Tire by tire, winch by winch, bolt by bolt, equipment scavengers Thursday picked clean the bones of Louisiana-Pacific’s long-standing sawmill.
Everything went for a price, and some surprising ones at that. A set of well-used but still-knobby tires for a hundred bucks.
Rusting metal went for $50. A huge, red Link Belt crane? An even $15,000.
A tugboat that pushed huge logs around the Spokane River for years perched on huge logs. Paint peeling with a few rust spots along the waterline, the tug named “Post Falls” was bid up to $10,500.
The auctioneers’ cry of “sold” was yet another signal that the Inland Northwest timber economy has stumbled on hard times. The lack of federal and state timber combined with lackluster lumber prices have conspired to squeeze out all but the most modern and efficient mills. L-P’s mill here was the latest victim.
Scouring the auction catalog, Ed Kessler was looking for bins. Big ones, the kind you can fill with wood chips. Kessler had come from just northeast of Raleigh, N.C., to tour a slew of shuttered mills up and down the coast.
“Things are just booming back down there,” he said. “I understand things are tough up here. Tough to find the wood. I see that your mill equipment is headed all over the place, and all over the world. Even to China.”
L-P’s bins weren’t big enough - “misadvertised,” as Kessler said - but he’d found the ones he needed for his new wood-chipping operation back home elsewhere.
The mill shipped its last finished lumber in December, and since then a handful of L-P workers have cleaned up the place to prepare for the inevitable.
A crowd of about 200 loggers, sawmill owners and curious onlookers’ followed an auctioneer who toted a ladder and a small bullhorn around the big mill, stopping at each of the hundreds of items on sale. Sales took sometimes less than a half a minute. “Next!” the auctioneer shouted, and the crowd migrated to the next truck or building.
The auction continued deep into Thursday night. After paying up, buyers were expected to move much of the equipment off the site today.
“I think it’s kind of sad,” said Terry Maple of Rathdrum, who came to the auction looking for a 2-1/2-ton truck. “I’m overhearing some of the former workers here saying that they used to run that piece of equipment or that forklift when they get sold.”
Maple came prepared to spend $5,000 on the truck she saw. It went for $6,500. “Oh, well.”
The log cutting and processing equipment sold Thursday contributed to the mill’s undoing. The mill was best-suited for bigger logs, which used to come easy around here.
With less government timber being sold, the thick sticks became much harder to come by. Other mills saw that running smaller trees through the mill would be a key to survival, and mills like Vaagen Bros. in Colville have begun to take logs as small as five inches in diameter. L-P’s Post Falls mill didn’t.
L-P also blamed the impact of increased Canadian lumber imports for shuttering its mill here, as well as the one in Walla Walla.
Kessler was at the Walla Walla mill auction before coming here, he said. Before that, he’d looked at “a whole bunch” of idled mills on the auction block in Oregon.
Big timber companies like Weyerhaeuser Inc. have been gobbling up timberland in the south, where trees grow faster and environmentalists aren’t as pervasive, he said.
For some bidders, the auction was fun. Seventeen-year-old Mike Creson of Auburn whizzed around the mill site in a modified golf cart. With a brown-and-orange L-P logo on the front, he and his father snapped up the cart for $300. They’ll use it to scoot around job sites for their salvage company, Auburn Salvage.
As for what will happen to the sawmill site and its attractive waterfront location, L-P spokesmen weren’t available Tuesday.
Bob Templin, owner of Templin’s Resort next door, said Thursday that he hadn’t heard about plans for the site.
Expectations are for a developer to put a large office, retail or perhaps even a destination hotel on the site. “It’s going to be very exciting for the City of Post Falls,” he said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo