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Trusses bound for big-ticket homes

Colorado builder grew tired of waiting for Oregon logs, so he opened a heavy truss manufacturing planthere in Medford

Building homes in Summit County, Colorado ' where Vail, Breckenridge, Arapahoe Basin, Keystone and Copper Mountain ski resorts are clustered west of Denver ' is something akin to making Ferraris.

They're not commonplace, and to call them expensive is an undertatement.

Tim Allen builds specialized homes using heavy-duty trusses with mortise and tenon joinery. It's a traditional style of post and beam construction, often seen in Europe and Japan, accomplished without nails.

The 53-year-old Allen, president of Swiftsure Enterprises, moved to Southern Oregon in November and earlier this year set up his assembly operation at 2660 Bullock Road, near Medford's airport.

But to see his work, you'd still have to travel to the Rockies. This week, another truckload of materials is heading to Aspen, where Allen and his Swiftsure partners are working on a 7,000-square-foot house that will cost more than &

36;7 million.

When you're talking about Aspen, you have to take prices with a grain of salt, says Allen. We just finished a &

36;10 million, 10,000-square-foot house that was right at the foot of the Aspen ski hill.

Allen chuckles when he starts describing a 23,000-square-foot mansion he's bidding on in Kentucky, not so much because of the cost but the specifications the architect has put together.

It's 12 by everything, up to 12x18's, Allen says. It's just a staggering size. It's partially the look they wanted and partially the structure. But it's going to take some massive timbers.

And it's those massive timbers, in part, that brought Allen, his wife and the youngest four of their seven children to the Rogue Valley.

In Colorado, we'd be waiting for the timber and the lumber broker would say it was this many days out and it was coming from Oregon, Allen says. We were always waiting for wood from Oregon, so why not come to Oregon?

We always worked right on the job site and wanted to have an off-site location because we almost never had enough room.

Now when Forest Grove Lumber ships timber, it's almost a straight shot down Interstate 5.

A lot of timber companies based in New York or Massachusetts use oak and other hardwoods. But the work we've done in Colorado almost always specifies fir and we get the No. 1, high-end Douglas fir stuff here.

There was another reason for the move. Although Allen loved his home in Montezuma above Keystone, his teenagers were ready for a different school experience. After an extensive search, the Allens moved to Ashland last fall.

The prospect of such manufacturing is appealing to Medford economic development director Bill Hoke.

If they're building a product here out of raw material and shipping it out, Hoke says, even if the construction isn't here, that's good.

Allen, his wife Shona, and Jim Mallis are directors for the company with Konrad Reger also included in the partnership. Swiftsure employs 20 to 30 workers on job sites and four in Medford.

Two of Allen's sons, Colton, 22, and Logan, 18, as well as daughter, Rene, 20, work at the Medford operation. Colton minds the shop when his dad is on the road and handles design work on the computer.

If you're going to build timber trusses, you have to make an accurate drawing. The geometry is complex; I can't imagine how you would do it by hand, Tim Allen says.

Logan began helping three summers ago, cutting, chiseling, sanding and working with the mortise machine. Rene cuts, chisels and sands.

She's the only woman there and I think she enjoys it, her dad says. But I don't think that's what she'll do long-term.

The company started in 1986 in Vancouver, British Columbia. From 1995 to 1997, Allen contracted to build houses and small apartment buildings in Japan before the Asian economy began to sink.

In 1997, I was looking for a place where we could find good work and the western Canada housing was pretty weak for the kind of construction we do, Allen says. We stumbled onto Colorado and discovered the market for the kind of construction we do is incredibly strong.

Having recently obtained an Oregon contractor's license, he hopes to find similar opportunities here.

Tim Allen holds a truss while his son Colton pounds in a wood plug to put the finishing touches on a piece being sent to Colorado. Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli - Mail Tribune Roy Musitelli