JOSEPH — One of the more unique wood-products outlets in Wallowa County, Jay Zee Lumber, has been going strong for 20 years under the operation of owner Jim Zacharias with little change.
Not a lumber yard per se — Jay Zee has no dry kiln to produce finished lumber and only does a little planing — the mill does custom-cut lumber for projects large and small.
“If someone comes along, they might want one board 3 feet long or they might want 3,000 boards of all various dimensions,” Zacharias said Wednesday, Jan. 27. “We sold a truckload yesterday of about 8,000 board feet, it was all 1-by-12 Douglas fir.”
He’ll also do large beams for construction projects, though contractors can’t use most of his lumber for homes since it’s not stamped and graded, he said. Some of the beams are as large as 12-by-16 inches and 25 feet long.
“They can use the big beams and siding,” he said.
Zacharias gets virtually all of his logs from Wallowa County forests. He said about 80% of his wood is Douglas fir, Ponderosa pine and Western larch. Virtually no hardwoods are milled at Jay Zee, located at 600 E. Russell Lane on the north side of Joseph. The exception would be if a customer brings in a hardwood tree they’ve felled at home and want milled. Otherwise, hardwoods just don’t grow in the county.
Some timber he buys from the family-owned logging operations.
“That’s something people get confused about,” he said. “There’s three generations of Zachariases logging here.”
Jim’s father, Bob Zacharias, owns and operates Zacharias Logging.
“He’s 85 and still going to work every day,” Jim said.
In fact, Jim worked for his dad logging for two years right out of high school and then went out on his own.
“Now I’ve been logging for 46 years — 44 of those self-employed,” he said.
Jim’s sons, Tom and Seth, operate another logging company called Pro Thinning.
“A lot of the time we work together, or I might buy logs from them, but they are all three separate entities,” Jim said.
The custom-cut work at Jay Zee goes toward much fencing for ranchers in Northeast Oregon. Jim said that last year, the mill did about 25,000 fence stays — 2-by-3-inch boards 4 feet long — and many rock jacks — three-legged, triangle-shaped posts braced by a steel post and rocks used at fence corners. Jay Zee also does many corral boards.
Of late, Zacharias has been advertising to a wider market online and ships to northeast Oregon counties outside of Wallowa County, and as far away as Portland, Seattle and Boise. A lot of his advertising is simply word of mouth.
The mill’s customers aren’t limited to ranchers. Often, it’s smaller projects, such as those homeowners have been taking on while forced to stay home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jim said that, in general, the pandemic hasn’t hurt his business.
“The pandemic might’ve improved our business a little,” he said. “A lot of people are staying home and doing home projects, little projects like garden boxes. I had a person come up and say they wanted to make four garden boxes and they’d buy $50 worth of boards. It’s not a big thing, but when you get 10 of those folks …”
With just two employees, it’s not been hard to socially distance, Jim said.
“I do want to emphasize that Jay Zee Lumber’s not just about Jay Zee” he said. “It’s also about these two guys, Stanley Cannon and Bill DeVore, because I couldn’t do Jay Zee without those two guys.”
DeVore usually operates the saw from inside the small mill building, while Cannon unloads from the saw and stacks cut lumber.
“It’s just the three of us. We work here at the mill and occasionally we’ll go out and do some logging jobs,” Jim said. “My primary job — what I’m best at — is bulls***g (with) people. I also feed the logs into the mill, select the logs, load customer loads.”
Social distancing is also easy since most of their work is outside.
“We can stay away from each other,” Jim said. “In fact, we’re outside most of the time so that’s not a problem. When folks come around, we keep our distance and make sure we’re not hugging on them.”
One of their more recent products is what Jim calls “hillbilly siding” — double live-edge reverse board Western larch that can be used indoors or out.
There’s also money to be made from waste.
“Firewood is probably the newest thing we’ve gotten into because we’ve created so much waste, we finally got a machine that’ll process the slabs into firewood,” Jim said. “That’s probably one of the newer products.”
Bill Bradshaw is a reporter for the Wallowa County Chieftain. Have a business tip? Contact him at 541-398-5503 or firstname.lastname@example.org.