GALLATIN GATEWAY – For a business to succeed it must be able to change with the times. This Week’s Montana Made business has been doing just that for 35 years.
From log home builder to an employee-owned business, Gallatin Gateway’s Big Timberworks has found a way to succeed, even after its founder passed away.
In 1983, Merle Adams and his partner decided they no longer wanted to build log buildings – they wanted something better. They chose timber frame building.
“It’s been around for thousands of years,” said Hudson Hart, Co-CEO Big Timberworks Inc. “Timber frames can stand for thousands of years, and when you travel parts of the world you see that (in the) big roof systems of castles and what not.”
The work was good, then Merle had another idea.
“Big Timberworks was actually the first company in this area that started bringing in old wood,” said Hart. “The old wood I’m talking about is what we refer to as commercial salvage Douglas fir. So it’s material that came out of a warehouse in Chicago, California, New Jersey wherever. A lot of these buildings were built in and around the war when steel was all going to the war so they were building these warehouse type structures with big timbers so they’d cut trees in the old growth forests put them on the rail send them to wherever the location was where they were building these big timber structures.”
Today you can find Big Timberworks efforts in 40 states. Before he died, Merle also changed the way Big Timberworks was managed.
He turned the sole proprietor business into a co-op owned operation.
Of the 21 current employees, 13 are considered owners. It’s a one-of-a-kind business in Montana according to the IRS and a lifesaver for the organization when Merle passed away two years ago.
“We lost a huge part of our company but at the same time we were well positioned to keep moving forward and be stable and not have to wonder,” said Hart. “You know a sole proprietor dies in a company all the employees are left thinking: ‘ooh, what’s going to happen, do I have a job?’ Nobody here ever had that thought.”
Along with big timbers (like the one Hart was standing next to, 14×32 inches and 47 feet long, cut from a single log)
Big Timberworks also has its own metal fabrication shop and has more than 300 live edge slabs that can be used for tables or countertops.
While Hart explained the history of the business, a semi was being loaded with timbers – one of three going to a home in California, for a total of 48,000 board feet of timbers.
The sawmill is expanding and the business started in Gallatin Gateway three decades ago is going strong, thanks to the foresight of its founder and the dedication of those who’ve worked here for years.