Timber turnaround

Minglewood owners turn adversity into opportunity

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Stunned by the news in April that their business had lost its lease, Jon Davenport and Rick Pighini refused to become mired in the "Minglewood Blues."

Minglewood Timbers, the custom saw mill business the two men started in 1998, had just been given 30 days by the landlord to vacate the premises on Shield Drive.

"We were definitely scared at first," Pighini said. "But now, we're more profitable than we were before."

Davenport and Pighini started the business with the goal of earning enough income to allow each of them to build a house. When they sat down on the couch one night to think up a name for their new enterprise, they found inspiration in the song that was playing on the stereo at the time -- it was the Grateful Dead playing "Minglewood Blues."

At first, Pighini said, he and his partner began looking for a new site where they could resume their business. Timbers, siding and flooring cut from logs are in high demand in Northwest Colorado. Affluent second-home builders prize the rustic Western look of rough-sawed beams and log details.

However, when Davenport and Pighini focused on the project they were collaborating on with Bryan Heselbach of Eco-Logic Design, it occurred to them that there's more than one way to cut a log.

Pighini said they realized that by cutting the fixed costs associated with maintaining a permanent site for their sawmill, they could increase their profit margin and still pass along substantial savings to their clients.

Heselbach is a contractor who is building a rustic-looking barn for a client in North Routt County. Minglewood was working with him on the project when the partners received the bad news from their landlord. The walls of the barn have been built from discarded railroad ties, an approach that dovetails with Eco-Logic's "E-building" philosophy. But the timbers supporting the second floor, interior siding, roofing and window frames are being cut from logs by Minglewood. The logs are being provided by sawyer Dan Shaffer in North Routt. He is felling standing, beetle-killed timber.

The roof rafters that reach a peak in the hayloft of the new barn in North Routt have an attractive "live edge," with the bark still showing where the rafters are exposed.

Instead of cutting custom logs and rough-sawed lumber at a centrally located mill, Minglewood is taking its portable sawmill to building sites in Routt County.

"We realized we can make more money by using our (saw) mill as a tool on the job site than we can at another lot in town, and we can save the client 30 percent on the lumber," Paghini said.

He explained that when Minglewood cut logs at its old site on Steamboat Springs' west side, his price sheet included his land costs, a markup on the logs he purchased, the high cost of disposing waste and higher insurance, among other things.

Now, Minglewood acts as a broker on behalf of the client, who pays directly for a truckload of logs. By having them delivered to a job site in rural Routt County, they can buy them closer to wholesale and save on city sales tax.

Heselbach said Minglewood's business is a good match for his own, which emphasizes using environmentally sound building practices. Heselbach prefers to design rural buildings to adapt to the existing topography and minimize the need to use heavy equipment to move earth.

"Green technology is sometimes just a little common sense," Heselbach said. "It's important to design a compound that fits your site."

He's also interested in projects that use standing dead timber and recycled building products such as the railroad ties used to build the barn. It's interesting to note that the historic Jarvie Ranch buildings in Browns Park used railroad ties salvaged from the Green River, Heselbach said.

Pighini said Minglewood will continue to broker logs on behalf of clients and that he's eager to do small, custom log-cutting jobs for clients. But the days when Minglewood took on large orders to cut hundreds of feet of siding planks from logs are behind the company.

The two partners have accomplished their goals of building their own homes, and they've discovered the satisfaction of working at a job site and watching a building made of their log products take shape day by day.

Pighini has just one regret. He wishes that he and his partner had made their initial investment in the real estate where Minglewood once operated, instead of paying cash for the sawmill.

"We should have bought the property in 1998 and used equity to borrow the money to buy the equipment," he said. "You'll always have payments to make on equipment, and that's OK."

Davenport and Pighini have found business opportunity in adversity.

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205 or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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