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Pyramid beginnings
as told at Founder's Day in 1989




The Mood & Johnson families at Founders Day in 1989. From left: Dan Jasso, Marian Mood, Douglas Mood, Selma Mood, Ethel Hoehn, Betty Mood, Alfred Mood, Don Hoehn, Dale Conley (far back), Fred Johnson, Dorothy Johnson, Rhea Johnson, and Roger Johnson. G. Noland file photo.

Family ownership and management tradition continues with active management above. Front row: Roger Johnson, left, and Doug Mood. Back row: Steve Johnson, left, and Todd Johnson. Not pictured is Alfred Mood, also active in the business today.


April 20, 2000
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana


(Editor's note: the following account of the founding of Pyramid Mountain Lumber, Inc., was related by Doug Mood, Pyramid sales manager and son of Oscar Mood who, along with Fred Johnson, founded the lumber mill in 1948. The history was delivered at Founders' Day in April, 1989, when Pyramid was honored for its 40th anniversary.)

 

by Doug Mood

 

"On behalf of my family, I would like to thank the Chamber for the program this afternoon. We're quite pleased to share the 40th birthday of Pyramid, and I appreciate the opportunity to do so. Thank you.

"I'd like to talk to you a little bit this afternoon about how Pyramid, or J & M Lumber as it was known then, came to be, and I'd like to give you a little background about the two people who started the company - Fred Johnson and Oscar Mood.

"My father, Oscar Mood, was born and raised in Minnesota on a little farm just north of Minneapolis near a town called Stanchfield.

"He was the second oldest of eight children.

"I had a chance to go take a look at that farm recently, and I can assure you there wasn't much to brag about - a house, a barn, and a couple of chickens is about all it came to - probably very typical of the family farms that many families lived on in the early part of this century.

"My father served in the infantry in France during the First World War. He was in combat, but I never once hear him talk about it.

"When he got back home, he went to work in the timber country of Northern Minnesota. In the mid 1920's, he bought a small portable sawmill and used it to cut lumber and railroad ties.

"My father began working in the timber industry as a young man and he worked in that industry all of his life. In 1932 he met and married my mother, Selma. Today, April 16, would have been their 57th anniversary. They raised six children.

"My father thought that Lawrence Welk was the best program on T.V. - an opinion he shared with almost no one else in the house.

"Fred Johnson was born in Norway. As a young boy, he moved to this country with his family. They settled in the Red River Valley on the western border of Minnesota near a town called Barnesville. He was the third of seven children.

"In 1922, he moved to Grand Rapids, Minnesota and began working at the paper mill. By the 1930's, he was working his own equipment and he was selling basswood veneer logs to a veneer plant and pulpwood to a paper mill.

"By 1940 Fred had purchased a portable sawmill and he used that to make lumber and cut railroad ties. Fred Johnson began working in the timber industry as a young man, and he had continued to work in that industry all of his life.

"In 1935, he married Dorothy Whiteside. They have four children. Dorothy is a woman I have known and admired all my life. She's a wonderful person, and I don't mind telling you I think the world of her.

"Both the Mood family and the Johnson family lived in the Riverside neighborhood of Grand Rapids. My family lived in the 200 block of Third Avenue, and the Johnsons lived in the 300 block of Second Avenue.

"My father and Fred knew each other through business associations, and they had operated with each other on some timber sales during the 1940's.

"They were both from Scandinavian families. I can remember holiday dinners where the Johnson and the Mood families would gather around the table. Dorothy and my mother would fix huge platters of lefsa and ludefisk, and Fred and my father would go into what marine biologists call 'a feeding frenzy.'

"In 1947 and 1948 the economy of the United States was in a post war slump. There was a general recession that had come with the end of the Second World War. It was taking a while for the United States to change from a war-time economy to a peace-time economy.

"In 1947 and 1948 my father and Fred Johnson began talking about moving to Montana. I suspect it was a combination of the recession and the fact that timber was getting harder to find in Minnesota. They made them think about moving.

"Ralph Bockmeier was the owner of Bockmeier Lumber in Spokane, Washington. He was a lumber wholesaler. In the 1940's Ralph Bockmeier was buying sawmill equipment and bringing it to a site he owned in Seeley Lake, Montana. That equipment was set up on approximately the site where our present sawmill building is located.

"Ralph Bockmeier's son had been a soldier in the Second World War, and when the war ended, Mr. Bockmeier sent his son to Seeley Lake to run the sawmill that was now in place.

"So, in the fall and early winter of 1946, the son and some of his war buddies and friends came to Seeley Lake from Spokane and spent the winter. All through the winter of 1946-47, the son kept these men on the payroll even though they weren't able to run the sawmill because of the weather.

"But someone in the group kept himself busy making mimeographed forms - purchase orders, inventory forms, payroll time cards and so on. Those forms were turned over to J & M Lumber as part of the sale. It must have been a long winter because we started using these forms in 1949 and Roger (Roger Johnson, Pyramid president) tells me we didn't run out of them until about 1975 - 25 years later!

"But as a result of keeping his crew on through the winter, by the time spring arrived the start-up money was gone. They did run briefly in the summer of 1947, but by that time the money was gone and the U.S. economy was in the midst of a recession. By 1948 Mr. Bockmeier had decided to put the business up for sale.

"My father came to Montana in the fall of 1948 with his son-in-law, Don Kuschel. They went to Kalispell to visit a man named John Mills. Mr. Mills had come to Montana from Minnesota a couple of years earlier, and had started in the lumber business in the Kalispell area.

"After visiting with Mr. Mills, they went to Missoula where they visited with Clarence Tripp. Don Kuschel had grown up with Clarence Tripp back in Minnesota. Clarence Tripp knew of a sawmill that was supposed to be for sale and was located in Seeley Lake.

"So, in the winter of 1949, Fred Johnson and Oscar Mood came to Seeley Lake, Montana, and purchased the Bockmeier Mill and renamed it the J & M Lumber Company. They set to work getting the mill in shape for start-up. In late June or early July they were making lumber.

"At that time, Fred Johnson was 48 years old and my father was 52 - they weren't young men. But, they hitched up their pants, packed up the wives and kids and moved to Montana.

"The name "J & M Lumber" was changed to "Pyramid Mountain Lumber" in 1958. Up until 1958 the company was organized as a partnership. In 1958 it was reorganized as a corporation, and the name was changed to Pyramid Mountain Lumber, Inc.

"The housing situation in Seeley Lake has always been a problem, but in 1949 I think we can describe it as being 'acute.'

"There were very few houses as we think of houses. Most people lived in 'shacks.' A word that is appropriately descriptive - 'tar paper shacks.' But everyone lived that way and no one thought anything about it. They just did the best they could.

 

"In 1949, the closest thing Seeley Lake had to a 'public utility' was the hand water pump down at Alvin Rovero's. Alvin had the best drinking water in town and anyone who wanted to was welcome to fill up their milk bucket.

 

"I wonder how my wife would have reacted if I had brought her home to my one-room, tar paper shack and said:

"Honey, this is home. There's skunks under the floor. There's pack rats in the wood shed. There's no telephone and no electricity, and the water bucket is over by the wash basin. Don't take the garbage to the dump in the evening, 'cause that's when the bears feed. I'm going down to the mill. I'll be back at six - have dinner ready."

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