In honor of the Smith Companies’ 50th Anniversary, Shane Smith takes a look at the progress of the companies.
Smith Companies’ Development Over 50 Years
By Shane Smith, co-owner
Pa Smith (Lemuel Smith, Dad’s father) was a sawyer and sawed barn patterns. He was also a blacksmith and had a shop. People would bring him trees, and he would cut posts, 2x6s and lumber from them, depending how big a barn they wanted, and therefore deliver the material ready for building it. At that time Dad (Doug Smith) helped by hauling the barn pattern lumber to the people who built the barns. They did this where our home place is located now. In Gallatin, Tennessee, is where Dad and Pa started cutting hardwood lumber. It was a two-man crew.
Dad grew up in the sawmill industry and was very familiar with the process when it came to timber and lumber. After Dad graduated High School in 1960, he obtained his mechanical engineering degree from Tennessee Tech University. Dad served in the United States Army, during which time he worked on jet engines in the Mohave Desert and on missiles.
Dad missed home and had a dream of owning his own business, so he came back home in the late 1960s to start his own business making mop and broom handles. He would gather scrap from other sawmills to make the broom handles. It didn’t take him very long to realize there wasn’t a lot of money in broom handles since those imported from the Far East were much lower priced. Soon Dad started selling them for tobacco sticks, because tobacco was a crop grown in our area, and using the broom sticks as tobacco sticks was worth more. Overall, that first new business endeavor didn’t make money, so he did the next thing he knew best – the sawmilling industry. Dad put in a sawmill and began manufacturing hardwood lumber, and the company grew into other businesses as time went by.
The first sawmill started as one circle mill then grew to two side-by-side circle saws in the same building. It was located where the mushroom compost is currently stored at Barky Beaver. Everything then was done by hand, including stacking. It took six stackers, two edger men, two sawyers and one de-barker. Normally they would run about 35,000 feet per day with those two circle saws.
More Details about the Broom Handles – Dad would take edging strips from lumber (scrap) from other mills and bring in and run through dowel machine to make them round. From that sold them for broom handles and tobacco sticks. Broom handle business was not good so then sold for tobacco sticks. This lasted maybe a year, and he realized there was no money in them and put in a sawmill. Dad was the sawyer and shortly after came Tim Smith, Dad’s oldest and longest working employee that is still working TODAY!
How Companies Were Named
Dad would just sit and think stuff up, like Auguste Rodin’s statue of The Thinker. Dad liked that statue and had a replica in his office. He read books and magazines to get ideas, but mostly he just dreamed up the names.
For example, he associated Abe Lincoln with log cabins, thus Honest Abe Log Homes; Green Forest because the forest was, in fact, green; and Barky Beaver because beavers eat wood. Little did he know it could have been construed as vulgar, but Dad had a good intention and turned to be a local “ha-ha.”
In the beginning, Dad sold the lumber green and flitches, which is the middle low-grade center of the log sized as a 4x6, until Dad realized he could make pallets out of the flitches. Then Pallet Pro was formed. Dad hired his nephew, Mark Carlisle, to sell the pallets. Soon after Dennis Miller and Kevin Donaldson sold the pallets. He had Richard Green, then JR Wix managing Pallet Pro afterward.
During that time the pallet business was very good, and you could almost name your price for pallets. Pallet Pro was a booming business that employed 30-40 people. It lasted until the pallet business got poor. Chep (blue pallets) Rentals played a part in the demise in the pallet business, and it also became hard to get labor. Working at Pallet Pro was intense, resulting in lots of mashed fingers and injuries. For these reasons, Dad decided to part ways with Pallet Pro and close that company.
While the pallet business was bad, the lumber business was good. The circle saws started making too much dust and a few other negatives so they went to bandsaws to help solve some problems. Dad expanded and started improving the sawmill. Now with new bandmills more timber could be cut. The bandmills cut the good/bigger logs, and the circle saw would cut the small logs. This first created Moss Sawmills and then Allons Sawmills.
Then we installed dry kilns and began drying the lumber versus selling it green. Then he bought Livingston Sawmill. Later more kilns were purchased, and then Hwy 61 Sawmill, then 56 Sawmill. At this time – ’95-’96 – the sawmills were smoking. Everything was wide open due to President Bill Clinton’s housing plan. That’s what drove housing economy. We couldn’t get enough material to sale.
A lot happened in this time. Many people were involved and were making good money for their families, especially sawyers, which Dad gave profit sharing too.
