Sawmills gets 21st-century sawmill and more

Aug. 01, 2014 @ 08:01 AM

The Town of Sawmills once again has a sawmill.

But it’s going to be a sawmill that in many ways the town’s early 20th-century sawmill operators couldn’t have imagined.

Once it’s in full operation, it will generate its own electricity from the sawdust and scrap produced by its milling operation, the waste heat from the mill will be used in a greenhouse to grow hydroponic vegetables for specialty stores in Asheville and Charlotte, and a key target for its wood products will be the “organic market” – consumers who prefer chemical-free wood furniture and other items for outdoors.

Stubby Warmbold, the founder and operations manager of Carolina Locust Inc., outlined ambitious plans in a brief talk to a crowd assembled for the company’s ceremonial ribbon-cutting Thursday morning at a site on Helton Road that Sawmills Mayor Bob Gibbs said is just over the hill from the area’s first sawmill site.

Though Carolina Locust is a new company, it’s an extension of operations the Warmbold family began in 1991, when Stubby Warmbold and his wife, Maria, founded a sawmill in Pennsylvania. In 2011 they bought a brownfield site – a property that might have pollution from a previous industrial use – in Newark, N.J., and opened a sawmill that makes its own electricity from scrap lumber, according to a story in the Hunterdon County Democrat in New Jersey.

One family venture, CitiLog, harvests trees from urban areas or people’s back yards and uses the wood for items that will return to the place where the trees were harvested.

“We take fiber from your back yard and bring it back to you as furniture,” Stubby Warmbold said Thursday.

Their company Black Locust Lumber in Pennsylvania makes decking, fencing, benches and other products from black locust trees because the wood is naturally rot-resistant. Similarly, Carolina Locust will produce items made from black locusts, but Stubby Warmbold said they will mostly be small products such as tree arbors and flower boxes.

Warmbold also envisions a company called BioCyclic that will have a nursery to grow black locusts and a hybrid hazelnut, and he said 100,000 seedlings are expected to be planted this fall. He called the hazelnut a potential “holy grail” of alternative fuel.

“You can get more oil from a ton of hazelnut than from corn or soybeans,” he said.

Warmbold’s son, Will, said that the operations should grow to up to 40 jobs “in a year or two.”

Stubby Warmbold went out of his way to say that anyone will be welcome to apply for jobs at Carolina Locust, including those with a troubled past. Because the operation is a sawmill, safety is paramount, but as long as people are sober and drug-free now it doesn’t matter if they weren’t in the past, he said.

“Good people make mistakes and they deserve second chances,” he said.

He said he has talked with officials at The Caldwell House, a nonprofit halfway house for men recovering from alcoholism and addiction, and others who work with people who have had trouble finding jobs because of their past.