BROWSE BY:     Title Number Subject Creator Digital Content

Interview with Buddy Connor, November 11, 2002 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

pdf icon Get PDF Version
Interview with Buddy Connor, November 11, 2002
November 11, 2002
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Connor, Buddy Interviewer:  Warren, Harry Date of Interview:  11/11/2002 Series:  Southeast North Carolina (SENC) Length  63 minutes


Warren: We’re recording, nice smile there, Mr. Buddy W. Connor. We are here in Mr. Connor’s office on the 11th of November 2002, about 2:00 in the afternoon. I’m your cameraman and your interviewer, Harry Warren.

Warren: Buddy, we’re going to just kind of start off with the basics. Tell us your name and where you were born and when you were born and we’ll just take it from there.

Connor: Harry, I was Buddy Wiley Connor, born in Cleveland County, North Carolina, a little place just outside King’s Mountain. That’s where my folks still live to this day. Went to high school in King’s Mountain and then after high school I went to NC State. That’s when I really got involved with forestry.

I was not involved before I started my education in forestry and wasn’t sure that was what I wanted to do, but decided I wanted to work outside. I’d been brought up on a farm, an orchard. I had worked since I was 12 or 13 years old for a family who lived right close to us. At that time I decided I wanted to work outside. I didn't want to be behind a desk.

So I took forestry at NC State, finished there in 1962. I was born in 1940 so when I finished forestry degree I was actually 21 years old.

Warren: So you’re still a young man.

Connor: Well not as young as I used to be.

Warren: You say you were raised on a farm, you say?

Connor: I was raised on a small, small farm just outside King’s Mountain, North Carolina.

Warren: And your father was a farmer?

Connor: No, my father worked, public work, primarily as a carpenter.

Warren: So he was kind of involved with wood.

Connor: Oh he was involved with wood from the day that I remember. I used to go and work with him when I was a little boy. He would work in the afternoon after he got off his public job primarily with Burlington Mills. He was a maintenance person for the mill there and helped take care of a lot of their houses. Back then a lot of the houses were owned by the company and the employees rented them and he helped take care of them. Then sometime during that time period, they ended up doing a lot of selling of those houses to the employees and he did a lot of small time construction, remodeling of those houses and I used to go with him and help him do that when I was a little tike.

Warren: What was your father’s name?

Connor: His name was Jim Connor, James, he went by Jim, my mother called him James. His name was Adam Eugene. So we had a lot of different names. He was originally, he actually came over from Gaston County or Gastonia, met my mother there in King’s Mountain, but he was actually born in Swain County.

I’ve got pictures of his dad and his brother or my granddad and his brothers, walking out of the woods with crosscut saws. They were loggers back in which would have had to been back in the early time century, somewhere around 1900.

Warren: So you’ve got photographs of your grandfather and father walking out of the woods with crosscuts.

Connor: My grandfather and my grandfather’s brother. They were actually walking out of the woods where they had finished up the day and somebody had taken a picture, had to be taken I’d say sometime in the 20’s.

Warren: So you do have a little forestry and logging in your blood?

Connor: I guess. If I did from that, I didn't know it at the time when I started taking forestry in school. But uhh…

Warren: Did you know your grandfather?

Connor: Oh yes, I knew my granddaddy. He died after I was actually practicing forestry after I finished college.

Warren: No kidding. Now did you ever go out in the woods with him when you were a young boy?

Connor: No, I never did. I don’t remember that I did.

Warren: Was his primary occupation that of a logger?

Connor: No, I’m not sure Harry because I don’t know that much about his history and probably should. I know that he did some logging and they owned a farm up in Swain County. That farm, part of that farm is in the great Smokey Mountain National Park now. The reason that was bought, he lost it during the Depression.

After my granddad lost the farm during the Depression, he had a farm and it was paid for and he borrowed money and bought the neighbor’s farm. The Depression hit and he lost everything. They ended up migrating down to Gaston County. He went to work in the textile mills during the Depression and that’s where my dad was raised up as a little boy.

Warren: That’s interesting, the evolution of a family’s history. What was your grandfather’s name?

Connor: His name was Wiley Connor, that would be my middle name.

Warren: Do you have brothers and sisters?

Connor: I’ve got two brothers and two sisters, there were five of us in all. Then my mother and dad also had another little girl that died as an infant.

Warren: What was your mother’s name?

Connor: My mother’s name was Alice Pearson. She was born and raised right there in King’s Mountain on one of the textile mill villages that was so prominent back in those days in the late 30’s and 40’s.

Warren: Did your brothers or sisters get involved in the lumber business or forestry or anything?

Connor: None of them are involved in any way with forestry or anything. I’m the outcast I guess. Most of them are involved in some kind of jobs that involve sales or marketing or something like that. I’ve got a sister that just retired from running a day care center for most of her working life.

