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Key employees of Plum Creek Timber Co., headquartered in Columbia Falls, Mont., include Chuck Dotson, sales representative; Kathy Bell, customer service specialist; Russ Hobbs, lumber marketing manager; Ahren Spilker, stud mill coordinator; and Tom Hackman, board mill coordinator.
Plum Creek Thrives Through Difficult Times

By Terry Miller

Columbia Falls, Mont.—Despite trying times in the industry, Plum Creek Timber Co., has persevered thanks to the hard work and dedication of its employees as well as customers.

Plum Creek can trace its roots back to 1945, when D.C. Dunham moved his company, D.C. Dunham Lumber Co., from Bemidji, Minn., to Columbia Falls, Mont. Renamed Plum Creek after a small stream in Minnesota, the firm was later sold to Northern Pacific Railroad after Dunham’s death. After a succession of railroad mergers, it was ultimately spun off as a limited partnership — Plum Creek Timber Co. L.P.

Today, Plum Creek, which is now organized as a REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust), is one of the largest private landowners in the United States with approximately 8 million acres of timberlands in 17 states.

Headquartered in Seattle, Wash., Plum Creek has board mills in Columbia Falls and Pablo, Mont., and Meridian, Idaho, as well as stud mills in Evergreen and Fortine, Mont.

Key employees at Plum Creek’s Columbia Falls, Mont., board mill include Pete Madison, production superintendent; Cliff Lengstorf, log utilization and quality control manager; Jim Nadeau, shipping superintendent; and Greg Grace, plant manager.
Russ Hobbs, lumber marketing manager, cites consistently high quality products and excellent service as factors that differentiate Plum Creek from other producers. “We listen to our customers and figure out how to make the products that their customers want,” he said. “With our large timber base and flexible manufacturing facilities, we are able to provide value added products to our customers while maximizing the value of every tree we sustainably harvest.”

Ken Judge, lumber production manager, is responsible for the entire lumber division at Plum Creek. He credits the division’s success to an experienced and motivated work force. “We have a great group of employees that are focused on safely producing high quality products,” he said.

Plum Creek’s Columbia Falls Lumber has the capacity to manufacture approximately 90 million board feet annually of PPLP (Ponderosa Pine/Lodgepole Pine) and ESLP (Engelmann Spruce/Lodgepole Pine) boards (mostly in 4/4), 6/4 Ponderosa Pine shop grade lumber and Douglas Fir flooring.

Columbia Falls markets its products to a diverse group of customers, including wholesale distributors, retail companies, industrial millwork shops and window manufacturers.

The facility operates a head rig for large logs and a band mill twin for small log processing; Coe Newnes McGehee curve saw gang; seven double and single-track kilns with computerized Wellons controls; a Stetson Ross/Kimwood and Irvington-Moore planing mill; and Lundeen stackers. The 10-acre yard boasts 6.4 million board feet of rough and surfaced inventory.

Boards display the Plum Creek logo customers have come to know means high quality products.
Columbia Falls also uses computerized scanning and optimization equipment, and supplies steam for the dry kilns through a central wood-fired boiler fueled by plant bark.

Columbia Falls Lumber currently has approximately 125 full-time workers. Key employees include: Greg Grace, plant manager; Pete Madison, production superintendent, who oversees sawmill and planer operations and works with the shipping and maintenance departments; Jim Nadeau, shipping superintendent, who coordinates schedules with marketing and production; Tom Hackman, board mill coordinator; and Cliff Lengstorf, quality control specialist.

Columbia Falls Lumber primarily obtains its logs from Plum Creek-owned land in northwestern Montana, as well as the Bureau of Indian Affairs and private timber sales. Grace noted that the region’s timber is slow growing, tight-grained and in very strong demand from an appearance and machining standpoint.

However, the plant is currently running at 75 percent capacity due to a log shortage. Grace said that Columbia Falls “has to be careful to take very good care of the logs. We want to get the maximum value out of them, and not waste anything.”

