Bailey Wood Products celebrates 90th anniversary
During May, Bailey Wood Products, 441 Mountain Road, Kempton, marked its 90th year in business.
In continuous operation since 1928, this family owned business has prospered in good times and weathered adversity during bad times by hard work, bending with the times, and growing to become the modern specialty lumber business it is today.
In spring 1928, Hank Bailey was plowing the field across the road from the current location of the mill along Mountain Road, Kempton.
During the previous winter, Hank and his father Howard Bailey had cut some mature oak trees from their woodland, hauling it up to the roadside with their horse drawn wagon.
The family had bought the farm three years earlier and was looking to earn extra money to pay the mortgage.
While timber was plentiful, demand for wood was very low.
As Hank was working the field, a Model T Ford chugged up the road, stopping in front of the logs.
Three men who were mine timber dealers climbed out and inquired about the logs.
They struck a deal for the timber with Hank’s father that day, and Bailey Lumber Company was born.
Coal mining north of the valley was booming and soon Bailey Lumber Company had a contract to clear the timber on several parcels of property owned by the mine timber dealers.
Just over a year later, in September 1929, the Stock Market crashed.
With it came the Great Depression and severe financial hardship for many people.
Timber was plentiful and many landowners were anxious to sell.
An acre of good timber could be had for as little as $35.
Despite low wages, the coal mines provided steady work during the Depression.
Along with room and board, farm labor paid about $1 a day but a good timber cutter could make up to $5 a day.
At that time, Howard Bailey and a neighbor bought a portable sawmill and started sawing lumber for mines, railroad ties and farm buildings.
Howard Bailey and Hank would travel to Hamburg and Kutztown to call on foundries, pattern shops and steel mills trying to sell lumber.
Even in the face of those lean years, they found a way to replace the horses with their first tractor.
In 1940, the year his youngest son, Lester, graduated from high school, Howard suffered a severe heart attack and was ordered not to work.
He never took full control of the lumber business again.
With his brothers Hank and Norman working their own farms, 17-year-old Lester was faced with a completely depleted timber inventory.
“Imagine how I felt negotiating with an elderly farmer. Yet, somehow, I gained confidence and bought his timber on my second call,” Lester recalled years later.
With the help of several faithful employees, the family kept the business going.
On Dec. 8, 1941, the day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japan, the United States entered World War II.
In 1942, Bailey Lumber moved the portable sawmill to a beautiful stand of white oak, a tract of land where the Whitehall Mall now stands.
As the United States prepared to enter the war in Europe, almost all manufacturers were producing for the war effort.
The Navy was buying all available timber for shipbuilding.
Lester received his draft notification but later was required to stay with his business and cut Navy ship timbers.
With the end of World War II, the restrictions on lumber sales were lifted.
Bailey Lumber once again began sawing timber for farm buildings, home construction, foundries, mining companies and general use.
At this time, the first permanent building to house the machinery needed to do mill work was built.
Bailey Lumber also began selling doors, windows and a full line of building materials.
To house retail stock, Bailey Lumber added an additional building.
When the forklift was invented in the 1950s, many companies began shipping products on pallets, giving a huge boost to low-grade hardwood sales.
Bailey immediately began selling lumber to local pallet companies, and eventually started making large specialty pallets for the Stevedore and Mailer Companies in Brooklyn, N.Y.
As the 1970s marked the end of pallet making business at Bailey Lumber, the company’s new focus became the production of green hardwood lumber that was sold to distribution yards.
By that time, Jeffrey Schucker began spending much of his time at the sawmill with his grandfather Lester.
During the summers of his high school and college years, he worked at the mill and learned the business from the ground up.
Lester Bailey’s daughter, Sandra Bailey-Schucker, worked as the tax accountant and payroll clerk in addition to being a full-time registered nurse.
In 1990, Jeff became a partner in the business.
Upon graduating from college with a Bachelor’s degree in business administration, he assumed more of a management role at Bailey Lumber.
The increasing cost of timber required some much needed changes to the business.
The first lumber dry kiln was added in 1992, making it possible to sell kiln dried hardwood boards to woodworkers and cabinet makers.
Business was steadily increasing and the addition of four more kilns came soon after.
Bailey Lumber Company incorporated in 1997.
The relationship between the principal partners was changing and it was decided to change the name of the company to Bailey Wood Products to better reflect the direction the company would take in the years to come.
Lester Bailey continued to work with Jeff until his retirement.
By that time, Lester and his wife Sarah had spent 64 years in the lumber business.
“Man is born to trouble, surely as the sparks fly upwards.”
Late on the night of Dec. 30, 2005, the family watched as flames consumed the sawmill building.
Only quick action from a neighbor, who called 911, saved the other structures.
In the months that followed, with lumber wholesale markets stagnating, Bailey Wood Products considered its options and the direction the business would take going forward.
As owner, Jeff decided to focus on the remaining kiln drying and retail sector of the business, which had been unaffected during the fire.
Plans were made to replace the sawmill building with a mill shop.
Today, Bailey Wood Products Inc., kiln dries native and exotic hardwood lumbers for woodworkers, cabinet makers, materials engineers, landscapers and other construction professionals.
The mill shop produces custom mill work to specification for historical and modern homes.
Many bar tops and counters installed in well-known eateries in Berks and Lehigh counties were custom milled and glued at the Bailey shop.
Custom engraving is available on the Epilogue laser added to the shop about three years ago.
Each year, Bailey Wood Products hosts a free, well-attended Fall Woodworkers Fair on the mill property in Kempton.
Woodworkers can purchase from a large selection of live edged and finished lumbers, as well as furniture, woodcrafts, tools and supplies, and other craft items from independent vendors.
This event attracts woodworkers from nearby and from neighboring states.
To learn more about Bailey Wood Products and the Fall Woodworkers Fair, visit baileywp.com.