Warren: Well when you were a young man, did you tell me at 12 or 13, you used to do some work on a neighbor’s farm?

Connor: Went to work for a neighbor that had orchards and vineyards and a pretty good size farm there in Cleveland County.

Warren: That got you outdoors and got you smelling the fresh air and the trees. It kind of got under your skin, didn't it?

Connor: Well it got me outside and I knew that’s where I wanted to work. In fact, I took a battery of tests as a freshman because I wasn’t sure if forestry was still what I wanted to do…

Warren: A freshman in college?

Connor: A freshman in college. They told me that I needed to go home and buy me a farm and start farming and I told them that was not a possibility because land was something you didn't come by very easily. I don’t know how you start off farming unless you want to do sharecropping and I didn't think I wanted that. So I started my… finished my forestry degree in four years and went from there. The first job out of school was actually with the North Carolina Forest Service.

I went to work right out of school as a county forestry in Gaston County. That’s where my granddad was living at that point in time.

Warren: He was still alive?

Connor: He was still alive then. He used to tell me about all the diseases the trees had. Some of them were not on the books that I had studied in school, but I listened and went on from there. A lot of the work in Gaston County, Gaston County was a bad county for woods fires. So I had worked during school in college. Back then we had to have one summer of work, approved work and I worked with the US Forest Service out in the northwest back in ’59.

Then I came to Gaston County and ended up really getting my fill of fighting fires and all that people left…burning trash and that type of thing.

Warren: You said Gaston was pretty bad for fires. Was there a particular reason for that?

Connor: Well there were some areas and all in Gaston County, a couple of areas, that’s sort of a dividing line between the Piedmont and the mountains, we had a couple of small mountain ranges there. There was a lot of rural area. People I think back then were just not as aware of what happens if you leave a trash barrel burning without keeping an eye on it. Then as a result of that, we just seemed to have an abnormal number of fires. People just being careless.

Warren: Now you know today we have a lot of bad fires out west and a lot of people contribute that to fuel buildup within the forest. Was that the case in Gaston do you think?

Connor: Not really. It was just carelessness. We had people that would start a fire burning off a little lot. A lot of people back then, you burn your garden spot up in the spring to get it ready for tilling it up for your garden or for farming and all, they did a lot of burning. Sometimes it would get away from them and that type of thing. The fuel buildup out west is not the kind of thing we have in this area. We have too much of a diversified forest as compared to what they have in the northwest.

Warren: Let’s go back to your collegiate days a little bit. NC State to this day has a reputation of having one of the best forestry schools in the state. Is that where you originally started school?

Connor: Yes.

Warren: Did you go there to get into forestry?

Connor: No, the family that I had worked for, there were two brothers and a sister that ran the farm. Their father had started the farm and the orchards and all. One of them had gone to NC State and so I ended up working with him. Back during the heydays, he would end up taking me to basketball games just as really a young teenager. We used to go down to the Dixie Classic basketball tournament. I never did think anything about going anywhere else. It was NC State or not go and I ended up getting accepted there and attending there.

Warren: Were there a lot of forestry students going to State?

Connor: Harry at that time the forestry was a profession and the forestry school was probably larger than it is today per se because forest management, I think the class when I finished in ’62 in my class, there were probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 to 125 graduates in forest management. Then there was some of the others, there was wood technology group and also pulp and paper technology which was in the school of forestry.

Warren: Was it mostly men that were going at that time? Were women starting to get into the profession?

Connor: There weren’t any women during the time that I was there. I finished in ’62. I remember mostly white males. Occasionally we would end up with a graduate student from maybe another country that would be of color, but most of the graduates at NC State when I finished in 1962 were white males.

Warren: What were some of the courses that you took?

Connor: The same thing some of them take today except maybe we had slide rules instead of computers.

Warren: I was going to say, now you’ve got global positioning stuff. Back in the old days it was pretty much hands on mathematics and geometry, wasn’t it?

Connor: A whole lot of that and then the administration, measurement of trees, silvaculture, how to grow trees, dendrology, how to identify trees so it was a little bit of everything, but it was hands on. We took surveying which taught us to measure land and actually some of the courses in the summer camp, at the time I finished and all, I think you had to have about 150 some, 160 some total hours because we had our normal curriculum and then we were required one summer we had to take a summer school, that we called it.

It was actually 10 hours of credit that we got. That was a 10 week program and all where we actually got to put a lot of the book learning into practicality with some practice.

Warren: Did you have a couple of teachers that particularly stuff that stick in your mind today?

