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Reichert Shake & Fencing Creates Products Sold Nationwide
[February 07, 2013]

Reichert Shake & Fencing Creates Products Sold Nationwide

TOLEDO, Feb 07, 2013 (The Chronicle - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Getting cut up or hit by flying nails are not concerns many people encounter during their workday. But, despite facing endless dangers on the job, unpredictable work schedules and long hours, the employees at Reichert Shake & Fencing in Toledo keep coming back to produce 30 million board feet of cedar fencing each year.

All but one of the 58 employees are Lewis County natives and many are second- or even third-generation mill workers.

"It's a trade that gets passed down," said Dan Brown, a second-generation mill manager from Chehalis.

Kim Wallace, a former hairdresser who worked her way up to company vice president, also learned the trade from her father, the mill's founder, Tod Reichert.

When Reichert bought his shake mill in 1970, he had only one piece of equipment and just four employees. In 1985, he expanded the company to include a fencing mill.

Today, more than 400 truckloads of logs, which come from all over the West Coast, sit on site at Reichert waiting to be turned into boards for Western Red Cedar fencing.

First logs come into the deck and are cut to length before the bark is removed. The mill generally runs between 10 and 25 log truckloads a day.

The company uses every part of the wood, turning the bark into hog fuel and chipping the waste wood.

Next, the log moves into the saw mill where computerized lasers read it and tell the operator how to break it down to maximize the cut.

"This is the only part of the mill we do by technology," said Russell Stegenga, the production manager. "The rest is old school." The operator can manually override the computer when it isn't correct.

"He's in the cab 11 hours a day, cutting and thinking'" Stegenga said.

At the mill, employees have no set scheduling and can end up working long hours without notice.

"This is not an 8 to 5 by any means," Brown said.

Once the log reaches the saw center, a mathematical formula is used to break it down to size.

Workers separate the high-quality boards from the others before sorting to the proper width and thickness. The boards are cut to length then trimmed and graded. A quality controller oversees the process to ensure a consistent product.

The mill produces about 150,000 board feet in just over 12 hours each day.

The individual boards are then wrapped into units of about 360, labeled and shipped to retail and wholesale customers all over the country.

The company ships four to 10 truckloads out daily, with each load containing between 6,000 and 13,000 boards.

The night shift maintains all of the equipment. Three workers keep the saws sharpened in the filing room, the most dangerous area of the mill.

"They'll cut you wide open," Stegenga said.

Nails can also equal danger for mill workers.

"Nails are like shrapnel if they're in logs when they go through the mill," said Stegenga, who shared a story of a worker who ended up with two nails embedded in his hard hat following an incident at another mill years ago.

Due to all the dangers faced on the job, the mill workers take safety very seriously.

"It's a saw mill. It can reach and grab you in an instant," Stegenga said. "We watch each other's backs." Stegenga, who has worked in two other mills, said other companies have a "go at all costs" attitude. But, he said, at Reichert, safety comes first and production follows.

"You're going home the same way you came," he said.

Stegenga, who has worked for five years with the company, said the best thing about Reichert is that employees are more than just a number.

"You just don't find companies like that anymore," the 11-year industry veteran said. "We owe all of our success to our employees." Amy Nile: (360) 807-8235 ___ (c)2013 The Chronicle (Centralia, Wash.) Visit The Chronicle (Centralia, Wash.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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