Gordon Johncock

FORMER INDIANAPOLIS 500 CHAMPION RUNS THREE BUSINESSES FROM SOUTH BRANCH SAWMILL

September 05, 2016

“Very maneuverable” WA320

Gordon Johncock

Gordon Johncock has retired a few times, but he just hasn’t seemed to have gotten the hang of it. Before opening a trio of businesses from his sawmill in South Branch, he was an elite race-car driver. In fact, Johncock won the Indianapolis 500 in 1973 and 1982 and finished in the top-five eight times in 24 starts. He retired from the sport twice, once in 1985 and again, for good, in 1992. During that second retirement from racing, he started a logging company in northern Michigan. In 2005, he decided that he’d had enough of the logging business, sold most of his equipment and retired, again. His third time wasn’t a charm, so in 2010, he bought a sawmill from an acquaintance and went back to work.

“There isn’t a future in retiring,” said Johncock, who turns 80 this year. “My wife doesn’t like to hear that, but I like to work. I was just sitting around getting old and fat when a friend asked if I wanted to buy his sawmill. Two weeks later, we had a deal in place.”

As part of the deal, Johncock purchased Quigley Lumber, Inc. and its sawmill in South Branch.

“I was familiar with the operation because I brought a lot of logs here with my logging company,” explained Johncock. “In fact, this is where I put my equipment up for sale when I retired in 2005. I would drop in and do some work after that from time to time as well.”

The acquisition of Quigley Lumber also led him to restart Johncock Forestry and to open Gordon Johncock Landscape Supply. Today, the three businesses operate from the sawmill and all feed each other.

“The logs start out through Johncock Forestry, then are processed at Quigley Lumber and all the by-product is handled by Gordon Johncock Landscape Supply,” said Johncock’s daughter, Valerie, who works at the company as a dispatcher. Johncock’s wife, Sue, also works in the office.

Use it all

Quigley Lumber specializes in producing cants, pieces of lumber that are cut 3.5 to 5.5 inches thick with random widths, depending on the log cuts. The cants are then sold and used for making other products, mainly pallets.

“Companies that buy the cants run them through a gang saw and mass-produce them to their specs,” said Johncock. “One of our biggest customers is Michigan Pallet, and that relationship was formed well before I bought the lumber company.”

Quigley Lumber produces 20,000-30,000 feet of cants per day and ships them in a specially designed trailer that allows it to haul as much material as possible while staying under Michigan’s load-limit requirements.

Having one major contract is nice for Johncock because it keeps Quigley Lumber busy consistently and allows his other companies to grow as well, especially Gordon Johncock Landscape Supply. All of the by-product from producing the cants is used for landscape supply.

“Sawdust, bark, chips – it all gets used in some way for landscaping,” said Johncock. “If we didn’t utilize everything, we’d have to raise the price of our cants. It’s part of this business.”

Gordon Johncock Landscape Supply produces roughly a dozen loads of sawdust, chips and bark per week. The landscape material accounts for nearly 25 percent of the business at the sawmill.

The efficiency has been good. Since Johncock acquired the company in 2010, the sawmill added a second shift and has grown from six employees to 22 in its busy season.

“We were fairly aggressive when we took over,” recalled Johncock. “What’s the point of doing the same amount, same old thing, everyday? I don’t have a whole lot of years left, so if I’m going to do something, I might as well be getting it done.”

Komatsu loaders from CEC

Gordon Johncock

Johncock’s latest equipment addition was a Komatsu WA320 wheel loader he purchased from Continental Equipment Company (CEC)and Sales Rep Mike Swope.

“The 320 is very stable for such a big machine,” said Johncock. “It’s also very maneuverable. I can get in and out of some tight spots with it. We have a six-yard, high-tip bucket for loading trucks, and we have a dirt bucket and fork attachments that we use.”

Johncock also has a WA250 at the sawmill. The combination of the two wheel loaders has made the entire operation more efficient.

“I couldn’t run these companies without them,” he said. “They handle logs, cants, bark and sawdust without any issue. They do it all. The only time we have an issue is when I forget to put fuel in them.”

The WA320 also came with Komatsu CARE, which provides complimentary maintenance for the first three years or 2,000 hours, and KOMTRAX, Komatsu’s remote machine-monitoring system.

“It’s peace-of-mind,” said Johncock. “If service is needed, CEC calls to set it up and comes out to take care of it. If I have a question on a machine, they can pull it up through KOMTRAX and see what’s going on.”

Another retirement?

Much to the dismay of his wife, Johncock is probably not giving retirement another chance anytime soon. He still works the most hours of anyone at the sawmill – whenever needed, day or night.

“You could build a Komatsu with a pillow and a hammock in it, and I’d never get out of it,” joked Johncock. “I’m going to work until I can’t do it anymore.”