T.E. Johnson Sawmill Sold

Like a 52-inch saw blade through a unknotted piece of soft Carolina pine, Jeremy Norris of Stoney Forks Farms smoothly, quietly posted a $20,000 bid that bought the T.E. Johnson Lumber Company sawmill in Four Oaks last weekend.

E.B. Harris Inc. Auctions out of Warrenton, N.C., traveled to the Old School Road lumberyard Saturday to auction buildings, vehicles, equipment and the mill. More than 6,000 interested parties viewed the auctioneers website before the 10 a.m. start and more than 50 bidders had arrived on the Johnston County property by sale time.

Among them was Jeremy Norris, a 30-year-old farmer, who grew up within a wind-carried-sawdust’s distance from T.E. Johnson’s. Stoney Forks Farm is small, growing corn, soybean, wheat and raising beef cattle. His family once had a sawmill on the farm, but it was sold by Mr. Norris’ father in 1991.

“I can remember hearing the saw blade,” Mr. Norris said.

Since then, Stoney Forks Farm has ridden the economic agriculture wave, and after being leveled by a 2011 tornado, has fought to expand.

Mr. Norris said the family has rebuilt what they could in these half dozen years after the twister, “piecing things back together,” and now looking to diversify.  Before the 2011 tornado, Stoney Forks Farm built up its livestock housing, erecting a handful of turkey sheds with plans to raise poultry on site. Mere days before the Norris family scheduled to move in the birds, the tornado took down every shed.

“We were lucky there were no turkeys in there,” the farmer said. “It would have been a mess.”

Last weekend, on a springtime Saturday with skies as clear as crystal, Mr. Norris took a healthy step toward the farm’s recovery. Using $10,000 awarded to his farm from a 2016 North Carolina AgVentures Individual Farm Operations Grant, Mr. Norris posted a $20,000 bid on the large, industrial sawmill — and won.

Before the auction he was determined and focused, saying he expected to buy the storied sawmill.  “Unless there’s somebody here with real deep pockets, I’m going to take the mill home,” he said.

Working from a $200,000 budget, his only concern was the order in which items would be sold. He set a cap on what he was willing to bid on the mill itself — $50,000.  Mr. Norris pondered the process of bringing home the conveyors, the edger, the motors and electrics; estimating it would take a month or more to move it all.

He spoke on the implications of owning the sawmill, saying he planned to hire four or more people to help him run the operation. Mr. Norris plans to diversify Stoney Forks Farms, by opening a bin and pallet stringer operation using wood from his property and selling to local farms.

He said he had heard stories in Four Oaks, of people who build potato bin boxes crying after T.E. Johnson Lumber Company shut its doors in March. Now he hopes to be the man supplying those folks, and the newly-purchased lumberyard, with the wood they so sorely need. He currently operated a much smaller, less advanced and troublesome sawmill on his Four Oaks farm; but this purchase may also aide in him supplying some niche markets with hardwood. Story and photo courtesy The Daily Record