Lessons Learned in a Sawmill
The man you see in the photo here is my grandpa. “Pa” was an air force airplane mechanic who later started both a family auto mechanic business and a sawmill. The sawmill was in a beautiful spot in Franklin, North Carolina, in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was very remote – 30 minutes from the nearest gas station. I remember growing up crawling around the mill with a grease gun, greasing fittings, and standing with my cousin at the end of the conveyor stacking boards as fast as two 7 or 8 year-olds could.
Making a Big Difference
A typical “workday” for me at the sawmill looked like this. Dad and Pa would log, and they’d bring a load of logs back to the sawmill that had to be cut and shipped out so the next load could come in. My cousin and I would help carry down a couple quarts of oil to be put in the engine and then commence with the stacking. We couldn’t do a lot because we were small, but there were certain things we could do and we really felt like we were making a big difference. We were completely certain that if we weren’t there, the whole operation would fall apart. We felt part of something bigger and we loved the feeling that we could contribute to something so important.
Making a Big Difference for Manufacturers
Fortunately, I still get that feeling today in my work at Okuma, and actually wouldn’t have it any other way. As one of the major builders, we have the opportunity to produce things that make big changes and have a tremendous impact on our industry. One example of this is the App Store, which was a first for our industry and is now helping shops all over. Another example is the release of the P-series control, which represented a paradigm shift in the way a CNC control integrates with the whole manufacturing process. It’s really something to work at a company that makes big, positive advances for manufacturers around the world.
Other Nice Perks
At the age of 12 I was probably the strongest I’ve ever been in my life, and probably the hungriest too. At the end of a day in the sawmill we’d walk a quarter mile back to the house and there Granny would have the table completely covered with food. There were biscuits at every meal, always ham, and always buttermilk. There was Oh! Boy syrup and butter; you mix those together and dunk your biscuit in. So good. One of the perks of working very hard is you get to eat real hard too, and I put down two heaping platefuls at each meal. It was a lifestyle of extremes, which I somehow think has prepared me for my adult work life, with its IMTS crush and the push toward those deadlines. But there’s often some deep dish pizza or maybe some southern BBQ at the end of the day.
More Than We Thought We Could Do
Sometimes my cousin and I would have to work together to get a large board off the conveyor. We’d struggle and drag them off onto stacks, and lay flats in between so things could air dry. My dad and Pa kept an eye on us and slowed down if we looked really tired, but they were always encouraging and kept our spirits up. I always felt they were watching out for us. My Pa knew how much we could handle, and he always gave us just a little bit more than we thought we could do. But we could always do it. And that too is kind of what happens here at Okuma. We push hard to get the newest technology out, making sure all the way that we're getting it out the door correctly. And we also work together with our Partners in THINC so our machine tool offerings are the strongest they can be.
Living the Same Values
My Pa passed away three years after this photo was taken, and we do miss him. But I keep this photo on my work desk as a reminder of the things he taught me in that old sawmill that are still very important to me today. “Work hard.” “Eat hard.” “Play hard.” “Be friendly.” “Fix things so they stay fixed.” These are things I’d like to pass on to my children someday. And they’re definitely things I experience on a daily basis here ay Okuma. I’m very thankful to be working at a company that lives the same values I learned from a very wise teacher.
Tony Slagle is Applications Engineer, Okuma America Corporation.
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