Hawley Lumber goes against the grain

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March 18, 2014 - 12:00 AM

George Hawley is turning 70 this April and he has every intention of slowing down at work; better said than done for someone who has mastered a trade over the past 54 years.
He began working with lumber at age 16 with a man from Chanute, then decided to start out on his own. It eventually became Hawley Lumber, located in between Humboldt and Elsmore on Florida Road. He and his wife Betty live there, in a home built out of native lumber from southeast Kansas.
“Time has just gotten away from me,” Hawley said. He walked between his barn, which houses thousands of sections of wood from across the area.
That is his specialty. Ever since he began working for himself, Hawley said he has prided himself in only taking wood from the area. He pointed out the resources for lumber in Kansas are under-utilized, and the wood is top-notch.
“I like the idea of promoting Kansas products,” he said. “We have some fabulous timber.”
The state has high quality walnut, pin oak, red oak, cottonwood, sycamore, maple, elm and ash, among others. He said their home is built out of 15 types of lumber, all from the same area. When he cuts trees from a timber line, he said he could come away with nine or 10 types of building material.
Hawley’s inventory generally is specialized sizes, meant for furniture or cabinet building. He does not sell dimensioned wood for construction generally. He has supplied wood across the United States as well as locally, even to schools in Iola and Moran.
“I don’t know anyone else in the country that does what I do,” he said.
He takes the wood through the whole process — from cutting the trees to edging and planing into boards. At his age, he said he is slowing down considerably. He no longer sells chainsaws or power tools, which he did for some time, and is planning on scaling down his lumber operation as well.

“I NEVER had a day I woke up and didn’t thank God for having a job that suits me,” Hawley said.
The profession has treated him well, he said, and given him a wealth of knowledge over the years. It does have its risks, though.
In early December Hawley was struck by a falling limb while cutting trees, “splitting my head from ear to ear.” He had just enough strength to stay conscious for a quick phone call to his friend.
“All I was able to tell him was that I was hurt and needed help,” Hawley said. He normally wears a helmet, but wasn’t on that particular day. He spent a week in an intensive care unit in a Wichita hospital. He has major hearing loss in both ears, and the trauma to his head only worsened it. He said he is nearly deaf.
“There’s a lot of risk,” he said. “I was a good cutter. I’ve cut billions of feet of timber.”
Despite the danger of the profession, Hawley said he wouldn’t change anything for the world. He has had the chance to build a home with his wife (they have been married for 12 years) and share time together on their 80 acres.
He said he has tried to offer his time and sell equipment to pass on the profession to someone younger, but hasn’t had the chance yet. It’s hard work, but Hawley obviously has a passion for it.
“I wouldn’t call it a lost art,” Hawley said. “But it takes a certain kind of man.”

HAWLEY had a pensive thought on his face when asked what his future holds next.
He and Betty have work yet to do on their home, it has been a “work-in-progress” since 2007. He said this summer will be the time to get it done. Nevertheless, he said he is reluctant to stop work altogether.
“I’m finding out I’m too old for this stuff,” he said. “It boggles my mind, I don’t know how I’ve done it.
“I’ve worked seven days a week my whole life. It’s hard to change. It’s how I know life. I almost hate to quit.”
It’s hard to refer to it as “quitting” after a 54-year career of hard work, but on the other hand, Hawley doesn’t define it as just “work.” He has built a life with his trade and profession, he has family reunions on his property in the summers and a wife to spend time with at home.
And, not to mention it all came from southeast Kansas. His mantra, you don’t have to go too far to find your calling.
“I keep it simple, I do my own work,” he said.

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