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'Bonner Mill' Largest Lumber Producer in Area - Missoulian Centennial Edition 1960

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Bonner Mill Largest Lumber Producer in Area

The Bonner mill of the Anaconda Co. Lumber Department with 500 employes and an annual production capacity of 85 million feet of commercial lumber, is the largest producer of lumber, timber and wood products in the Missoula area.

Since its acquisition by the Anaconda Co. in 1898, the mill has filled an important role in the economy of the Missoula area. Keeping pace with new processes and techniques in the industry, improving and adding to its facilities, the plant has succeeded in greatly enlarging its line of forest products over the years. Marketing of its products is aided by an active sales program coupled with a constant quest for new markets for products from the forests of Western Montana.

The mill, from its start to the present time, has shipped in excess of four billion feet of lumber and it is estimated that an equal amount of timber remains standing at the stump, assuring a constant operation contributing to the local economy.

Conservation Stressed

Logs for the mill now come from the Blackfoot area, Thompson River, Fish Creek and numerous small areas. All forest areas are under a well managed program which assures not only a continuous supply of forest products, but the preservation of watersheds and production of fish and wildlife. All lands are open for public recreational use.

The timber management program provides for selective cutting, removal of risk type trees, establishment of cutting cycles, replanting and seeding, fire protection and the construction and maintenance of road systems.

Originally the mill was acquired for the principal purpose of supplying timbers for Anaconda’s mines at Butte and smelters at Anaconda and Great Falls. In times of full-scale mining operations the consumption was enormous.

While mining methods are somewhat changed and rock bolts have replaced some timbering, the demand for mine timbers still remains very substantial. To meet this need in the mines of Butte and elsewhere, the Bonner mill has what is probably the finest mine timber framing plant in the world.

Huge Capacity

The production capacity is 30 million feet of mining timbers annually, which is in addition to the department’s 85 million feet of commercial timber.

Early day managers of the mill were W. H. Hammond, A. W. Griffin, James E. Totman and Kenneth Ross. When Ross retired in 1925, he was succeeded by W. C. Lubrecht who served as general manager until his retirement on Sept. 1, 1949. H. F. Root was the manager from that date until his retirement on Aug. 1, 1957, when he was succeeded by H. R. Dix, the present manager.

Name Is Changed

In 1910, a dozen years after Marcus Daly purchased the mill and timber for the Anaconda Co., the name was changed from the Big Blackfoot Milling Co. to the Anaconda Copper Mining Co. Lumber Department.

In the early days logging operations were carried on in the upper Bitter Root, the Blackfoot Valley and the Clark Fork with mills at Hamilton, St. Regis and Bonner. The St. Regis mill, which operated on logs from Superior west to Henderson, was closed in 1914 and a year later the Hamilton mill was shut down. All sawmill operations were then concentrated in Bonner.

Milltown Mill Closed

In 1928 the company purchased the sawmill of the Western Lumber Co. at Milltown. This mill was closed in 1931.

Early logging was all done with teams of horses hauling logs to the river. About 1910 railroad logging was started and trains bringing logs to the mill replaced some of the river drives. The last of the colorful river drives to the Bonner mill was in 1926.

With the advent of railroad logging, the mill was no longer dependent on the springtime highwater drives and was able to start operations on a year-around basis.

Tractors Replace Horses

In the woods, tractors replaced horses for skidding logs to the railroad landings and later trucks were used. In many of today’s operations tractors skid logs to the woods landings and trucks haul them directly to the mill.

In 1952 the Thompson River drainage development started, resulting in an engineered logging road some 75 miles long.

Fire struck and totally destroyed the original Bonner sawmill on Jan. 16, 1919. Rebuilding started that same year and sawing was resumed on Sept 23, 1919. The elaborately designed Hotel Margaret in Bonner, which was part of the mill property, was damaged by fire on Aug. 21, 1912. The three-story building, which served as a hotel for many years, was finally razed in March 1957.

Chipper Operation

A Chipper operation at the Bonner plant was constructed in the fall of 1956 to convert residual materials into chips for the manufacture of Kraft paper. At the same time a large debarker was installed to remove bark from logs.

The present plant consists of a river and pond department with a hydraulic debarker, a sawmill, dry kiln department with 14 separate units for drying lumber, a yard department capable of storing 125 million feet of lumber, a planer, shipping department, box factory, glue department, garage, repair shop, machine shop, pipe shop, electric shop, a power department supplying power to the plant and steam for heating dry kilns and parts of the sawmill, and a completely stocked warehouse.

The timber framing plant has been modernized to permit production of commercial lumber along with framed timbers.

Short Lengths Jointed

In line with efforts toward full utilization in the glue-up department, short lengths of lumber are fingerjointed end to end to lengths desired up to 24 feet.

The department also permits lamination of lumber into larger items up to a length of 100 feet. These timbers are capable of carrying a 50-pound load per square foot without intermediate supports.

The Bonner plant manufactures high quality Ponderosa pine lumber, fir and larch framing for the building industry, a complete line of mouldings and mill work as well as specialty items for the various mines departments.

Products of the plant are shipped not only throughout Montana but as far away as the Eastern seaboard and the Southeastern part of the country.

Last Updated on Thursday, 09 March 2017 20:08