From the Beginning
When deciding on a new home, many home buyers consider the stability and solid construction of a log home. And when selecting the log home company that's right for them, they should take those same traits into consideration.
Take Honest Abe Log Homes. They've been in business for over 30 years, and what started out as a simple log home manufacturer in Moss, Tenn., has developed into a strong company built on trust with a focus on family.
In fact, it's the company's rich family heritage that has been the staple of Honest Abe for three decades. Doug Smith, Honest Abe's founder, developed an appreciation for wood products from his father, Lemuel, who operated a sawmill to supplement income from the family farm.
"Dad put the sawmill in during the 1940s," recalled Doug, who grew up not too far away from Honest Abe's current headquarters in Clay County. "It wasn't much, but just enough to keep some money coming in during the off -season. By the time I was 11, I found myself in the mill, working with dad and the few people we had on-hand to mill the lumber."
By the time Doug graduated from college (earning a degree in engineering from nearby Tennessee Technological University), his father had stopped operating the mill. After a few years putting his engineering degree to work in the professional world, Doug decided to return home to start up the sawmill again.
"Something about working with the wood just appealed to me. It was like I was being called to discover how I could combine that appreciation with what I learned in school," said Doug. It took a few years, but eventually, Doug found the answer to that burning call.
The Birth of Honest Abe
It was 1970 when Doug and wife Janie started milling wood again, except it wasn't on the Smith farm anymore. He relocated to the small town of Moss, where it still sits today.
Green Forest Wood Products started with only a handful of employees, focusing on supplying milled products for area businesses. In 1974, Doug and his father decided to use some of the mill's larger logs to build himself a log home, the first of what would become many over the next three decades.
So Doug went to work, experimenting with different cuts and processes to eliminate the gaps between the logs. Creating an airtight seal was paramount to making log homes not only livable, but a desirable alternative to other custom home options.
Eventually, after much trial and error, Doug came up with the tongue-and-groove, dovetail cornering system seen today in Honest Abe's Original Chinked log style. By 1979, Doug was ready to move ahead with his idea. That's when he incorporated Honest Abe Log Homes to design floorplans and sell the log packages.
Trying to operate both Green Forest and Honest Abe was not something Doug was interested in doing. He felt more comfortable bringing in someone to handle the day-to-day operations of the log home company, including cutting the packages, designing the floorplans, and selling the homes.
Fortunately, he ran into a friend, Rick Denton, at his wife's high school reunion. Rick, whose father actually worked for Lemuel, seemed a bit skeptical when Doug approached him with the idea of running Honest Abe. In fact, Doug was surprised when Rick accepted the position.
"I had figured Rick wasn't interested," he said, "because he was a registered professional engineer working in another area after his college education. But considering the growth and success we've had, it was the right choice. I've always thought that to be successful, you have to surround yourself with the right people. Rick has done that from the beginning, which allowed Honest Abe to not only survive, but thrive."
The Growth of the Company
The initial idea was to use Poplar logs because they were so plentiful locally. However, a switch to White Pine was made because Poplar checked too much, while White Pine retained its integrity and checked less.
Another industry standard by Honest Abe: using kiln-dried logs. The kiln drying process brings the logs' moisture content down to 18 percent or less, drastically reducing the wood's propensity to crack and shrink.
"That was what really started setting us apart from the competition," observes Randy Fudge, current President of Honest Abe Log Homes. "At that point, in the mid-80s, the other log home companies were focusing more on price, price, price. But the product was inferior. We were - and always will be - committed to quality and value. When we started using kiln-dried logs, we raised the bar."
In addition to product developments, Honest Abe also began to expand its reach in the Tennessee area. Stretching out beyond its rural headquarters, Honest Abe established its first sales model in Murfreesboro, just south of Nashville.
Soon, other sales models sprung up across Middle Tennessee. Cookeville and Crossville, each located on the Cumberland Plateau, were natural locations for Honest Abe.
"Cookeville was growing at a steady rate, so it only made sense to develop a presence there. Crossville has always had a reputation for being an ideal retirement area. We wanted to put up a sales model to provide retirees a log home option to their custom home desires," says Fudge.
By the time the 1990s rolled around, many of Honest Abe's competitors had fallen by the wayside. But Doug (who had brought his son, Shane, and daughter, April, into the family business) continued to see the potential of what had started out as a small enterprise and had now grown into a very large operation.
But even with this larger group, Doug saw the opportunity to extend the family even more. By setting up a wholesale pricing structure and recruiting businesses across the nation to carry Honest Abe's line of log home packages and products, the company was able to increase its national presence. Today, Honest Abe supplies a large network of businesses across the country with products for them to sell and market.
The Future of Honest Abe
The future still burns brightly for Honest Abe Log Homes. More and more people are choosing to build custom log homes, and many are selecting Honest Abe as their log home producer.
Today, Honest Abe is a part of a very large diversified wood products operation at Moss, Tennessee. Three large hardwood sawmills supply their own lumber company with a steady supply of hardwood lumber. There's a mulch company supplying landscaping mulch products made of bark from the sawmills. A trucking company ships these products and a variety of other wood-related products nationwide.
Since Doug's passing, Janie is still very active in the day-to-day operations of Honest Abe Log Homes, while Shane and April have taken on leadership roles, and continuing the growth of all companies.
If history is any indication, it seems as though Honest Abe Log Homes is heading in the right direction.