Jenkins sawmill grew out of logging operation

By: James Ronald Skains
Journal Correspondent

"Back in the days when I was working with my Dad in the logging woods, it was all cross cut saws and mules," Huey Jenkins, Sr. of Folsom told the Piney Woods Journal. "However, we were able to cut and haul more logs than we could sell, so in 1948 my Dad decided to set up a little peckerwood sawmill here on Highway 25 north of Folsom to cut our excess logs into lumber."

"During the time he was getting the mill going, I was going to college at Southeastern over in Hammond." Jenkins recalled, "but in late 1948, he hurt his leg in an accident near the carriage when a log hit him."

"We finally got him to go to the Baptist Hospital in New Orleans but we couldn't get him to slow down," Jenkins remembered. "He wouldn't stay off the leg and let it completely heal. Finally, he developed a blood clot which caused his death on Labor Day, 1950. He was 53 years old."

Jenkins' sister drove a school bus and operated a store across the street from the saw mill. When Ross Jenkins could no longer come to the mill, he would spend time in the store. It was there that his fatal attack occurred.

"Here I was at age 23 with a saw mill to run and newly married," Jenkins said. "That was the end of my college career, but Lucie and I have now been married about sixty years."

Ross Jenkins, Huey's father was a big fan of Huey P. Long in 1926 when Huey, Sr. was born. So Ross named his boy after his hero, Huey P. Long.

"Yeah, my Dad thought that Huey P. Long was the greatest man ever in Louisiana," Jenkins acknowledged. "And I guess he was. Our roads in this part of the country were so bad that most of the time we couldn't get to Folsom or for sure to Franklinton or Covington."

"I remember as a kid, standing out in front of our house and watching a Cat dozer pulling a motor grader bog down," Jenkins noted. "Anytime we got a big rain, the bridges usually washed out."

"But Huey Long fixed all that, the roads and bridges plus gave us free school books," Jenkins pointed out. "As long as my Dad was alive, he was a strong Long family political supporter. After hearing all his stories of how Huey fixed the roads and bridges, I guess I've been a little partial to the Longs."

When Huey Jenkins took the reins of Jenkins Lumber Company in 1950, Southern Yellow Pine was selling for an average of $22 per thousand board feet. Stumpage for good pine was about $12 a thousand in 1950.

"Back in those days, all the logs were scaled instead of going by weight," Jenkins explained. "The person doing the scaling was very important for both the sawmill owner, the logger and the landowner."

"If you didn't have a good man on the scale stick, the sawmill could come out on the short end of the stick or the logger would," Jenkins stated. "If the loggers thought they got the short end of the stick, your scaler got the reputation of using a 'cheater' stick. That wasn't good for business."

"At the mill we were paying 50 cents per hour, $4.00 for a days work which came up to $20 a week," Jenkins recalled. "It wasn't that bad of a situation for our workers because they could live half-way good on $20 a week if they watched their money."

"Once wages in the saw mills began to increase, several sawmills in the area shut down, but we kept on sawing logs," Jenkins pointed out. "We cut everything that we could make a little money on."

"For several years we cut a lot of piling and cross ties for American Creosote Company in New Orleans," Jenkins said. "I never will forget that we had to take a ball peen hammer and drive an `S' iron into both ends of the tie before we could ship it to the Creosote plant."

"Two things that gave us an advantage here at the mill was that we had a 671 Detroit diesel motor which is the best sawmill motor ever made," Jenkins stated. "Secondly, I always tried to keep the very best saw filers. Those two things gave us a good basis to work from."

"In the fifties and sixties we didn't have to borrow any money to operate on," Jenkins noted. "Those were good years, however, I remember that in 1955 a tax man came to visit us."

"He said that we owed $4,000 which would be like $400,000 today for some kind of new tax that had gone into effect the year before", Jenkins recalled. "We had never heard of this tax before but we found out it was legitimate. Anyway, just before he hauled me off the jail, I told Lucie to write him a check for the $4,000."

"Along the way, we also found some niche markets that we worked hard to fill," Jenkins acknowledged. "Just our location here in southeast Louisiana not far from New Orleans helped. We supplied lumber to some of the big lumbermen in New Orleans such as the Templeton Company."

"We also had a good business relationship with the Stupp Company over in Baton Rouge," Jenkins recalled. "They did a lot of shipping by railcar and needed lumber for their crates."

"Another thing that helped us was when the horse farms begin to come to the Folsom and St. Tammany area," Jenkins noted. "They needed a lot of lumber for their horse barns and we were glad to supply it to them."

The area in the northern part of southeast Louisiana than is now north of Interstate 12 is much like the piney woods of north Louisiana and Mississippi.

"They also had a railroad and turpentine still down at Folsom in the 1930's and '40's," Jenkins remembered. "They had crews go out in the woods and put a tap with a tin cup on it to catch the resin that would drip."

"Ever month or two, the crews would go back around and empty the resin into big wooden barrels," Jenkins noted. "Later on, we cut a lot of those big longleaf pine that still had a V-groove showing in them where the tin cups had been attached."

"Later on, crews would go with a dozer with a splitter on it and split the stump," Jenkins explained. "After that, crews would come in that would dynamite the stumps making them into chunks that could be loaded by hand on trucks."

"I've seen first hand about every way a man can make a living with a tree," Jenkins said.

Although Huey Jenkins has been tied to his sawmill for the last 59 years, he has still found time for some recreation.

"I like to deep sea fish,'' Jenkins, age 83 admitted. "I used to go to Destin quite often. Around here, I would hunt during the season but haven't fired a gun in a few years."

"A few years ago I turned over most of the operations at the mill to Huey, Jr. He has been doing a great job," Jenkins added. "I'm still down here nearly every day working with my mulch or pallets."

"I got a grandson that helps out down here so I guess he would be the fourth generation of the Jenkins sawmill family," Jenkins concluded.