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Rough & Ready mill auctions assets

CAVE JUNCTION — Lonnie Adams, 59, had to see for himself when Rough & Ready Lumber started auctioning off its sawmill Wednesday morning. He worked here for 35 years, after all.

Sorters. Trimmers. Saws. Log loaders. Welders. Slabbers. Edgers.

All of it had to go, the hardware from 73 years of making high quality lumber a few miles south of this now-struggling town.

It's sad seeing what some of this stuff is going for," Adams said. "That gang saw? (The auctioneer) started at $10,000 and nobody bid on it.

"It was an amazing machine. ... It's a sad thing. Shutting down really hurt a lot of families, and there's not a lot to offer here in Cave Junction."

Josephine County's last large sawmill wound up just like Spalding & Son in 1998, the Murphy Creek mill in Murphy in the 1980s and dozens of others in the region — on the auction block or worse, rusting in place.

The auction continued Thursday at the mill.

"I used to build mills, and they're dropping like flies," said Joe Slowey of Medford, there Wednesday to bid on small tools. "That sorter? That would be a million to put together today."

It sold for $60,000.

"Link just spent $15 million on this (place)," Slowey noted. "He's a good man. He worked hard. Did his best. Dealing with the government any more, you're screwed."

Owners Link and Jennifer Phillippi said they couldn't deal with an unpredictable federal timber supply to keep running a mill that once had over 200 workers on three shifts.

After an extensive upgrade two years ago to accommodate smaller-diameter timber, following a year-long shutdown at the mill, U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio toured the place and everyone seemed optimistic.

But in February things screeched to a halt again, this time for good. The Phillippis said they had some interest from buyers for the entire mill, but two weeks ago the effort unraveled.

So the mill that Jennifer's grandfather, Lew Krauss Sr., and great uncle, Fritz, opened on the same ground 73 years ago went on the block. Lew Krauss Sr.'s sawmill roots in the valley date to the early 1920s with a mill in Selma. Jennifer's father, Lew Jr., ran the mill for decades with brothers John and Fred.

"He'd be pretty frustrated if he saw this," Phillippi said of her grandfather. "This timber policy was something they never had to deal with. My grandfather, and my dad and his brothers … were lovers of the forest like we are. It would break their hearts to see what a mess it is."

Pain showed on the face of Joe Krauss, Jennifer's brother and part of the company management, who started raking scrap wood chips at the mill as a child with siblings and cousins.

"We had people working for us whose fathers and grandfathers worked for us," Krauss said. "Two weeks ago, we were still trying to sell it whole to keep it operating, and that became an impossible venture. Today we're auctioning off what took 94 years to build."

It's been a tough year, especially for Krauss, whose home containing much of the family's history was one of three that burned down in a wildfire on Deer Creek Road in August.

Krauss, 54, says he may leave the area.

"I have to work another 10 or 12 years before I retire, and there isn't any job that can keep me here," he said. "I'm waiting to see what happens before I decide where to rebuild."

Ron Arnett, like Lonnie Adams, worked for Rough & Ready for more than three decades. He also showed up Wednesday to witness the funeral. He said he now runs a small farm.

"My dad worked here too," said Arnett, who used to mow Lew Krauss Sr.'s lawn. "Everybody's so disheartened."

A lot of the bidders inside the shop, looking at a large screen with auction items, had gray hair and beards. Two of them, Ron and Jim Ballenger, who operate a logging equipment business in Springfield, later were seen checking out a forklift and log loader outside in the yard.

They saw a chipper they sold Rough & Ready a dozen years ago, one they purchased from Eel River in Humboldt County, California, and refurbished.

"I doubt they get $5,000 for it. Someone's going to get a killer buy," Jim Ballenger said.

"It's really sad to see a whole way of life drain away from Cave Junction for less than scrap," he added. "Just about all the old mills are gone."

The Phillippis said proceeds from the auction will be reinvested in Rough & Ready's forestland division.

"We are pleased to provide jobs in the woods, and our hope is we can support the jobs in the other mills. They're all struggling for logs," Jennifer Phillippi said.

Brothers Ron, left, and Jim Ballenger of Springfield look over the heavy equipment at Rough & Ready Lumber's liquidation auction Wednesday, which signaled the end of the line for the 73-year-old mill. JEFF DUEWEL / Daily Courier