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East Brady Lumber Co. Adjusts, Adapts to Changing Industrial Transformation: Pennsylvania Pallet Manufacturer Uses Pendu Cut-Up Line, Viking and GBN N
Pennsylvania pallet manufacturer relies on a complete Pendu cut-up line, from unscrambler to stacker, for remanufacturing hardwood cants into pallet components.
By Diane M. Calabrese
Date Posted: 2/1/2005
EAST BRADY, Pennsylvania — An under-roof siding once linked East Brady Lumber Company directly to a Keystone State rail line running between the cities of Pittsburgh and Erie. When a flood washed away sections of track in 1977, it severed the line and ended service. But a remnant of track still enters the pallet shop.
East Brady Lumber is owned by Bill John, president, and his sisters, who are not involved in the business. Bill’s father, Frank, purchased the company from Graham & Cook Lumber Dealer in 1959. There has been a lumber company on the one-acre site for 135 years.
Frank continues to serve as treasurer of East Brady Lumber. “My dad’s 91, and he comes into the office every day,” said Bill. Indeed, minutes later, shortly after 7 a.m., Frank arrived and joined the discussion.
East Brady Lumber began manufacturing pallets in 1961. That’s when a key customer changed from hand-loading carts to using forklifts, Bill explained. By 1970, the pallet assembly operations were automated.
Today, 95% of the company’s production is pallets. The company also manufactures crates, skids and specialty transport packaging. In addition, it also cuts some industrial lumber products for customers; a recent job called for making 3,000 pieces of an item 8-inches long.
East Brady Lumber buys cants in four sizes—4x4, 3 ½ x6, 4x6 and 6x6. In recent years, however, the company has been buying fewer cants. “We’re converting more and more to cut stock,” said Bill. The mix is about 50-50.
Native hardwoods, such as oak, maple, cherry, beech, and birch, account for about 90% of the cants. “With the new heat-treatment rules, we buy a lot
East Brady Lumber is equipped with a Pendu Manufacturing Co. cut-up line for remanufacturing cants into pallet components. The Pendu line begins with a pit unscrambler to singulate the cants. The cants are fed in-line to a cut-off saw and then a model 4400 double-arbor gang saw. A Pendu stacker accumulates the finished lumber. The entire Pendu line can be operated by one worker at the controls, Bill noted.
The Pendu equipment was installed 12 years ago and is the second line that East Brady has purchased from Pendu. Frank said he chose his first Pendu line “because of the price.” By the time he was ready to replace it a dozen years ago, though, Pendu performance won him over. Pendu was a known supplier whose equipment had provided years of strong, durable performance.
The pallet shop at East Brady Lumber is divided into three sections. One room houses the Pendu line along with a Newman double-head notcher, which has been rebuilt, and a Smith band resaw.
The interior third of the pallet shop is used for storing stock. Another one-third of the space is used for pallet assembly, where the company has a Campbell block pallet nailing system and a Viking Champion nailing machine.
Bill decided to purchase the Viking Champion five years ago. “I thought it was the best technology out there at the time,” he recalled. “It’s been a very good machine, very low maintenance.”
The Campbell machine – Campbell is now GBN — is at one end of the room and the Viking is at the other. Both feed finished pallets via rollers to the middle of the room, and a Smetco stacker can automatically stack pallets from either machine.
East Brady has seven employees. They cross over between the cut-up line and the pallet assembly operations. “Every employee has been here over 20 years,” said Bill. The company usually operates five days a week, nine hours per day.
The shop where custom products are made is equipped with a DeWalt table saw, DeWalt pneumatic drill and other tools. The shop recently completed an order for thousands of triangular-shaped chocks to be used for airplane wheels.
The two shops at East Brady Lumber are connected by a sawdust removal system that was built by a local welder many years ago. The welder, who has since passed away, worked closely with Frank to provide the design that suited the company, which carefully uses its space.
Sawdust is sold to local farmers, and scrap wood is sold for firewood. The company also burns some scrap wood in custom-built furnaces for heat.
East Brady Lumber buys blades from Sharp Tool and Saw Sales. It uses Country Saw & Knife for sharpening services.
The Campbell nailing machine, 20 years old, was recently refurbished by GBN. “The computer was rebuilt” too, said Bill. The machine is devoted to nailing block pallets and takes only three workers to operate.
