WHITE CITY — When Mike Burrill Jr. pulls into the now-silent Eugene F. Burrill Lumber Co. mill here, the past calls out to him.

WHITE CITY — When Mike Burrill Jr. pulls into the now-silent Eugene F. Burrill Lumber Co. mill here, the past calls out to him.

"Every time I see ghosts walking all over the place," he says. "I cannot drive into here without at one point feeling like I was driving into it 10 years ago when it was a bustling place."

He isn't referring to scary specters but to pleasant memories of employees who helped build the mill his grandfather started into a thriving business with more than 180 employees during its heyday.

"They were family," he says as he looks out at the now-quiet mill.

That "family" is now being called to a reunion beginning at 3 p.m. Saturday in the Wild River Brewery and Pizza in Medford.

"It's time to have a reunion — we just lost one of our good planermen," explains organizer Harry Hershey, 64, a former chief planerman who worked for Burrill for some 28 years.

Hershey met Burrill, 37, and former co-workers Wes Riley, 78, and Robin Lacy, 51, at the old mill on Monday where they shared their memories and talked about the coming reunion.

Riley was superintendent at the mill when he retired in 1994 after working there for 34 years. Lacy took a job at the mill when she was 20 years old. She would stay for 21 years, doing a variety of jobs, from relief shipping clerk to dry chain puller.

Hershey, a timber industry activist who helped create the "Save Our Sawmills" group when the industry began hitting hard times in the 1980s, estimates there will be about 120 former employees at the reunion.

"We'll be talking about old times," he says. "There will be a lot of laughter."

"Good old times," Lacy interjects.

"And a lot of stories," Riley adds. "I'll probably learn a lot of things about what went on that I didn't know about."

But he will tell you they had such a capable crew it took little supervision.

"They made my job easy," he says.

The mill, which largely manufactured white fir and Douglas fir studs, was started in Prospect in 1942. It was moved to White City in 1953.

A long slab of 2-inch-thick white fir on the back of Mike Burrill Jr.'s pickup truck reads "Last log — 2-11-98. 10:55 a.m." It was signed by most of the employees, including Hershey and Lacy.

"We had them sign it while it was still on the log carriage," Burrill says as he runs a hand over the slab. "I worked in this mill since I was about 12. Started pushing a broom. Wes would tell me when I wasn't sweeping properly."

After mastering sweeping, Burrill would do just about every job at the mill his grandfather started.

"Closing it was not something my family wanted to do," Burrill says. "But it got to the point where we had to do it."

The family-owned mill would be one of more than a dozen mills that closed in Jackson and Josephine counties in that decade, causing hundreds of workers to lose their jobs. Some blamed the economy, others environmental laws.

Now retired, Hershey is a veteran of countless timber industry rallies across the country. When President George H.W. Bush visited the mill in 1992, Hershey was one of several local mill workers who bent the presidential ear.

Like the other former employees, Hershey takes pride in the teamwork he saw at the mill. He noted the mill once had a sign which read: "Burrill Lumber Co. — 1,000 days without a lost-time accident."

"After I had my son, I didn't miss a day's work for 17 years," Lacy offers. "And I worked up until two days before he was born.

"I worked over there at the planer where I did pretty much everything — I pulled chain, ran the stackers, did a lot of Hyster driving and ran the 'hula' saw," she adds, explaining the latter's name is derived from the fact the operator moves like a hula dancer when the saw is running.

Few people could keep up with her when it came to pulling lumber from the dry chain, Hershey says.

"She was doing a job that usually took two men to do and she could do it by herself," Hershey says.

But the old friends admit they had their spats.

"It would really tick him off when I would stand on the chain and regrade his boards," she says. "That would really fry him. But they taught me to be a lumber grader."

"One time Harry came to me and says, 'Wes, if you don't do something with that woman ...'" Riley says with a chuckle.

Hershey laughs.

"You see this gray hair?" he asks, then points at Lacy who now works for a local veneer mill.

As they walked about the old mill, the former employees talked about the years they spent there.

"They treated you like family," Riley says. "That was never brought more forcefully to my attention than when my wife (Dotty) passed away. They shut the mill down for her funeral."

Burrill says his grandfather and father, Mike Burrill Sr., figured the employees were what made or broke a company.

"The old-timers came here and created something by the sweat of their brow," he says. "They made it work. There is a special bonding that goes along with that."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.