Connor: Well Dr. Miller was one of the original people that came down from Penn State or the University of Pennsylvania and started the forestry school. Also Dr. Slocum who happens to be, I think he was an uncle of our North Carolina Forestry Association’s Bob Slocum. Ralph Bryant, those are three that I remember well. Just about the time I finished was the time that Dr. Cooper, who has just retired and become the professor emeritus of the school, that was about the time that he came there.

Warren: So you graduated in 1962 and you started working for the state.

Connor: Worked for the state for a couple of years as a county forester.

Warren: Over in Gaston County?

Connor: In Gaston County. All my time with the state was spent there in Gaston County.

Warren: And what did you do as a state forester back in ’62 to ’64?

Connor: We were to the farmer what the county agent was except our expertise and knowledge was based on how to grow trees and how to cut trees and how to market trees. So we were the education if you would say, group that worked with the farmer. We did a lot of tree planting. We did some TSI or timber standing improvement work to...

Now when we’re working, we’d never think about doing it, but back then we used to actually go in and with chemicals or mechanically kill hardwood just to get them out of those pine trees and all. Of course everything was geared to back then to how are we going to get more pine trees on the ground.

Warren: Was the concept of the managed forest, that’s pretty much a staple today with people. But was that still sort of a growing thing at that time?

Connor: I’d say that most of the time was back then, it was just the start of that. That’s what we were taught in school is what was proper as far as how to plant and how to regenerate stands. But all the emphasis, we just had too many hardwoods and all the emphasis was put on how we could get more pines in the ground and how we could end up growing more pine timber.

It’s really an eye opener when you think about the fact that now what we’re doing is in some places we’ve actually got more people that are thinking maybe we have got too many pines out there because of the work that was done back then from the time I’m talking about in the early 60’s through the 90’s.

Warren: So a lot of the pine forests that we have today were actually planted back in those days.

Connor: Some of the pines that in the early 60’s that were planted have already, that we were involved with as far as planting either as a recommendation or on a later job where I was actually doing it for a company, have already been harvested and another crop started.

Warren: Interesting. Now you were with the state forestry service for a couple of years.

Connor: I was with the forest service about two and a half years. During that time I went in and served a six month period in the active Reserves. I was in the Army Reserves during the early 60’s. I finally got out of the Reserves in about 1969 I think it was.

Warren: Did you go overseas at all or Vietnam?

Connor: No, I was one of the fortunate ones that I never had to go overseas. I served six months active duty and the rest of my time was as a weekend warrior.

Warren: Where was your active duty at?

Connor: Active duty was spent down at Fort Jackson outside of Columbia, South Carolina.

Warren: I spent two beautiful months in that big bed and breakfast they have down there myself (laughter).

Connor: I ate a lot of the sand that you probably left behind or I left for you, I don’t know which it was, but I did wash a lot of it off in the period of time in active duty down there.

Warren: But anyway so you did your active duty stint and you came back and you got into the private industry.

Connor: Left the state in ’65, in the early part of ’65 and took a job with a new company down in Georgia. Well I actually moved down to Augusta, Georgia. There was a new company there that was in the process of building a newsprint mill there in Augusta called Cox Woodlands. I was their second field forester that they hired and lived a while in Augusta and then moved out to a little place called Warrington, Georgia which is just a little west of Thompson, Georgia.

Actually during the next five years, I was involved with buying land and the open fields were replanted with pines. A lot of the cut over land was KG’d which is a land clearing device. We actually planted it in pines also. A lot of those fields, like I said that crop that was planted in the early part of my career down there which would have been in the late 60’s has already been started again. So the pines were harvested and grown actually on a short pulpwood rotation.

Warren: You said they were KG’d.

Connor: KG was a particular type of cutting blade that was put on the front of a bulldozer. Actually when you took that KG, you just, you cut it off right flush with the top of the ground and all. That was used on cutover land that the timber value was not sufficient to do any harvesting on. It was actually put in wind rows and burned before it was planted.

Warren: They cut the tree, I mean it wouldn’t be a stump. It would just be level.

Connor: The stump would be there, but it would be below the ground.

Warren: Did they just leave the stump?

Connor: Just leave the stump below ground.

Warren: They’d rot I guess.

Connor: Most of them would rot out. By the time it was time to harvest the trees and come back, they’d be gone by then pretty much.

Warren: You were in Georgia until about the early 70’s?

Connor: In Georgia until ’69 and the company when I went down there was known as Cox Woodlands, Cox Newsprint. That was started by a Cox family out of Ohio I think that was part of the Cox Newspaper group. Basically they had been convinced that they needed to built a pulp mill and make their own newsprint because they were so big and I guess they felt like the other companies were charging them too much for their newsprint.

So they got into the paper manufacturing. Some time around ’68 I think they determined that maybe they knew more about printing the news than they did about making the newsprint and they sold to a Canadian company called Abitibi. And Abitibi came in and bought it out. In the early part of 1969, I had an opportunity to come back to North Carolina and do some survey work and make some recommendations for a new mill that Abitibi was building up in Wilkes County.

