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Montana Made: Superior Hardwoods of Montana

Posted at 9:46 AM, May 09, 2017
and last updated 2018-08-31 10:08:03-04

Montana was home to a booming timber industry in bygone years and the ghosts of those mills still linger in old granaries, barns and buildings. One Missoula business has made it their mission to give this lumber a new life for over 40 years. Reporter Eric Clements headed over to Superior Hardwoods of Montana for this week’s Montana Made report.

Superior Hardwoods of Montana takes lumber seriously — specifically, reclaimed lumber. Business owner John Medlinger says he is always looking for the next wooden motherlode.

"We probably have between probably 200,000 and 300,000 board feet of lumber on hand,” Medlinger said.

That lumber, no matter where it came from, is often turned into flooring. But not just any wood will do — Medlinger says his customers are very discerning with lumber from old granaries is typically in high demand.

"The rough-cut material that has a rough surface,” Medlinger explained. “Typically circular sawed is the texture we prefer if we can.  So a lot of these granaries were built from the turn of the century til the early 1930s, early 1940s."

But every so often, outside the granaries, Medlinger will hit the jackpot.

"We bought the old Rosynal Apple warehouse in Lolo.  It was built in the early 1900s, and it was all made out of ponderosa pine that was probably just cut right there by the river,” Medlinger said. “And it was incredible material. We had boards in the ceiling that were up to 28 inches wide!"

But the wood can’t be sold as soon as it’s brought in, so Medlinger’s crew at Superior Hardwoods in Missoula makes sure each piece of timber is prime.

"We bring it in, we have to sticker it, get it air dried, de-nail it,” Medlinger explained. “That process can take about 60 days, and then manufacturing would take another 30 days."

Medlinger has customers from all over the country looking for rustic hard-wood floors – and you’ve probably heard of some.

"We cut a bunch of beams up for David Letterman for his house somewhere in the Ruby Valley,” Medlinger said. “And they were beams he had up at his Choteau ranch for years and years, and he decided finally that I want to cut it up and turn it into flooring, and we did that for him."

But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. Medlinger recalls one incident when tragedy struck about 20 years ago. "In 1995, we had kids playing with fireworks. We lost completely everything and had to start over,” Medlinger said.

He said that starting over was never a question and that after 40 years, he still loves coming into work at his business which is just south of Missoula on U.S. Highway 93.

Medlinger says that he now hopes to get a hold of some of the timber reclaimed from the Missoula Mercantile.