Hard Hats, Ear Plugs and Douglas Fir: A Field Trip to Remember

Every time you drive through Colville, Washington one landmark you can't miss is the huge crane with an American flag flying on top that moves massive piles of logs for Vaagen Brothers Lumber, Inc. I never knew much else about the mill until today. We took our middle school students on a tour today as part of Forest Products Education Week. I grew up around the lumber industry in northern Idaho and these students are surrounded by the industry where we live, but I think everyone left today with new knowledge about what happens to a log from the time it reaches the mill until it is wrapped and loaded on a train car to be sent to all parts of the United States. We started our day behind the main headquarters where trees and a creek added to the natural beauty. Next we were fitted for hard hats and the tour began.The most amazing thing I learned today is how every part of each log is used for something at this mill. We have picked up bark at the mill numerous times to use for landscaping. A 4.6-megawatt Co-Generation plant on site produces power by utilizing some of the bark and woody materials that are accumulated. Sawdust is swept up to use for making particle board. After inserting ear plugs we moved through the loud buildings and learned how automated the mill is today. There was a pleasant smell of wood and all the areas were very clean. The logs were shaped into planks, bad ones were discarded, then the stacks were dried and moved outside ready to be wrapped.
Some facts we left with today:

There are presently more than 15 million acres of existing old growth forest. You will find 8.2 millions of these acres in Washington and Oregon.

The Douglas Fir is the most important tree in the West. It can be found in all forested sections of the state.

After a full day of listening, eating, walking, learning, and sharing a bus load of middle school students can be pretty quiet on the trip back to school.


  1. I too have noticed how much quieter the kids are going home on the bus than they were on the ride there :)
    What an interesting field trip and some great facts to learn from it.
    My BIL is a logger. It bothers me when people don't know the facts about the industry and get such wacky ideas about trees and the lumber industry.
    Education is the key!

  2. Very interesting!

  3. Very Interesting about a mainstay industry in the west.

  4. I called my youngest over to read this post with me as a 'virtual' field trip! We are now going to look up forests and how lumber has been used throughout the past and what future is there for forests.
    You gave me a good lesson to work on today, thanks!

  5. Great trip and informative post. Thank you


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