One day earlier this week, Anne and I traveled from Cedar Key to Gainesville on a field trip to do business and to have fun. Somewhere near Rosewood we came up behind this lumber truck, this pulpwood (pronounced “pupwud”) truck. Anne asked if I knew what kind of wood he was hauling. I did.
He was hauling a load of hardwoods, of gums. As we drew closer, we saw that one of the logs near the top was dripping sap indicating a very recent cut. The slowly dripping sap and the long, otherwise lonely, road drew me back to a former life. We all have them, former lives.
In the paper industry, those large long logs he was hauling are often called “sticks.” The hardwood, the gum, is used primarily in making fine papers, white, bleached, opaque papers, such as tablet, bond, envelope, copy and so forth. I grew up in a small mill town in northern Ohio. I’ve been around the industry most of my life.
We swam and fished as young people in the millpond so called because the river was dammed creating a large lake. Hydropower was used to drive much of the equipment in the mill just downstream. Relatives and much of the town worked in the mill, some literally spending most of their lives there night and day.
I went on to college majoring in engineering. My first job was working in what at that time was the largest fine paper mill in the country located in Virginia. From there, I went on to the largest Kraft mill in the world in Georgia, and then to another large mill in Alabama.
I made very good money, raised a family, and made many lifetime friends in all phases of the industry. And I’ve given back a great deal, too. Did you know that for every person working in the mill, there are nine other families directly and positively affected? That the cost of a new paper mill with only one paper machine is over 200 million dollars?
And the water used in process, and a lot of water is used, is recycled inside the mill 14 or more times? And most of those mills are located in or very near the woods from which the pulpwood comes? And the mills subsidize in many cases and help in anyway possible the independent farmers who grow the wood?
The mills share information fairly freely and support jointly several schools and research facilities dedicated solely to the forest products industry. Every American consumes on an average nearly 550 pounds of paper products each year, about one-third of which is recycled. There are less than 250 mills in the U.S.
Where was I? Oh, yes, we were following that pulpwood truck down the road towards Gainesville, one log still dripping sap. We pulled off at Tower Road and the truck was still going straight. As we pulled off, I wondered where it was headed. There are no fine paper mills in Gainesville.
As we were returning to Cedar Key after a satisfying day, I noticed, more so than usual, the number of independent pulpwood farmers there are in this part of Florida. Tree farming is major industry here. And if it weren’t for these people, you might not be reading these words right now.
So I found a different kind of trouble this week. I wonder what kind I’ll find next week. Stay tuned for more Trouble in Cedar Key.