SEELEY LAKE - Employing 150 people, Pyramid Mountain Lumber Company is Seeley Lake's largest employer. The family-owned company, in its 64th year, produces 3,000 products today. It is one of only nine sawmills in Montana still functioning, and the only one in Missoula County still operating and strongly.
"We are probably the only mill in Montana that goes to the lengths that we do to create all these various products," said Loren Rose, the Chief Operating Officer at Pyramid Mountain Lumber Company.
Pyramid Mountain Lumber produces a one-inch board used for trimming or remodeling purposes, everything from a one-by-four to a one-by-twelve in a variety of grades and in every softwood species indigenous to Montana.
"In a saw mill, and it's the same today as it was back then, if you can't keep current with technology and you can't run as efficiently as everybody else, then you're not going to make it."
In 1998, the lumber company commissioned a group of sawmill consultants to make recommendations for improvements. They advised the mill to install four major pieces of sawmill equipment. But, just as workers were preparing to install the second piece, company leaders announced on November 7, 2000 they planned to close.
"We thought we'd exhausted every opportunity that we had," said Rose. "We had some that we had never thought about approaching, who approached us with a basic question, 'What would it take to keep Pyramid Mountain Lumber running?' "
Rose said they stuck with the "plan." Working with a local bank, the Montana Board of Investments, and the USDA, they developed a $7.6 million loan and credit package to purchase the two remaining pieces of equipment that allowed the mill to modernize.
Rose went on to say, "What we did in that time frame is develop a diversity, a flexibility that most mills don't have. And, we can kind of follow the markets and play in the best markets and avoid the poorer markets as long as we have an adequate log supply to do that."
Company leaders saw a business opportunity to harvest dying, dead, or burned trees after the Jocko Lakes Fire nearly destroyed the mill in 2007 and the mountain pine beetle moved into the region.
"One of those is to make timbers, and we have three different markets right now for pine 6-by-8. Now, we are selling blue pine 6-by-8's. Blue because the beetles have killed the tree."
According to Rose, the blue 6-by-8's are used for guardrail stock, used as rig mats at the Bakken Oil Field... and sliced for veneer for blue plywood, but that's not all.
"We had a customer who said they use a lot of blue down in Hollywood, and they use it to make movie sets. So, we started taking blue stain one-by-6's and ripping them down into 1-by-3's and bundling them separately and sending them to Hollywood."
While that is not a big part of the company's business, Rose added that it is just one example of how positive and creative thinking are helping Pyramid Mountain Lumber Company to stay afloat.