At that time it was to do just a study for them as far as how and what they could do as far as buying wood up there. I had never been in wood procurement, but the president of Cox always thought that we would end up getting into that business. I had been sent to every wood procurement school, the short course that was available back then and some of the early courses and all that were put on by the American Pulpwood Association at Clemson which still area help to this day, I actually attended during that time.

I came up and because of the fact that I spoke Southernese, I did a survey and wrote a report and made recommendations as far as what they would need to do to furnish wood for that mill. That mill was being built by and patterned after a mill that was really part of the diversification of Abitibi in that it was part of their building products group. That was a hardboard siding mill. That was the first one that they had was actually built in Wilkes County near a little community called Roaring River.

Warren: Could you spell Abitibi for me?

Connor: I think I still can, it’s A-b-i-t-i-b-i. And at a later date Abitibi was primarily a pulp company in Canada. There was another company in Canada that was primarily a lumber group, up there called Price Companies. They joined forces to become Abitibi Price. That name and mill operated under the name of Abitibi Price until sometime in the early 90’s. They made exterior hardboard siding. Exterior hardboard siding is…actually Abitibi Price became I think early on, became the second largest producer of hardboard siding second only to Masonite.

Of course since that time, Masonite has been bought out by International Paper and they have gotten out of the hardboard siding business so now the Roaring River facility which has gone through a couple of name changes, which is now owned by Louisiana Pacific is the largest hardboard siding plant I think left in the country.

Warren: So you were working for Abitibi, you go up to Wilkes County to see the lay of the land up there for them basically. You’re still working for Abitibi at this point.

Connor: Still working at Abitibi and at that time I wrote a report making recommendations how I think they could buy wood for that plant. At that time after the report was presented, I was given the opportunity to come back up there and institute it and basically prove what I said could be done could be done.

So in about the summer of 1969, I moved to Wilkes County with my family then, my wife and I who were high school sweethearts. We ended up moving up there with two children. One was less than a year old and one was about three years old.

Warren: Your wife was from Cleveland County also?

Connor: She was from King’s Mountain also.

Warren: So here comes the whole family back to Wilkes County.

Connor: Came to Wilkes County. I remember going up there. We wondered if we’d ever get there and all because the road situation up there was pretty narrow and crooked at that time and all.

Warren: Even as recently as the late 60’s?

Connor: Oh yes, every major road in and out of Wilkes County has been rebuilt since the late 60’s, 421 a couple of times and 18 out of Lenora a couple of times also, 16 out of Taylor and 115 out of Statesville, all of those roads have had major work. Of course now Wilkes County is on the list that hopefully before this year is out, we’ll have a four lane road from Boone to Raleigh.

Warren: I’ve been down that road many times recently when they were trying to make it four lanes (laughter). Just for the record, what’s your wife’s name and your children’s names?

Connor: My first wife, the one that came with me from Georgia and all, was my high school sweetheart. Her name was Mickey. She passed away with cancer in 1977. So I had the option of raising two children and stay single for a while and I remarried my present wife Jane and we ended up with another daughter as a result of that union that Jane already had when we got married in 1981. So my present wife is Jane. We still live right there in Wilkes County, just outside on the south side of Wilkesboro.

Warren: You’ve been there since what, 1969 or ’70?

Connor: 1969.

Warren: So you’re sent back to Wilkes County to live and start this plant.

Connor: To start the plant, not necessarily to start the plant, but to provide the backup and the wood procurement for that plant. Initially I was sent just to do wood procurement. As it ended up about six months after the plant started, I got another challenge in that the woods department was put over by the wood yard. So we ended up doing the wood yard at the plant and also the wood procurement.

Warren: You’re still working for the same company?

Connor: Still Abitibi and then somewhere I’d say in the ’72-’73 time frame, that’s when Abitibi and the Price Company went together to become Abitibi-Price. It stayed Abitibi-Price until they were sold out to an investment group sometime in I’d say the ’92-’93 time frame. It was bought out by a group called ABT Corporation. Then Louisiana Pacific bought it in the late 1900’s or maybe as late as 2000. It’s owned by Louisiana Pacific now.

Warren: Let’s go back to your wood procurement days when you first went there. Can you tell me what would a typical day be like for you out there trying to get wood for this new plant that’s starting up?

Connor: Well I came there in the summer of ’69. During that period of time I was to basically start by finding who could furnish wood for the plant. So I would leave the plant or leave home and be rambling the hills and the byways of the area up there to try to find out where we could buy wood for the plant.

Warren: Would you just like be driving down the road and you’d see a bunch of woods and try to find out who owned that?

