National Hardwood Magazine


January 2009 Feature Story


Key executives at Reelfoot Lumber Co. Inc., headquartered in Henning, Tenn., include Josh Roberson, sales; Terry Roberson, vice president; Buddy Roberson, president; David Roberson, scragg mill operator; and Randy Roberson, who cruises timber for Reelfoot and runs Roberson Bros. Sawmill.
Robersons At Reelfoot Have Sawdust In Their Veins

By Terry Miller

Henning, Tenn.—Reelfoot Lumber Co. Inc., headquartered here, has provided band sawn Hardwoods to their customers since 1962. The company was founded by Odie L. “Buddy” Roberson on the banks of Reelfoot Lake in western Tennessee, and moved to Henning in 1967.

Reelfoot Lumber, a family business, manufactures approximately 10 million board feet of 4/4 and 5/4 lumber a year in Oak, Poplar, Cottonwood, Walnut, Cherry, Ash, Gum, Hickory and cypress. The facility is equipped with a band mill, circle gang saw, line bar resaw and 100,000 board feet of dry kiln capacity. Reelfoot Lumber Co. keeps an air-dried inventory of approximately 1.5 million board feet and a kiln-dried inventory of approximately 500,000 board feet.

In the spring of 2008, the company’s head rig was destroyed by fire. Josh Roberson, who handles sales for Reelfoot Lumber, said that the management team quickly purchased a Pioneer portable mill in order to keep production flowing until the new 6-foot McDonough head rig came back online in October 2008.

Buddy and Randy Roberson inspect some timber brought in for Reelfoot Lumber Co.
Terry Roberson, vice president, said, “After the fire, we knew we had to have some production quickly in order to keep our key employees as well as our customer base. During the time that the head rig was out of production, we were sawing grade lumber on the Pioneer portable mill. In the future, we plan on sawing small diameter logs and crossties on the Pioneer. Larger logs are manufactured into cants on the head rig and then processed on the McDonough linebar resaw to get optimum grade from the cants.”

The company’s customers comprise of North American exporters, distribution and concentration yards, office wholesalers, furniture, millwork and moulding, cabinet and flooring manufacturers. All low-grade lumber is consumed in an array of low-grade markets.

In addition to Terry and Buddy, who serve as vice president and president, respectively, key employees at Reelfoot Lumber include William Clark, yard foreman; Bill Hickman, head of maintenance; Jack Jennings, timber buyer; and Carolyn Seaton, head of bookkeeping.

“One of the specialties the firm does is pull 12-inch and wider FAS and 1F Red Oak in 4/4 and 5/4,” Josh said. “We also provide 1x6 and 1x8 panelings. We are experienced at loading containers for our North American export customers.”

Buddy’s oldest son, David Roberson and his son Dave operate a Hartzell Scragg Mill, located in Henning, Tenn., which produces crossties and pallet lumber for Reelfoot Lumber Co. Another son, Randy, who cruises timber for Reelfoot Lumber also runs Roberson Bros. Sawmill, located in Union City, Tenn., which manufactures crossties and pallet lumber.

David Roberson is joined at the Henning, Tenn.-based scragg mill by his son, Dave. A worker is pictured in the background.
Josh Roberson said the company’s story is one of hard work and determination. Reelfoot Lumber’s history can be traced back to Josh’s great grandfather, Odie Roberson, who started sawmilling in Samburg, Tenn., in 1913. The elder Roberson bought the mill on credit from Jim Callison for $500. He used old bridge lumber to build the carriage tracks, and saved old nails to nail lumber together for the carriage tracks.

When establishing his sawmill, Roberson had no money. He was known as a man who was good for his word. During that time, he bought $50 worth of groceries on credit for an extended length of time from Riley Gantlett. As collateral, Roberson let Gantlett keep his 1897 model solid frame shotgun until Roberson could pay him back.

With business partner Dee Shaw, a commercial fisherman, Roberson bought his first tract of timber on credit for $400 from Bob Murphy. Murphy trusted him to pay for the timber as it was cut and sold. The timber was located about four miles north of Samburg, and consisted of mostly large virgin Red Gum. The logs were all transported to the mill by horse-
Terry Roberson stands in the company’s manufacturing facility, which had to be rebuilt due to a fire.
drawn logging teams.

Around this time, Shaffer Lumber Co., an Indiana-based company, operated a concentration yard in Troy, Tenn. Roberson struck a deal to sell all of the grade lumber they produced and transport it by wagon to Shaffer Lumber Co.

Within one year, Shaw decided to return to commercial fishing, and gave his interest in the mill to Odie Roberson’s brother, Nathan, also a commercial fisherman. The company then became known as Roberson Bros. Lumber Co. After six years of hard work to pay off their debts, the brothers were able to borrow enough money from Shaffer Lumber Co. to buy a tract of land and timber near Hornbeak, Tenn. In 1920, they moved their mill, which was steam-powered, from Samburg to Hornbeak. They operated for three years at Hornbeak before ceasing operations during the Great Depression.

Roberson Bros. Lumber Co. had an agreement with Shaffer Lumber Co. that stated that Shaffer would purchase all the lumber produced from the timber off the Hornbeak tract for a certain price until the loan was completely paid off. It became impossible for Shaffer to sell lumber during the Great Depression, and the company offered to mark the debt as paid in full if Roberson Bros. ceased operations and cancelled the contract. The deal was accepted.

Reelfoot Lumber Co. specializes in 12-inch and wider FAS Red Oak lumber.
Around 1923, Odie and Nathan decided to try their hand in the crosstie business. They decided to move their mill a few miles to a site on the Obion and Lake County line. Lake County was known for its huge farms, and had many stands of fine quality cypress timber. Roberson Bros. began to receive orders for cypress lumber to build and repair farmhouses. Soon that particular part of the business was more profitable than making crossties, and the decision was made to focus on cypress lumber. To become more centrally located to the cypress stands, the company built a mill at Wynnburg, Tenn.

The company struggled to find orders after the move to Wynnburg, until the town’s oil mill was destroyed by fire. The building was much needed in the community, and the oil mill owners wanted to rebuild as quickly as possible. They needed cypress lumber, and turned to Roberson Bros. to complete their task. Soon after, Odie Roberson decided to build another mill near Reelfoot, which today is known as Reelfoot Lumber Co. Inc.

Josh Roberson said that the elder Robersons have since divided up for business reasons, but remain in the sawmill industry until retirement. “Buddy, Toy and Thomas stayed in west Tennessee, while Ilar and Carl located in West Vienna, Ill.,” he said.

For more information, contact Reelfoot Lumber Co. Inc. at 731-738-5021, fax to 731-738-5027 or e-mail
Josh Roberson, who works in sales, stands in front of some 12-inch and wider FAS Red Oak lumber.


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