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Downing Research Forest

A Miller Timber forwarder stacks logs last year at the school district's research forest.

A couple of weeks ago, I sat down with Lee Miller about a national award that his company earned from a timber industry publication. We talked about Miller Timber’s beginnings and how the company evolved through the years.

Miller is all in on the youth movement with the timber industry as many of the veterans are simply aging out of the profession. Miller Timber is very active in the community and takes part in school-related demonstrations. The company also goes to events such as the Oregon Logging Conference Future Forestry Workers Career Day. Those are just a few examples.

Some believe today’s youth are a little softer from those of earlier generations. Miller agrees to a certain degree — it’s only natural with generational advancements — but he says they make up for it with smarts.

“I just cringe when people say these people don’t know how to work,” Miller said in reference to today’s young workforce. “I grew up with a bunch of loggers working and we’re saying the same damn thing our fathers said about us and I think we turned out OK. Yeah, we’re not as tough as our fathers were, but we're smarter than our fathers were.”

Miller believes the so-called millennials can thrive in a career such as logging. As he said, they might not be as tough as those that worked in the woods in earlier generations. Heck, they don’t need to be with the technological advancements. That’s where the knowledge component comes in.

Miller’s comments made me think for a minute. I told him about how my grandfather worked for 25 years in a meat-packing plant, which I knew about because I had visited on the job a few times and I’m telling you, it looked like pretty tough work to me (you had to be tough just to put up with the odor).

It also made me think about my dad, who worked until midnight at a plant that made Monroe shock absorbers, coming home dirty from head to toe and his legs sometimes black and blue because he was on his feet all night (he had circulatory issues).

Miller told me about his father.

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“My father, it was nothing for him to go out in the woods and sleep under a log with no blanket or nothing when he was a young man and into his 50s to go all night out in the woods,” he said. “We’re just not that tough, but we’re smarter. My kids are way smarter than I am and my sons-in-laws are, but they’re not as tough.

“That’s just the way every generation is,” he added.

It’s true that we’ve all become smarter through the decades. It might not be so obvious from one generation to the next — I mean, I think I’m smarter than my grandfather but my dad’s a pretty sharp guy, just in different ways.

For example, I’ve researched my family history and the Fuqua line in America dates all the way back to the tobacco-planting days in 17th century Virginia. A long line of farmers followed through the next 200 years from Kentucky to Indiana to Iowa to Nebraska. The hardships they faced and the work they had to do could easily be filed under the category of “tough.” In the last century, my Fuqua ancestors often worked on their “own account” — as the Census records will list — and hauled freight and built houses.

I’m sure there are a lot of families out there that can identify with that type of history, whether it’s coming from a line of farmers or loggers or whatever. But the point is, we don’t have to as tough as our ancestors in today’s world of conveniences and technology. But as Miller said, most of us are probably smarter.

There are probably a lot of us from my generation — I’m in my 50s — that were the first in our families to go to college. That was the case in my own family.

Anyway, I think it’s admirable that Miller puts a lot of resources in working with young people to show them the career possibilities within the timber industry. You have to be pretty smart to run one of those high-tech machines out there in the woods.

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