Connor: Not necessarily a bunch of woods because I was trying to find people that were producing wood. I’d see somebody cutting wood and I’d stop and talk to them. During that time, the majority of the sawmilling and the majority of the wood production in that area was for lumber production. There was, Wilkes County had…there were numbers as high as a hundred portable sawmills in the county. When I moved there in ’69, there was one stationary sawmill that was the old P.E. Brown Lumber Company.

There was one stationary sawmill that was located and stationary at that time. The chips that they produced from that mill were loaded on the back of a two ton truck that had a live bottom in it and that truck was taken down to the railroad which was a mile and a half or two miles away and backed out onto a ramp over top of an open top hopper car and then unloaded.

Then it was shipped up to the Champion Paper Company or the mill in Canton, North Carolina. There was rail there in Wilkes County at that time, but at that time that was the only stationary sawmill that was in that area.

Warren: You said a live bottom? Is that what you… did you say that…

Connor: I said a live bottom was the, the truck was almost, I guess the trucks that they were actually using probably had come from the chicken industry up there because at that time they used live bottom trucks to haul shavings and put them in the chicken houses. So somebody had probably gotten the idea, I don’t know which came first, the chip truck with the live bottom or the shaving truck with the live bottom. That truck was used to haul it.

Once we got in the area and started buying wood, we actually started generating people to produce chips and all from various materials. One of the first people that I worked with at that location and all was a pallet manufacturer located in a little place called Courtney, North Carolina which is just south of Yadkinville, McKnight Pallet Company. They had a lot of waste from their pallet manufacturing. We went down.

And at that time the guy had sent a letter to Abitibi when he found out, when the news was in the paper that the company was coming up there, that he had a lot of wood waste or residual that he wanted to get rid of. So we worked with him on getting the kind of equipment that would make a chip that we could use to make the hardboard siding. We actually got him ready to go and he actually hauled the first chips into the plant there at Roaring River.

Warren: I hope you’ll forgive my ignorance, but I just don’t know what a live bottom means.

Connor: The truck would have a conveyor or a series of chain conveyors in the bottom of it. Instead of dumping, it would just back out and you could activate it with the power takeoff and the truck could set still and the material move off the back.

Warren: It was alive.

Connor: I was a live bottom.

Warren: Now I understand, I appreciate your patience with me.

Connor: They were used quite readily and still really used a lot now in moving shavings and bark from a lot of the sawmills today.

Warren: So you were in the wood procurement business up in Wilkes County for about most of the 70’s?

Connor: I stayed there through the 70’s and 80’s, left there in ’91 to join Godfrey Lumber Company and worked on expansion of a chip mill that had been started by them in the late 80’s. We joined them in ’91 to put it on the map.

Warren: Now when you left was Abitibi-Price…

Connor: It was Abitibi-Price, it was sold after that.

Warren: Did we finish a typical day for you in the wood procurement business? You said you’d leave the plant or leave the house and drive around looking for somebody to talk to that might be doing a little bit of logging. What would happen once you found that person?

Connor: Well we’d talk with them about the possibilities of producing wood to us when we got ready to go. At that point in time the predominant type of cutting that was done was basically they cut what they could market which was the materials for the logs. Like I said a lot of that was still with portable mills.

In the early 70’s or about 1970, because of markets developing with chips and also because of the changes in the sawmill industry and being able to work more days every year and that type of thing, there was a very fast change to stationary operations. During that period of time that was probably during 1970 and 1975, there was probably I’m going to say 12 or 15 stationary sawmills that people that had been sawing in the woods with portable mills that actually located.

At that point in time in the late 70’s and early 80’s, the plant put in a waste fire or wood fired boiler and then that enabled us to buy all of their residues. We could buy their low grade hardwood and pine pulpwood. We’d use that in the board itself. We could buy their sawdust and their bark and we used that for fuel. That was a big change in our area that really started that was probably behind eastern North Carolina because of the markets for low grade material. When I say low grade, I’m talking about small and maybe material that was unsuited for manufacturing lumber.

Warren: How many people worked for the plant when you left it in 1991?

Connor: By 1990, the plant probably employed somewhere around 300-350 people.

Warren: Wow, so you were there from when there was nothing to when you left there were about 350 people.

Connor: Right. And of course the initial plant was a single press line. Then somewhere around the late 70’s there was another line put in so it was a two line, sort of like or two line paper machine mill and all. The plant would actually use somewhere in the neighborhood of uh… the plant when I left up there was using around 150-200,000 tons of wood a year.

Warren: Gracious, that’s a lot of wood.

Connor: No, excuse me Harry, that’s not right. It would be 150-200,000 cords a year rather than tons.

Warren: Still a lot of wood. Is that plant still in operation?

