Ray Thompson: Serving The Lumber Industry For 53 Years
By Michelle Keller
Columbia City, Ind.—Ray Thompson has been in the forest products industry for 53 years. He began his career in 1960 at Marquette Lumber Company in Dowagiac,Mich.
“Grafton Cook Sr. was the general manager and they had two mills,” Thompson recalled. “At that given time I was laid off and he had an offering for a lumber inspector’s position. He had hired several men and lost them within a couple of weeks. So I told him I’d give it a try. I was about 23 years old at that time and he took me out on the lumberyard and introduced me to the lumber inspector who had a long stick in his hand. I joked with him and said ‘are all these guys leaving because you’re hitting them with that stick!’ And he laughed, and that’s how I started. He began teaching me how to grade lumber and I went through two short courses. After he retired, I took over the yard and from that point on I’ve been hooked on this industry.
“I was with Marquette Lumber for 10 years. As the years went on he sent me to school and I learned how to dry lumber and then I moved into sales. In the 1970’s my father-in-law had a dry goods business in Indiana and my wife and I decided if he wanted to sell it that we would buy him out. At that time General Woodworkers was only about 15 miles from me so I was doing both. I was running the store and then I was buying and grading lumber because I had been affiliated with General Woodworkers from my time at Marquette Lumber.
“I was with General Woodworkers for 25 years. General Woodworkers was a dimension plant for glued up panels and finger joint products.”
Thompson continued, “We upgraded that store. Dave Holmes bought that business and he sold it to another company when he retired. I stayed there until 1995 when Gene Almendinger, who bought Holmes & Company, addressed me and asked if I would dry some thicker stock for them. They wanted to get into a thicker stock program. I told them I had experience in drying everything up to 8/4, but nothing any heavier. They were interested in going into 8/4 up to 16/4, especially in the Oaks. So I told them I’d give it a whirl and here we are. We started drying the thicker stock in 1995 and I’ve been here 17 years now.”
Now serving Holmes & Co. as wholesale manager, sales representative and kiln operator, Thompson said he’s been on just about every end of the lumber industry. One of his best memories is attending an Indiana Hardwood Lumbermen’s Association (IHLA) meeting. “A lot of the lumbermen that I knew have already retired and many of them attended that meeting. Some of them I hadn’t seen in as many as 12 years and they all came back to that meeting. The IHLA does a fantastic job.
“The National Hardwood Lumber Association’s Inspector Training School does an excellent job in Memphis,” he continued. “These guys that are coming out of that school are trained very well. Once they get some fieldwork under their feet, they’re excellent inspectors.”
As for retirement plans, he said his health is good and he enjoys working part-time at Holmes & Co. “I have a summer home up in Michigan on a lake where I do a lot of fishing. I’m happy with what I’m doing right now,” he concluded.
Industry friends and associates may contact Ray Thompson at email@example.com or by phone at 260-609-1840.