For pallets, crates and other products that are assembled by hand, workers use Paslode pneumatic nailing tools. All nails for the nailing tools and nailing machines are supplied by North American Nails.
Ensuring that equipment runs productively and for a long time has always been one component business strategy at East Brady Lumber. Equally important has been adapting to the needs of customers even as the industrial base of the region has changed.
“When we started,” said Frank, “we didn’t have machinery to make ½-inch or thinner decking. The welder (who did the duct system) and I assembled many of the machines ourselves. We rigged up cut-offs. The first cut-up saw was a Hazledine. We made a rotary table to come off the saw and conveyor chains. The first notcher we had was a single Hazledine…still have it.”
Today, the Hazledine single-head notcher is used for cutting large notches in skids. “We’ve notched a 12-foot runner,” said Bill. A Newman double-head notcher, which Bill gives high marks for speed, is used for notches up to 60 inches.
Adjusting to industrial transformation is integral to all that East Brady Lumber does. The company is situated just 100 feet from the Allegheny River, a few miles south of its confluence with the Clarion River. The Clarion River meanders west from the Allegheny Mountain range to the east. At one time, logs from those mountains were floated down the Clarion River to sawmills in East Brady, including the one Graham & Cook had until the early 1900s.
East Brady is 70 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. The town, with a population of about 1,038 residents, has been part of the lumber industry for two centuries. By 1830, the iron industry took hold in the area, making use of abundant charcoal to fuel furnaces. As a heat-source, the charcoal reportedly yielded superior metal. In 1866, the first oil started to be produced from wells in Clarion County.
In the 20th century, Pittsburgh became synonymous with steel, and surrounding communities helped to supply steelmakers with materials. Many steel plants closed their doors before this millennium began, however. Now, several plants in Pittsburgh and the surrounding area manufacture chemicals, and chemical plants and pharmaceutical makers are among the customers of East Brady Lumber.
East Brady Lumber has one International tractor that it uses for regional deliveries and to pick up pre-cut stock on back-hauls, explained Bill.
Recalling how he got into the wood products industry, Frank explained that it was a matter of economics. He had done back-to-back stints (1933-1936 and 1936-1959) as a bookkeeper for two lumber retailers. By 1959, he could see things changing.
“The cash-and-carry lumber (companies) were coming in and cutting retail limber,” said Frank, who had grown up on a farm. He decided to get into manufacturing.
After graduating from high school in the late 1950s, Bill served in the Navy at Patuxent River Naval Air Test Center in Maryland. Later he earned a business degree from Robert Morris University and joined his father at East Brady Lumber.
Both men brought a variety of experience and expertise to East Brady Lumber, as well as an affinity for wood products. “My father was a carpenter, and I always enjoyed carpentry,” said Frank. Bill collects natural wood with unusual patterns and forms; he also collects vintage wood products, such as barrels.
East Brady Lumber is a member of the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association. The company has made pallets as small as 24x24 and as long
Having a vantage of four decades in the wood products industry, Bill finds many things to like about it. “As far as being in business, you’re independent,” he said. “You’re dealing with a renewable resource.” And there is the never-ending fascination with the versatility of new equipment and the products that can be made, he explained.
Indeed, East Brady Lumber continues to experiment with products. Some small, decorative crates suitable for use as gift boxes were on display in the office.
As for Frank’s perspective on the industry, he is matter-of-fact. “I just grew up in it and enjoyed it all my life,” he said.
The challenges of the industry are also enjoyable in their own way. “Every thing we do is custom,” said Bill. “Over the years, I’ve tried to put the puzzle together” to get the best return on investment. “We’re looking for that unusual pallet — odd size, odd spec. That’s how we make money.”
There is always a new challenge. For instance, arranging for contract haulers to get Southern yellow pine lumber in summer is difficult because of competition from watermelon shippers.
Bill is planning to begin drying hardwoods, and he is exploring options for equipment. “It would be much more efficient with hardwood if we could dry it first,” he said.
Overriding the day-to-day operations is the way the timeframe of business exchanges has changed. “It has to be a very on-time business,” said Bill. “No one orders anything until they need it. Sometimes, on Monday, I don’t know what we’re going to do Wednesday.”
When Bill talked with Pallet Enterprise, he was planning work for orders two weeks out. That lead time is an indicator of the strength of business activity and the economy in general. At one time, he explained, he used to be able to plan a month ahead, which was ideal.
Away from the business, Bill enjoys gardening and travel. Frank enjoys