Connor: Plant’s still in operation as we speak.

Warren: So you came over, but then in 1991, Mr. Godfrey recruited you. How did you end up here at Godfrey Lumber?

Connor: Well I knew Godfrey Lumber Company from some work that we had done and actually had bought wood from Mr. Godfrey. In the late 80’s his son took the operation over and Mr. Wilson Godfrey who just passed away recently went into retirement and he still came to the plant to keep us on the straight and narrow and all up until just a few days before he passed away.

Warren: But his son had actually taken over the day to day running of the business.

Connor: Well the sons have. There’s actually four sons involved with the company and all of them are involved with the operation of the company. Chester Godfrey, the oldest son, is the president of the company and the majority stockholder.

Warren: What are the other sons’ names?

Connor: John is the second son and he is the chip mill operator. He’s responsible for running the chip mill. The next son is William and he works with us here at the chip mill filling in the gaps because of where all do hands on work. If somebody needs to run a machine when somebody else is out, then we do that. Barry, who is the youngest son, he actually runs the lumber side of the operation that’s located on the other side of the railroad from the chip mill.

Warren: What were you hired to do specifically?

Connor: The job was to basically buy the wood, expand the chip mill.

Warren: More wood procurement.

Connor: More wood procurement. The year before I came down here which our corporate year ends the end of October, in the year ending in October of ’91, the chip mill here had averaged about 17 cars of chips a week. Within 12 months, we had upped that to 34 cars a week average.

Warren: How many chips are in a car?

Connor: Roughly about 90 tons to the car.

Warren: Ninety tons in a car, incredible. You still do wood procurement now?

Connor: Still do that and whatever else they ask me to do (laughter). We all pitch in. It’s a small family owned business. Then back in 1995 after I came down here, we started to try to find a site and work on developing another chip mill. At that point in time that became a big part of my job was to try to find a site which we located the site near Pine Hall.

If any of you have been involved in North Carolina forestry know that it’s created a lot of press for Godfrey Lumber Company in that we had the mill site acquired. We had the mill site graded and actually we had started installation of the railroad when the Department of National Environment and Resources actually pulled a permit that we had. We have been in, basically in court since 1997 with the state over the legality of that.

They have admitted that it was illegal. The fact that we were able to get it back some two years later and during that time we ended up losing our contract, that was all the state was willing to say, that they were willing to and it’s been a fight.

Warren: So the chip mill is not in operation?

Connor: The site, we still have the site, but the chip mill is not in operation. And with markets changing as they have in the last 18 months or two years and all, it will be sometime before I think there’d be a chance of another mill being put there.

Warren: But you actually don’t even have a contract.

Connor: We lost the contract during the two years because the company that we had the contracts with had to go other places to be assured of having a wood supply that we couldn’t furnish.

Warren: So part of your job now is probably something you never thought you’d get into when you graduated from NC State.

Connor: There’s been a whole lot more. I’ve learned a whole lot about the court system that I wished I’d never knew.

Warren: The plant itself here, could you tell me a little bit about that. Was it started by Mr. Godfrey in the 1950’s?

Connor: Well, there was a mill started here on this site by Mr. Godfrey and Richard Shaver back in the 70’s so this site has had a history of a chip mill since then. In the mid to late 80’s, Mr. Shaver moved east of us out on 70 and he ended up building a new lumber operation out there. In the late to mid-80’s, Mr. Godfrey ended up…he had the foresight to see that there were going to be markets for chips so he ended up building a chip mill, a lot of used equipment and some of it new equipment to provide chips to Champion Paper Company who he sold chips from his sawmill here at Statesville.

By the time that mill was finished so he could have produced chips which would have been in ’88, late ’88 or early ’89, Champion decided that they didn't need his chips. They had made some other arrangements for chips so we had a band and a place to dance but nobody to dance with. We ended up at that time making contacts with Wesvaco at Charleston.

Because of the changes in markets and also the expansion of the pulp paper business in South Carolina and also eastern North Carolina, Wesvaco started buying chips from Godfrey Lumber Company. They had operated with Wesvaco. During the 1990 year, it was a bad year weather wise. And during that time Godfrey Lumber Company had the distinct privilege of being able to make chips for them. They actually hauled wood out of Virginia down here from yards that Wesvaco had in Virginia that were actually part of the Covington, Virginia mill.

They hauled round wood down here and we made chips for Charleston mill. Because of that, we kept the Charleston mill running during a period of time that they would have had to go down. As a result of that, a good close business relationship was developed that we still use to this day. We’re the largest single private chip mill that furnishes chips to the Charleston, South Carolina operation.

Of course the Wesvaco Corporation and Meade Corporation joined hands to become Meade-Wesvaco in 2001. We continue to provide chips, 90+% of our chips still continue to go to them. We produce somewhere between 250 and 300,000 tons a year to that mill.