Grace said Columbia Falls focuses on creating the higher value and higher quality products that customers want. In that vein, the company added eased-edge ESLP boards in 2007, and installed new Key Knife planer heads to provide extra smooth
Some solid Fir-Larch studs are shown stacked in the warehouse.
surfaces with less knot tear. The company uses end wax to enhance the specialty product, and is working on a similar treatment for PPLP boards. Plum Creek also recently purchased a double end tenoner for end matching. The plant also sub-bundles its end-matched lumber, and puts an end cap on shipments to protect them. All products (except for shop grade) are automatically paper wrapped.

Hackman said Columbia Falls also produces and manufactures a vast array of WWPA patterns for paneling, which is made to order by length and grade. “We have the capability to UPC sticker boards, as well as custom packaging, quarter, half and plum packs. We also produce 1x4 Fir/Larch flooring and paneling in clear, vertical and mixed grains.”

Nadeau said Columbia Falls can ship both car and truckloads, with a majority of its stock stored as half packs. “We target a variety of lengths and grades for customers,” he said. “It’s very important to provide the lengths that customers want to buy.”

The Evergreen, Mont., solid stud mill manufactures Douglas Fir and Larch, and ES/LP/AF solid studs (grade stamped West Woods). The finger joint plant produces DF/L and WW studs. Both mills produce stud grade, No. 2; 2x3, 2x4, 2x6 — 8-foot, 9-foot, 10-foot, 12-foot; 1x3, 1x4 — 5-foot, 6-foot, 7-foot, 8-foot (No. 3 & Better, No. 4 & Better, bed frame).

Key employees in Evergreen include Padraig Hagan, plant manager; Dave Osborne, finger joint plant superintendent; Mark Olson, shipping supervisor; and Ahren Spilker, stud mill coordinator and buyer for the finger joint facility.

Pictured are some rail cars loaded with shipments for some of Plum Creek’s many valued customers.
Evergreen finger joint can manufacture studs up to 16-foot, and most studs come with a minimum of three finger joints per piece for improved stability.

The Evergreen finger joint plant recently introduced a HRA (heat resistant adhesive) rated glue, which provides a one-hour fire rating and can be used in multi-family housing applications.

“We are one of the first companies to actually implement the HRA rated glue in the industry,” Spilker said.

Osborne said customers can specify whether they want the HRA-rated or non-HRA rated glue. “The white or clear glue (non-HRA) does not meet that one-hour standard, but it is more visually appealing to residential customers where it doesn’t matter (about the fire rating),” he said.

The Evergreen mill markets its products throughout the United States. Finger jointed WW studs are sold mainly to retailers and distributors in Texas. Solid sawn DF/L is sold primarily in the Northeast and the South, while ES/LP/AF (WW) goes mainly to the Upper Midwest and the Great Lakes region.

“We arrange all of our own shipping by rail and truck and have the ability to export,” Osborne said. “We have a traffic department that can handle exports to Korea, Japan, etc.”

Spilker said Plum Creek is known for manufacturing quality products, and that holds true for Evergreen. “We are concerned with the consistency and quality of our products,” he said. “We traveled to a dozen different lumberyards in Montana, and every one of them said they wanted quality and consistency. I think that’s what we’re delivering.”

This photo shows an end-matched pattern, which is one of Plum Creek’s special services.
Spilker said he credits Plum Creek’s vertical integration with keeping Evergreen running. “If this was a stand alone operation, we’d be shut down,” he said. “But, because we are so vertically integrated, we are still able to turn a profit as a whole.”

Olson noted that Plum Creek is certified with the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, even including finger joints. “Most finger joints are made with any product you can get your hands on,” he said. “That gives us an advantage over other finger joint manufacturers.”

Spilker said Evergreen inventories at least two weeks worth of products, in order to serve its core base of customers. “We know who those customers are,” he said. “In slow times and when things get better, we’ll make sure those customers are taken care of.”

For more information, contact Plum Creek at 1-800-858-5347, visit or e-mail


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