Pair Enjoys Running-the-Mill Retirement


John Dickey


While many decide to kick back and take it easy after a lifetime of work, a husband and wife duo chose a physically demanding second career for their retirement. After years of work, Bonnie and Mel McGuire's decision to buy an $18,000 LT40 Woodmizer sawmill in 1992 brought some questions from family members. They started McGuire Lumber and Milling on Banner Mountain. "Dad's pushing 70 so he retires from driving a truck and goes in for manual labor," said their son Kirk.

Despite choosing a business that many would see as tough work, the McGuire's have no complaints. "We have fun doing this," says Bonnie, 67. "Some people might consider it hard work, but it keeps you in shape."

Bonnie said the two met in 1952 when she wanted a ride on Mel's Harley Davidson (right). They married three months later, and now have five children and 13 grandchildren. They work together in the middle of the forest on Banner Mountain. Mel, 72, operates the sawmill, walking the saw forward as it cuts through a log. He first sets the log on the mill using a back hoe. Once the log is in place, he first saws off the bark, then squares the log. Then he saws off lumber planks, usually 1 by 6 boards. Bonnie says sometimes she's the brawn of the operation, catching the planks as they fall from the log. Mel rarely pauses moving onto the next cut as she runs to catch the board. "This one's nice and light," she says, carrying a cedar plank off the mill and onto a stack of boards. Fir and pine are heavier, especially the "butt" cuts which are full of water. But Bonnie, a former bookkeeper and home maker, says she prefers to do the work herself. "When you work with men, they're bigger and stronger," she says. "They just throw it around with me on the end." Bonnie said her injuries are rare, mostly bruised fingers. She hurt her knee in 1998, but took nutritional supplements to build cartilage and the pain went away.

The machine has an enclosed band saw blade so it is safe to operate. Mel said he decided to buy the sawmill after he retired from truck driving, because it looked like it would be fun. He first saw the machine in action at a forestry demonstration. The couple visited the company's factory in Indiana and became convinced they should buy one.

While the mill seems like tough work, the McGuire's said they keep banker's hours. They do, however, work through the winter months when it is not raining. For Bonnie, it's a way to get exercise. She quit her health club after taking up lumber milling. She also enjoys being creative. The McGuire's perform custom milling rather than mass production of lumber. Customers use the wood to make furniture, bowls, gates and other specialty items. Sometimes, the McGuire's are rewarded with gifts crafted from logs they cut. One man gave Bonnie a jewelry box he crafted from a madrone limb they milled for him. Many of their customers send them photos of the wooden objects they have crafted.

Bonnie says taking it easy would be boring. "Besides, I have a philosophy. If you aren't being creative nature doesn't even want you. (The Union-Saturday April 1, 2000)