Warren: Well Mr. Godfrey started a lumber mill though, did he not here in the 50’s?

Connor: Mr. Godfrey started, Harry, I can give you a little bit of information, but I don’t know a whole lot of the details, I wasn’t here then. I met him for the first time in 1969. He was running a yellow pine sawmill operation here at that time. Of course I know from the time I spent, since I’ve been working here and then when I knew him from buying chips from him actually at roaring river that he started here after he came back out of service. They actually started in the woods.

His wife used to drive the truck for him and actually deliver lumber for him. She still works in the office today and helps us every day as I speak now. She’s the one that tries to keep us straight now as compared to Mr. Wilson who passed away about three weeks ago.

The mill was started and they located a mill here in 1955 as a stationary operation. As much as anything, he had two sawmills, two ground mills, two portable mills he brought in here and located here. They sawed here until the late 80’s. There were all kinds of changes that took place. He was an innovator in that he was one of the first mills that put in a chipper, a debarking and chipping so he could sell chips to Champion at Canton. That would have been in the late 50’s and early 60’s.

During that same time, he actually was responsible working with Johnson Sherman Company out of Goldsboro, North Carolina putting a lot of debarkers in the woods with these portable mills. Now the guys in the woods could sell their lumber, but they could also sell their slabs and their edging strips by putting them in a bundle and hauling them to him here in Statesville and he would mix them in with the chips he made by chipping them. They were actually loaded on rail from here in Statesville and all.

Part of that rail line that was used back in the 60’s and the 70’s and the 80’s, actually we used for storage of our chip cars today. So part of that line, it’s been reworked, but part of that rail line that they actually loaded chips on back in the late 50’s and early 60’s is still in use today shipping chips out to Charleston, South Carolina.

Warren: How many people are employed at the plant today, at Godfrey Lumber today?

Connor: On the lumber side, I might give a little additional information on that, on the lumber side and the chip mill side, we’ve got probably about 40 people here now. Now we have another operation up at Whittier, North Carolina which is up near Cherokee that has another 35 or 40 people up there.

But the lumber side of the operation, when Mr. Godfrey retired in ’88 and it was taken over by the Godfrey sons, was changed in that it was basically a yellow pine operation and during the years we’ve added dry kilns and we also bought a lot of lumber still from some of the portable mills, but also from some of the stationary mills. A lot of pine was brought through here and kiln dried and planed and sold to various markets, primarily the building for the home construction market.

During the later years, the last years and all, with the advent of the yellow pine by the big boys, International Paper and Louisiana Pacific and the Weyerhauser, and other operations and all, the decision was made to switch to white pine and try to get into some niche markets. So we got out of the yellow pine. Chester Godfrey who is the president of the company decided to get into the eastern white pine.

This was given rise due to the changes that were happening out in the northwest because of the spotted owl out there. The companies out there were being put out of business and the companies in the east were still needing pine boards, wide pine boards. So eastern white pine became a surrogate for the Ponderosa pine. So Chester got into that and we actually shipped white pine. We make interior paneling at the operation here now.

We do no sawing here now. We’re basically a re-man operation in that we have facilities to buy eastern white pine out of the southern Appalachian mountains which are north and northwest and west of us and we bring it in here. We kiln dry it and then we make the various products.

Warren: The boards come into the plant already boards.

Connor: They’re already sawed to our specifications, but we make a lot of paneling, a lot of siding. Again that’s all out of eastern white pine. The low grade material eastern white pine is shipped, after it’s graded and sorted, that’s shipped up to the plant at Whittier and then we chop all the knots out of it and we do finger jointing and edge gluing and make panels for again primarily for the construction market, but we’re also into manufacturing of components and pieces for the window manufacturing business.

Warren: Bud, this interview is going way too fast. We’re about to run out of tape here. Let me hit you with a couple of real general questions. You’re so fluid with your talk, I’m just going to have to come back and talk to you again sometime plus I like visiting with you. But, I’m making it tough on the transcriber with all this gobbly goop I’m saying. You’ve been around the forestry business a long time and probably met some pretty interesting people, pretty interesting characters. Some people will even count you among some of those interesting characters. Anybody stands out in your mind, some interesting folks that you’ve met in your career?

Connor: Harry, I guess Mr. Wilson Godfrey was one of the most interesting people that I ever met because of this, he was brought up very poor, on a farm here, went in the service and served in the European theater. I’m not sure exactly where he served overseas, but he was overseas. He was a very interesting person and very forward thinking like from the standpoint I mentioned of getting into debarking. A lot of chips were made from debarked slabs that prior to his thinking would have ended up going into a hollow somewhere and rotting.

