuable product (fuel-pellets) for the company.  They entered the fuel pellet producing business after having to spend over 1 million dollars to clean up a saw-dust pile at one of their lumber producing sites.  Piled saw-dust is an environmental hazard and must be now disposed of properly.  Wood pellets also burn efficiently leaving little waste.

The mill brings in saw-dust from as far as 5 hours away by truck.  The green saw-dust has to be dried in giant drum driers powered by a 55 million BTU furnace.  The driers are fueled by:  what do you think?  Moisture content is brought down to 8 to 10 %.    Loads of saw-dust are sorted by type (hardwood, softwood etc.) so that the correct mixture of saw-dust can be put into the pellet making process.

Above is a picture of the furnace and drum dryer at the Hamer Pellet Fuel Plant.

Dried saw-dust is fed into a giant pellet making machine.  The dry saw-dust is mixed with water and vegetable oil.  The new machine makes about 6 tons of pellets an hour.

Above is a picture of one of the pellet making machines.

It is bagged by machine into 40 lb. bags, tested for quality.

And then loaded onto pallets by a robot

It is then sheathed in plastic and moved outdoors to be shipped to the customer.

The whole system is run and monitored by computer.  (see below)

What careers are associated with this production process do you think?  make a list. 

How much do you think their electric bill is per month?

Tree Identification at Riverbend Park In Elkins

Visit the page at the top of this blog on tree Identification.  On the page you will see pictures and text on different tree species found in Cabell County.  Today we also worked on tree identification in this park.

Below Oak trees at Riverbend Park.

Why would the ability to identify species of trees be important to those in the timber industry?
List some reasons.

After lunch at the park, we went to Frank Wilson Lumber and Mill works also in Elkins.  The Elkins location started out as a railroad siding or load site for Wilson mills from the surrounding area.

What could we compare this to from something we know about today?

In 1961 a boiler and dry kiln for lumber was added to the site.  Through the rest of the 60's and 70's kilns were built and added to the boiler system until it reached capacity in 1985.

A new system was added in 1985 that used wood shavings (again a waste by-product at one time) as fuel.
Today there are 7 kilns with a 250,000 board foot capacity.The site kiln dries Ash, Cherry, Maple, Hickory, Oak species and Poplar brought in as rough sawn lumber.  On some orders prepared for customers, they may plane the surface and rip a straight edge. 

The kilns take the green lumber(still with natural moisture content) form 17% moisture to 6% moisture.  Soft species take days to dry while hardwood species take weeks to dry.  A 12 ton load of saw-dust to fire the kilns last about 3 days average.

Why is softwood easier to dry that hardwood?   
list your best guess if you don't know.

Which species from those mentioned above do you think would take longest to dry?  Why do you think this?

Workers tally and grade boards as they enter the building and sort them to a conveyor.  This information is entered on a handheld computer. 

For lumber to maintain the best condition it has to be dried slowly. 

What problems do you think drying it too fast might create?

The boards are stacked with sticks of wood positioned crosswise between each layer of boards.  For most board stacks they use hickory sticks(a stick is 8ft. by 1-1/2 by 3/4).  For maple they use a wood that comes from Africa (Apatoou)? 

Why do you think they use a special African wood to stack maple?

Customers for the lumber from Wilson are furniture makers, cabinet makers, trim and molding makers etc.  Customers range from small to large.  Most are from the Eastern U.S.  But they have sent Red Oak to

In 2004 they went from the system that they had always used to a new system that is mechanized and controlled by computers.  Lumber is graded by species of tree and by quality. The best grade is first and seconds, the next grade is common.  New graders take a class in Pennsylvania for one week and are trained by veteran Wilson employees who pass on their expertise.  Computer scanners measure length and width of the boards which is a giant chain driven conveyor.  Grades are based on the number of knots, splits, birdpecks etc.  Knots being the biggest determinant.

Big building right side top grade left side common grade (add pics)

Wilson's business is closely linked to the housing market:
2005-  Wilson sells 5.3 million board feet of lumber.

2009-  Wilson sells 2.2 million board feet of lumber.

2011-  Wilson sells 3.3 million board feet of lumber.

2012 -  Wilson is on target to sell 3.5 million board feet of lumber.

Why is this the case?  What do you think happened in 2009 that caused this dramatic drop in Wilson's business?

Wilson Mill Works

Wilson Mill Works is a sister business to the lumber company.  They take boards from the lumber company and turn it into finished products like molding trim cabinet pieces, flooring and paneling.  Using computer drawings and a CNC machine they can create custom knives and shoes that allow them to custom cut molding to customer specifications.  They can also re-create pieces based on a old piece brought to the mill works by the customer.  They have had orders for their product from as far away as Texas and Alabama.  They buy wood from across the U.S. as far away as the west coast.  But 70-75% of their wood comes from Wilson Lumber. 

Shop stations and equipment:

1.  Planer

2.  chop saw

3.  New chop saw (computer operated) and ripper

4.  glue wheel

5.  molders

6.  sander

7.  2 side precision cutter

8.  Sander

9.  rosette machine

10.  paneling tongue and groove cutter

11.  paint and stain booth

Who do you think are the customers for this business?  

The day finishes with a talk form Rob Wetzel National Forest Historian

Mr Wetzel explained that the forest were always effected by man.  Native Americans burned areas to make clearings for various reasons.  European settlers began to clear the forest for farming and animal grazing.  Settlers utilized whole logs for homes and other structures because they had no means to saw lumber.  Lumber then began to be sawed by hand using the pit or scaffold method.

Above is a picture of a pioneer log house restored and today located in Beverly WV.

Water power began to be utilized, it was slow but better than the hand powered method.  Then at the beginning of the 1880's steam powered engines were introduced to the process and the business took off.  As cities grew along the east coast need for lumber exploded and the technology of the steam engine allowed previously unreachable tracts of timber to be used.  People like H.G. Davis and S.B. Elkins brought the railroad lines to the timber areas.  The advent of geared steam engines that could climb grades ,  with the development of circular steam powered saw mills along with giant band saw mills, allowed massive amounts of timber to be processed and removed from the state.  From 1880 to 1920 most of the West Virginia forests were removed. 
Erosion, siltation, fires and flooding were all that were left to contend with.  Most of the money, resource and workers-citizens left the state.   The conservation movement of the time along with the natural healing processes of nature helped bring the forest back to West Virginia.  Today West Virginia once again utilizes its forest as a resource.

How is the use of the forest today different that it was in the early 20th century?  list some ways.