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Moyie Springs sawmill is a community fixture

by ROSE SHABABY
Hagadone News Network | October 27, 2021 1:00 AM

The sawmill in Moyie Springs has been a Boundary County fixture for over 92 years, beginning in 1929 when P. L. Saddler decided to move his business from Meadow Creek, building just 200 feet southeast of the SI Railroad station.

The announcement was a welcome addition to the area, if the newspaper clippings of the time were any indication. One from March 7, 1929 announcing Saddler’s plans also said that “the new mill will be operated by electricity from the Bonners Ferry municipal power plant at Moyie Falls.”

Another clipping from later in the month, March 21, 1929 stated that “The Saddler sawmill, under construction at the present time, is expected to be ready for operation in 10 days or two weeks. The mill will employ 25 to 30 men, and this added population to the community is expected to add considerable to the school enrollment.”

By April of the same year, the newspaper reported that “P. J. LaFountain of Moyie Springs [...] reports that the saddler sawmill at Moyie Springs is now ready to begin sawing,” and that “ dwelling houses for mill employees are being constructed by R. M. Buck and Chas Spinharney, proprietor of the store and post office [...] Water from the spring on the fur farm is being piped to the Saddler mill and will be installed in the new dwellings.”

The Boundary County Museum’s book “Small Town, Big Dreams” lists the first occupants of the mill housing as the Schroeder, Moore, Nelson, Cooper, Irwin, Mesenbrink, LePoidevin, Patterson and Billingsley families.

The new mill was short lived; in August of 1929 it, and about 10,000 feet of saw logs, “burned to the ground,” according to the Bonners Ferry Herald. They suffered an estimated loss of $8,000-$9,000 and the same clipping said that “Mr. Saddler has not definitely decided to rebuild the mill.”

In the end, Saddler decided to rebuild. He paid his workers to do the work and secured a contract with the railroad to supply ties at the same time.

Saddler ended up selling the mill to Charles Merritt in 1932 and from there, the mill changed hands multiple times in rapid succession; Merritt sold to Al Fogarty in 1936 (who switched from electricity to steam to power the mill), Fogarty sold to Vic Barber in 1940, and Barber sold to Elton King less than a year later in 1941.

King wrote down the history of the mill, as he remembered it. He came to work at the mill in 1936, at the invitation of Fogarty, who was his uncle.

King recalled adding two steam boilers in 1942 with the help of Merritt. The boilers “were return flue over a fire pit known as a dutch oven that burned sawdust for fuel.”

He continued to operate the mill throughout WWII until it once again burned down in 1946. Clippings from the time read that “total loss is estimated at around $60,000 [...] The blaze had gained such headway that it could only be kept from spreading [...] One theory is that the fire started at the boilers but no definite conclusion has been arrived at.”

King partnered with Scott French who “was to furnish the money to get underway. I had the boilers which were not harmed (refuting the theory put forth in the newspaper at the time), the site with a spring for water and my labor and know-how.”

After two years, French bought out King and ran the mill alone until 1950 when he sold it to the Moyie River Lumber Company.

There is little information about the mill during its years as Moyie Springs Lumber Company. They ran until 1967, selling to Cozier Forest Products, who sold to Georgia-Pacific two years later.

Georgia Pacific didn’t last long either. In 1973 they sold to Louisiana-Pacific, who celebrated a grand opening in June. They were the longest running ownership in the mill’s history, although shortly after purchasing the mill it once again suffered a fire.

The August 28, 1973 blaze destroyed two large log decks and two smaller ones. An estimated two and a half million board feet were lost before it was brought under control.

Louisiana-Pacific recovered from the fire, running the mill for many years.

In 1993, they cited “plummeting lumber prices and continued high raw log prices” as the reason for a temporary shutdown of the mill. The mill employed 102 workers and only a handful remained after the layoff, mostly maintenance workers.

The shutdown was cited as temporary, proving to be true as they continued to run the mill until 2003 when they sold to Riley Creek, who merged with Bennett Forest Industries to create the Idaho Forest Group in 2008.

IFG strives to utilize 100% of the timber they receive; workers calculate the board footage and utilize every available square inch, they sell excess wood shavings for pellets and wood chips for cardboard to other companies, and on and on.

IFG still operates today, with the capability of producing 200 million board feet per year. They also provide over 130 jobs to Boundary County, carrying on the long legacy of lumber production, established by Saddler nearly 100 years earlier.

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(Photo courtesy BOUNDARY COUNTY MUSEUM)

A photo from the Moyie River Lumber Company. Pictured, from left, are John Ruhberg, “Trac,” and Albert Sormo.

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(Photo courtesy BOUNDARY COUNTY MUSEUM)

A photo of a logging truck crossing the old Moyie Bridge (circa 1950s-'60s.)

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(Photo courtesy BOUNDARY COUNTY MUSEUM)

A postcard (circa 1950-1967) found in a scrapbook of photos and papers collected by Dan Wilson, plant manager of Louisiana-Pacific.

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(Photo courtesy BOUNDARY COUNTY MUSEUM)

A color photograph, circa 1969-1973, that was found in scrapbook of photos and papers collected by Dan Wilson, plant manager of Louisiana-Pacific.

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(Photo courtesy BOUNDARY COUNTY MUSEUM)

Machinery is still painted Georgia Pacific green but employees are seen wearing Louisiana-Pacific hard hats. During 1973 when the mill changed owners, people were given tours of the plant. The photo was taken by Dale Sargent.

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(Photo courtesy BOUNDARY COUNTY MUSEUM)

A fire at Louisiana-Pacific on August 28, 1973 is pictured in this photo by Valley Studio. From the Bonners Ferry Herald: "This photograph of the blaze at Louisiana-Pacific Moyie Springs lumber mill was shot Tuesday morning from a hillside overlooking the mill yard. The fire destroyed two large log decks and two smaller ones - an estimated two and a half million board feet - before it was brought under control later Tuesday. The cause of the fire has not yet been officially determined.”

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(Photo courtesy BOUNDARY COUNTY MUSEUM)

A photo of a cut off saw at Louisiana-Pacific.

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(Photo courtesy BOUNDARY COUNTY MUSEUM)

Photo from Louisiana-Pacific mill during the “Record Week, January 1983.” Large building at top center with big garage door open was known by employees as the “Bat Cave,” because it was full of bats.

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(Photo courtesy BOUNDARY COUNTY MUSEUM)

A photo of the stud mill from Louisiana-Pacific mill during the “Record Week, January 1983.”

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(Photo courtesy BOUNDARY COUNTY MUSEUM)

A photo, circa 2003-2008, of a load of lumber from Riley Creek Sawmill on the Union Pacific Railroad.