One of the other more interesting people that I ever met was a fellow by the name of Bud Phillips. Bud is a lumber man up in spruce pines. His sons are in the lumber business now near Burnsville. Bud was one of these people that did things the old-timey way in a lot of cases and if you ever met him, you would never forget him. One of the things I remember spending some time with him in the woods was that I don’t know where he got them, but he got little sticks.

In his reforestization program, his sticks were about the size of a Popsicle stick. Each one of those had a small white pine seed in some kind of material in a circle on that stick. Anytime we were looking at timber together and walking through the woods, he carried a little round sack on his side. If he came into an opening where there weren’t any trees, he would stick a couple of those Popsicle sticks and planted a couple of pine seeds. So he was a very, very unique…

Those would be two of the more unique, but there’s a lot of people, other people that I’ve met along the way, E. O. Pyle who was head of procurement for the Champion mill for a lot of years who passed away quite a few years ago. I counted him as a friend and knew him. He was one of the people, old time procurement people. If he told you could do something or he would do something, you could depend upon it.

Another one would be a fellow by the name of Ed Maddox who used to be the Wesvaco procurement manager at the Covington mill. People said the same thing about him. Ed was one of those people who was just very unique. If Ed said something and it took money, if he needed to provide it and he said he would, he did. You could take it to the bank type person.

Warren: It seems like the forestry community was pretty close knit folks. A lot of people knew each other. Down in the southeast, some of the fellows down there told me in the 50’s, they used to have a little social club named the Bush and Bog Club. Did you have any similar type organization, I don’t want to say organization, that’s too formal. It was just a bunch of guys that got together and enjoyed each other’s company. Was there anything like that up here?

Connor: I guess there was probably some of that to some degree. We used to have what we call the Piedmont Forestry Club and it was basically, it goes back, had its roots with the American Society of American Foresters. If somebody was not a forester, but was in the industry and all, if he would give us the money to send him the notice of the meetings, we’d invite him to come to our meetings and all which we met, at that point in time we used to meet three or four times a year. I think we meet five times a year now. That was a group that I guess was similar to that.

There’s other groups, the North Carolina Forestry Association. We’ve got a lot of members in that.

Warren: You’ve been a member of that for a long time, haven’t you?

Connor: Yes sir, I have.

Warren: I mean an active role.

Connor: I was involved in several roles within the forestry association dating back to the time when I came up here in ’69 and ’70. I’ve been active in the forestry association since then.

Warren: Didn't you get an award for educator of the year last year or the year before? Did they not honor you with that?

Connor: No, they gave me an award for basically being the communicator of the year last year, the year before. I guess that’s because I run my mouth more than other people. But I am really sold on some of the programs that the forestry association has with the education and the communications because I think if there’s anything that we as a profession have come you up short in, it’s educating the general public about what we need them to know if they are to let us practice scientific based forestry.

Warren: Is that the biggest challenge to forestry today? What is the biggest challenge?

Connor: I guess that would be one of the bigger ones. I don’t know if that’s the biggest one. I’m sure that some people would probably disagree with me, but I think over-regulation right now is a tough nut. We’ve got some places where over regulation is causing people to be able to market their materials and do what they need to do on their land.

We have a lot of interference. Part of our chip mill problem was that the state of North Carolina were listening to people that have no idea and they won’t let the truth stand in the way of telling what they want to be heard by the general public. Some of the myths and the outright untruths that they tell have caused some problems within our state.

Warren: Do you still love working in this profession as much as you thought you were going to love working in it when you were a teenager?

Connor: I don’t know if I even thought about it then Harry, but I enjoy working with people. Since I left Abitibi, I left them due to some changes in management and also the fact that I was sitting behind a desk a whole lot more than I wanted to. When I came down here with Godfrey, I was able to get back and start working with the people on the ground and the people on the outside, the loggers, the wood suppliers, the sawmill and able to do some things and help them do some things that I had people working for me doing before I left Abitibi.

This year was my 40th anniversary working in forestry. I plan on working a while longer. I don’t know how much. The stock market keeps what it’s doing, I may work longer than I planned. I look forward to every day and I think every day is a challenge within the industry and all right now. The education that we need to do and I think the museum that you guys have got going in Whiteville is the type of thing that we need more of. But we need to know how we can get the general public and the people to come and see what the history is.

We’re dealing and working with the only renewable resource we have. We’ve got a story to tell, but I’ve heard it said in some cases it’s the best story that’s yet to be told. If we don’t tell it, we’re going to have people telling us what we can do and that’s one of the things I think is exciting about our times now.

UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database
Found in:
Randall Library | UNCW Archives and Special Collections | Online Database | Contact Us | Admin Login
Powered by Archon Version 3.21 rev-1
Copyright ©2012 The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign