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Tipple operators Jorge Esquivel and Genaro Martinez sort boards at Mt. Hood Forest Products, using hands and feet.

The units of lumber are stacking up at Mt. Hood Forest Products near Odell and more employees are needed to keep up with the company’s growing demand for two-by-four and two-by-six products.

Mt. Hood Forest Products, located on 125 acres at Neal Creek Road and Highway 35, is about to add a second shift for the first time in its 16-year history. The company replaced and upgraded outbuildings last year, has had three phases of upgrades since 2014, and needs more people to run the saws, sorting lines, and computers.

Mt. Hood Forest Products is the only lumber mill in Hood River County and, along with WKO in Carson and SDS in Bingen, one of three in the Gorge.

The mill is now fully automated, with an intricate system of sensors sending cues and instructions to saws via computers that help the mill make hundreds of board-by-board decisions every minute.

Currently the company employs 50 people in one shift, and will soon be going to 95-100 on two shifts, according to Mike Engel, company president.

The company is now advertising for a total of 45 positions, about a third of which have been filled, in operations, yard work and driving, as well as millwrights and mechanics, and other more esoteric sounding positions such as tipple operator, hula saw operator, gang ender operator, twin horizontal gang operator, and more. Positions can be filled by filling out an application in person or going to Indeed,com

“As soon as we’re fully up to employment level. That could be between eight and 16 weeks,” said Engel, the company president since 2018. Currently employees hail from White Salmon, Lyle, The Dalles, and Hood River County.

Positions start at $15.25 hourly, with insurance and 401K available.

The mill’s annual volume is 95- 100 million board feet; this will take it “upwards of 175 million,” Engel said. “It’s about an 80-85 percent increase.”

The company was formed out of the bankrupt Hanel Mill in 2001, and retooled and reopened in 2004.

“We’ve been running ever since with the same owners. We’ve had a lot of reinvestment in technology and equipment, and now it’s a really efficient, competitive mill,” Engel said. “We’ve had this mentality for years of putting it on the second shift and now we’ve pulled the trigger to do it. We made the decision that we have a solid enough crew on our day shift that we can now do this. It’s the opportunity in the supply and the lumber market, and we feel like even with low unemployment there’s a lot of desire for family wage jobs. We’re a solid company.”

Logs come from Hood River, Skamania and Klickitat counties.

“Our working circle is anywhere in a 100-mile direction,” he said.

Mt. Hood Forest Products installed a gang edger in November 2018, which slices logs into two-and two-by-sixes, along with some equipment upgrades is the planer mill including a lug loader and automated grading system in 2014 which visually x-ray scans every board and makes an automated, parameter-based decision for grade so that allowed us to run faster and more accurately.

A barker upgrade came in 2014 which made us run more logs per shift per hour, and a lot of asphalt work and log-yard improvements, and green chain improvements, and stormwater improvements.

“A lot of that comes into play with being able to efficiently run a second shift,” Engel said.

“Currently, we run Saturdays to get extra production; my goal is by doing two five-day shift we won’t be doing Saturdays — it’s better for families,” he said. He also noted that the shift schedule will have a three-hour gap between so that day workers have time for family events after they get off work and night workers an attend ball games and eat dinner with their families before going to work.

“The equipment is built to run 24-7, darn near, but we’ll do lighting upgrades so we can see better at night, and well continue to switch out for more LED and finalize our LED lighting for energy consumption,” Engel said. “We’re looking a little improvement to our second air compressor, but other than that the equipment is there and ready to run. We don’t have any kilns, we don’t have a boiler so we have no constraints on log in one end and lumber out the other. There’s time the log truck will roll in, and we’ll run it straight to the mill and it will come in the other end of the mill that same wood 20 minutes late and we can take it straight off the outfeed and drive it over and set it on the truck and it can literally come in and go out the same day as lumber, which is very efficient.”

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