Highway 61 Sawmill was purchased when Dad and I went to an auction only looking for an edger and de-barker. They started selling land, and Dad said, “I like land and sawmills,” and he bought it. He ended up out of the 220 items sold, he bought 187 of them, and at end of sale those who did buy some so then they sold to dad. Dad and I together went to many auctions, and this was one I remember as being the funniest story.
Dad bought Highway 56 Sawmill from the one who originally started it, Dennis Chaffin, a logger who sawed his own timber. Dad ran it for long time. There, he cut smaller grade logs and shipped bigger logs to our sawmills at Allons and Livingston, which were a shorter distance than transporting all the way to Moss.
Any given week between Hwy 56, Hwy 61, Allons, Livingston and Moss Sawmills, it was not unusual to buy one million feet of logs per week. That happened a lot. Not only did we manufacture and sell our own lumber, we even bought from others and sold it. It was a huge networking organization.
Dad told me once that as long as he could afford to pay the interest on the timber and land, he would buy all he could. Dad had to sweet talk a lot of banks and had to deal with a lot of pains because he owed a lot and bought what he could based on what could borrow. He’d buy land and timber. Every Saturday when they weren’t working in the mill, he took me to look at timber and buy it on shares with people or in with partners. Glen Watson and Dora Rhoton helped him find a bunch at that time. They’d find timber, and Dad would give them cash and buy their dinner and pay them for helping find the timber.
We went through 100,000 acres of timber land from Clay, Overton, Monroe, Jackson and Macon counties, with more than half coming out of Overton. Since the time when we started we have gone back and cut them again since in our commitment to stewardship we have used sustainable practices when cutting like select cutting and not damaging the timber.
In addition to selling domestic lumber, Dad was first to sell to China before anyone else. Bob Cowan went to China to meet and first to start and soon after everyone else followed, but Dad was one of the pioneers around here for new things. As far as export and selling bark and grinding chips and mulch and soil, he started it. Still export nothing like what we did, because was China slow to pay and any problem you couldn’t control so we limited this aspect of our business. We still do export but keep it to a limit and do it in a different way.
Green Forest Products
Everything was called Green Forest Products or Honest Abe Log Homes in the beginning, until there was a truck wreck and dad got sued for $7 million and thought he would lose company. During a weather-related accident a truck jack-knifed, and a lady went under the trailer. She didn’t die thankfully, but she tried suing. As a result, Dad developed the other companies so liability would be spread around.
Barky Beaver started because Dad didn’t like waste and noticed a lot wood production waste piling up with no use. He was close to putting in his own power plant but didn’t because there was not enough waste to keep it running continuously. He used sawdust to fuel the lumber kilns, but he wanted to find a purpose for bark and chips.
His brother, Jim Smith, mentioned how people in the Murfreesboro area where he lived were using bark for mulch. So Dad began recycling all the bark by grinding mulch with a stationary grinder powered by electric motors called hogs. Then he later figured out the mobile units got three times as much done with diesel power and could also move around. That’s when the Algood location was purchased, and we started buying and selling bark in the Cookeville, Tennessee, area. About 80% of everything we sold went east, so the Cookeville location saved on freight and was close with more loads per day taken to the Knoxville area. Shortly after the Worlds Fair was held in Knoxville the area boomed. Lots of homes in Gatlinburg were also being built, and we sold mulch in Gatlinburg for beautification purposes.
Barky grew from bulk mulch, and they sold so much bulk there was a big demand for bagging. So Barky started offering mulch in bags. Dad also figured out some of the other companies had shavings that could be used and started baling shavings.
The way the soil mix division of Barky Beaver started was when Dad and I were at an auction one day and they had a soil line that made soil mixes. I told Dad, “hey I like soil and growing things so why don’t we do some soil mixes,” so he bought it and started doing soils.
Happy Trucking was created to move all the material. They would haul in the neighborhood of 175-200 loads per week of material at that time, 100 of which was mulch, and the rest was lumber and houses. Not only did we haul stuff with our own trucking company, we contracted with other trucking companies and kept them busy as well.
Loader & Equipment
With everything going on there wasn’t enough technical help in Moss to repair loaders trucks and equipment. So Dad put in an in-house loader shop run by Ronnie Wheeler to rebuild transmissions, do service work or take care of anything that may happen to equipment. Not only did we save money from not having to send to dealerships, we were able to be more efficient and machinery was fixed faster. Dad never bought new loaders – always used or burnt ones, then repaired them to save money. Trucks were done in similar way. He bought good used trucks, and Dennis Hix headed up that shop. There was nothing we couldn’t fix in house. We’ve run so many miles, we’ve likely changed $2 million dollars worth of tires.
Donnie Smith, who worked with dad for years, would go to auction to buy equipment, make minor adjustments to make it like new and install it. Donnie was Dad’s mastermind to get the most production out of equipment – 35 years and lots of welding and fabrication. We bought lots of metal to make it work.
Dad went to Arizona once to take kilns out. We’ve been to Bend, Oregon, to get a used tray sorter, which we shipped and reassembled. Dad also bought electric boxes and wiring of other buildings and put it in ours. He would buy a sawmill building at an auction and take it down, put it back up and even reuse roofing. These practices were very efficient, saved millions of dollars and allowed us to expand.
50 Years by the Numbers
Jobs Created: 1,000
Feet of Timber: 1 billion
Trailer Loads of Lumber Shipped: 100,000
Loads of Bark and Chips: 50,000
Contribution to Local Economy: $100 million
Sales: OVER $1 billion
Fuel Purchased from Local Stations: $100 million
Supplies battery/material, etc., bout from Local Businesses: millions
Creating and Sustaining Good Jobs
At one time 150 were people employed, and we contracted 150 additional people with logging, home building and trucking. It wasn’t odd for people to make $100,000 per year or more who worked with Dad in management or sales.
Profit sharing made it able for us to do in a big way because it kept sales people and managers thinking about profit instead of it solely being Mom and Dad, even though they were they main driving force in getting all this done.
Hardwood All Stars
Of all the sawmill managers none rank with Bob Storie. He was the best sawmill manager Dad ever had. Bob ran Livingston Sawmill, and Dad would’ve put him over all the companies, but Bob’s temperament wouldn’t allow it. Bob cared too much about what went on to be able to oversee more sawmills. Bob made more money than any other sawmill manager, and he also made more money and could make money in bad times that others couldn’t do. He had the worst set up mill and still made the most with what he had. Not only do we believe that, but ask anyone who worked with him, and they’d tell you the same thing. Not everyone liked him, but whether they liked him or not they had the upmost respect for him. He had great work ethic. He put in a lot of time in like Rick Denton did. He’s retired now but would have a job in a heartbeat if he wanted it. He wouldn’t have to show up but three days and could still do a five-day a week job.
Wayne Smith was the only person we’ve ever had pass away while still working for us. Wayne was going to a wash truck, and a limb fell on Hwy 52. It was one of the most shocking deaths in history of Clay County as far as being a freak accident. Wayne worked with Dad 30 years and was manager of all the companies for a while. He later spent all his time purchasing timber. He bought more than $50 million dollars worth of timber, which is about 75 million feet. Wayne one of most loyal employees Dad ever had. He took great care of Dad’s land and even painted property lines. We never lost acres with Wayne, even though his philosophy was to “paint something even if it’s wrong.”
Our Mom, Janie Smith, was the woman behind all of Dad’s successes. They say behind every good man is a good woman. There’s no better woman than Mom. She didn’t want to go along with everything Dad did, and some of the decisions she got the most upset are the ones that didn’t do well. Mom didn’t have problem with mills, but she did with the racetrack, real estate developments and the marina. Most of the failures Dad had were the failures she saw ahead of him. She’d have been happy living in a trailer in the middle of nowhere with us. She’s never lived like she had a lot and always wanted everything for kids and never for herself. There was no woman Dad loved more than Mom. Ever since he met her he was smitten. Mom was known for being Miss Clay County and being a sweetheart, and Dad known as a handsome man. They were polar opposites. No wonder they were so in love because they were nothing alike, other than both being loving and caring people.
Mom always worked for Dad – accounting – writing checks, logs, added more things on a calculator than any one person in the world. There were no computers at that time she started, and she hand tallied every log footage that came in by hand. She easily did and still does work of three people. She’s always been smart, and thanks the Lord she was. She helped dad with business, and she was beautiful as well as smart, which helped dad a lot. Mom put in more time than anyone at mill working six days week, daylight to dark. I used to look out of Pa’s window when Channel 4’s 6 p.m. news was going off, thinking Mom and Dad would get home early even with a foot of snow and still not get home till 6:30 -7 p.m.
Mom got along with everyone, too, and dealt with lots of bull crap because most people were too scared to speak up to Dad, but they would tell Mom because she was sweet so she would tell Dad. Dad was a big bad wolf with a lamb’s heart. He wasn’t scared to mean, but you could hurt his feeling quicker than anything. He just didn’t let it show.
Smith Family Companies that are Now Closed or Sold
Home Interiors was an idea Dad had, and since he had money to invest at the time, he wanted to start a new business. He bought molding machines that made interior trim, doors and other architectural components, and produced finger-jointed moldings by cutting out the wood knots and gluing the clear pieces together. Dad found it hard to make money with Home Interiors, so he ended production.
Eager Beaver started because Shane was building a playground for kids in the pallet building out of cedar, which we didn’t have a market for. Dad said, “I like cedar and I like playgrounds,” so he started Eager Beaver. We made a lot of playground, but Lowes, Home Depot and others started making them cheaper. Dad said, “Gotta make money or stop.” When it was no longer profitable, Eager Beaver closed.
Clearspan Buildings & Truss Company was a division of Honest Abe Log Homes that built trusses or bought from local suppliers and marked them up 25%. We also sold and built a nice metal garage for economical price. We hired guys to build, but when they learned how to do it, they started doing it on their own and competing with us. That happened a lot. We phased the company out.
Cookeville Speedway was a dirt racetrack in Baxter, Tennessee. Dad used to sponsor a driver named Ricky Arms. One of Dad’s friends, Big Foot Martin, owned Cookeville Speedway, and Dad was amazed at how fast cars could go on dirt. When the track went up for sale, Dad thought it was interesting, but Mom was not enthusiastic. Dad bought it with no previous racing background and ran for a time, but it had lots of ups and downs. He decided to close because it was another business didn’t make money. He then turned it into an equipment sales yard, which he later sold.
Peckerwood Sawmill was bought because at the time we needed it. The original circle saws first used by the company were worn out. This was the type of mill into which logs were fed to be turned into lumber. It worked well, and we sawed a lot of logs. It was also used to produce materials for Pallet Pro.
When the housing market was booming, the company invested in land and created developments. When the housing market plummeted, so did the developments. They were sold to an investment group in 2017.
Rockcastle is located in Fentress County, Tennessee, on the Cumberland Plateau. Rockcastle was a 3,000-acre development on land purchased from a World War II fighter pilot, Barney Young, from Jamestown, Tennessee. At one time Dad was selling lots for $5,900-9,900 per acre.
Swan Ridge Resort (now called The Pointe) overlooks Dale Hollow Lake and is an 800-acre development with open up lake views. Several Honest Abe Log Homes cabins, houses and other structures, including a lodge, were built in the development in an effort to boost the log home market in Clay County. Envisioned as a wood home only community, Dad imagined selling 300-400 log or timber frame houses in our own back door.
Mitchell Creek Marina was born when Dad bought the old Livingston Boat Dock. He invested a lot of money in building a log home riverboat store and restaurant, updating slips and making a dock that looked like a garbage dump into one of the nicest marinas on Dale Hollow Lake. Dad thought that having it as a companion company with Swan Ridge would help lot sales there, but the Marina was too far away from the development to be considered a true benefit. The marina was a fun business because everyone loves playing in the water, but running it was too time consuming and distracted from our core business. It was sold in 2018 to an investment group.
Giving Back to the Community
Without volunteer fire departments, we wouldn’t have a business. Recognizing this, the company has always been supportive. Honest Abe Log Homes donated log house in Celina for use as a county history museum and another one to the city of Red Boiling Springs for a tourism building.
Barky Beaver donates products to community beautification projects in Clay County, and some of our employees volunteer to join community members in completing the projects.
We regularly make discounted deals to employees and communities for log homes and buildings from Honest Abe.
With our company’s safety incentive program, we give back to the employees what we save as a result of them maintaining a safe work environment. We’ve gratefully presented 4-wheelers, trucks, cash and many other types of gifts.
Dad and Mom have donated lots of things people will never know about to churches, people sick and anyone in need. Never people to talk about their generosity, our parents felt only one who needed to know was God, and we’re going to leave it that way. Because Dad was a profit-conscious businessman, people were very surprised in what a giving person he was and did not appreciate this until he was gone. Mom and our family carry on the legacy of giving, and like my parents did in the past, my brother and I believe that as long as the Lord knows our hearts and actions, it is not necessary to always make our charitable giving public. We are just very thankful for the blessings we have had and continue to have that enable us to help our neighbors, employees and communities when we can.