Cramer Lumber May Be Down, But Don’t Count Them Out
Marlinton, WV – Cramer Lumber Company has been a mainstay of Pocahontas County in one form or another for several decades. Recently rumors have been flying that the long time sawmill and dried lumber business is on its way out. But General Manager Emery Grimes says while their operations may be a little leaner don’t assume that they’re down for the count just yet. Grimes admits they did have to put around a dozen employees on low earnings when they shut down the sawmill in March.
“It’s a combination of several things” he says. “It’s the drop in the market, of course, finding people that can operate machines; it’s a whole different thing. As you go back and look at the last five years as we’ve been in this housing, economic downturn, I don’t have very many friends left in the business, because most of them have went out of business. I think we’re doing a very good job of holding onto our kilns and our yard and what employees we’ve got left; and we’ve done a good job of holding to them so far.”
Cramer currently employs 15 people. He says this is a tough business in a tough economy.
“It’s margins in our business” he explains. “I’ve got to go out and talk to the landowner or our forester does, at a price that we can bring in and saw into lumber and dry kiln, and have a margin to make a profit. For the last two or three years, that margin hasn’t been there. You know, it’s just like you with your home bills, if you don’t have any profit coming in, eventually rubber meets the road and that’s what has happened.”
Grimes says a housing industry slow to recover and high fuel prices haven’t helped. Still he credits their relationship with another local company for helping them stay in business, especially given that they’re a little off the beaten path.
“It hasn’t been that much of a disadvantage; in some instance it has, but we’re located about a mile and a half below Burns Motor Freight” he says, “they’re some of the best friends we have in the business. It hasn’t been that much of a hindrance, but whenever they start a truck, it burns fuel and they got to charge a price so they can stay in business. If prices go to $3.99, 4.00 for a gallon of diesel, that’s tacked onto the load of lumber, and it comes down to whether the customer can afford it or not. And if they’re closer to a mill in Virginia and their lumbers a little bit cheaper, then you know what happens.”
For now, the dried lumber business seems to be holding its own. He says they dry a variety of Appalachian hardwoods such as ash, hickory, red and white oak, soft and hard maples, and locust. Once the wood is dried to the required 6 to 8% moisture level, it’s shipped all over the world, especially to Asia to satisfy an increasing desire for American hardwoods.
Grimes says he’s also well aware of the trickledown effect on the local economy when they lay off workers. He’s hoping to see that reverse later this year.
“I would like to see us start the mill back up this fall if possible” he says, “if it’s economically feasible, and bring back some of the people back that we’ve got laid off and start manufacturing lumber again because that’s what we like to do.”
“What people probably don’t realize is that, Interstate and Beckwith Lumber company, we’re all good friends, and we talk to each other pert near on a daily basis. And if one of us gets a order bigger than we can fill, we’re always calling the other one to try to help them out; and I like that because it’s a sense of community.”