Dear Fred, From Kenneth
Article by Rich Donnell, Editor-in-Chief, Panel World March 2022
While reading a draft of this issue’s cover story on Roseburg’s new LVL plant in Chester, SC, representing Roseburg’s first ever greenfield project in the South, I glanced at the letter that I’ve always kept on the bulletin board up and behind my iMac monitor. The bulletin board is mostly tacked with editorial planning and editorial style information, but this letter always appealed to me and I put it up there instead of filing it away into neverland.
I’m the second person who felt the letter was worth keeping. The first person was the late Fred Fields, who worked for and eventually bought the panel machinery manufacturing company, Coe Manufacturing. I worked with Fields on writing and publishing his book, “My Times With Coe,” which came out in 2010. Fields, living in Portland, Ore., opened his massive files to me, and one thing I uncovered was a letter—written to Fields on December 4, 1964 by Kenneth Ford, the owner and president of Oregon-based Roseburg Lumber Co., as the company was called then. Ford signed it as Kenneth W. Ford.
When Fields first traveled to the Northwest in 1952 for Coe one of his first projects was helping with the installation of a Coe lathe and dryer that Ford and Roseburg had purchased for Roseburg’s first plywood plant to be built in Dillard, Ore. That’s when Ford and Fields met for the first time and they struck up a tight, albeit sometimes sparring, business and personal relationship that lasted until Ford’s death in 1997.
By 1964, Fields was living in Portland and working out of Coe’s new plant in Tigard, Ore. The letter reveals that Ford was thinking seriously about building a plywood plant in the Southern U.S., and that he understood that Fields had said the profitability for Roseburg from such an endeavor “looked good.” However, Ford added, his accountant had worked up some numbers for a possible plant in the South.
Ford wrote, “The report which they prepared is not what you would call lucrative. I am enclosing a copy of this report and wish you would please go over same and if you find that it is grossly in error…see if we can get the report corrected.”
Apparently it was never “corrected” enough and Ford already had lots of other projects on his plate as Roseburg continued to build plants in the Northwest, including a massive plywood plant at Riddle, Ore. that came on in the early 1970s.
Fields, who died in late 2011, the year after the book came out, obviously felt the letter from his friend was a keepsake, and upon completing our collaboration on the book generously invited me to possess it along with some of his other materials. Being a sports enthusiast, I’m all about sports memorabilia, and while it’s not sports I’ve always viewed this letter in a similar special light, involving two legends of the trade.
At the upcoming PELICE in Atlanta, there will be discussion about Roseburg’s new LVL plant in South Carolina, and the company’s growing interests far away from its Oregon home base. I’ll be wondering, what if Kenneth Ford and Roseburg had built that plywood mill, or two or three or a half dozen of them in the South?
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