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After 67 Years in Business, Ocala, FL’s Fuqua Sawmill Can Still Cut It Up

Thu January 09, 2003 - Southeast Edition
Amanda L. Gutshall

When thinking about a construction project, especially in Florida’s often marshy environment, most would think about the contractor, the equipment being used to move materials or build a new roadway, or what precautions were taken to protect the environment or the natural habitat. Most would not think about a subtle piece of the puzzle of putting a project together.

Located on Highway 27, Ocala, FL’s Fuqua Sawmill has spent more than 65 years making a product that may go unnoticed on most job sites, but is still a valuable piece of this sometimes complicated puzzle.

A third-generation company, now run by the founder’s grandsons Larry and Randy Fuqua, this seven-person operation cuts and shapes hardwoods – mostly oak, hickory and cherry – to be used as crane mats. These mats are then used on the job site, to run equipment over environmentally sensitive areas or to place on metal barges where there is metal track equipment, so there is not scraping, according to Rusty Fuqua, the company’s co-owner and treasurer.

“Contractors can lay these mats across sensitive areas or on metal barges, do the job, then leave the job and pick up the mat and leave everything the way it is, without damage.”

The mats begin as logs that are then delimbed, sawed and squared by the company. Fuqua then sets them up according to the size required by a contractor. “We set them up, according to the specs, drill them, bolt them, cable them together – however the customer wants them done. It’s a real simple process,” he added.

The company also does redecking of lowboy and gooseneck trailers. Contractors can have their trailers redecked by Fuqua Sawmill. Or, contractor can have planks custom-cut and then have the planks shipped and they can do the assembly themselves. Rusty Fuqua noted that the company can do just about any product that can be cut out of hardwood. “Anything they desire we can do. If people need a particular type of blocking or cribbage, we’ll do it. I’ve cut everything from hard work stock for Civil War cannons to cutting 24 by 24 blocks to block up large generators. Anything you can think of to cut out of hardwood, we have done.”

The majority of the company’s business, are those who use the dragline mats, which translates to bigger crane companies. Other customers include those involved in barge work and heavy construction jobs mostly in the southeast. But the company has exported to other areas, including Ohio.

“We dealt with a broker, out of Cleveland, that bought a bunch of mats and sent them to be used at the World Trade Center,” Rusty Fuqua said.

Fuqua also has exported products to the Bahamas and Puerto Rico. “We’ll ship it pretty much anywhere our customers need them. We’ll get them there one way or another,” he added.

Fuqua moves materials around the sawmill with a Hyster forklift and two Cat 950 loaders. Rusty Fuqua explained, “We run the old frick-style mills. Just your basic sawmill. With the loaders and forklift, there is real low overhead. It’s not glamorous.

“The bottom line is that with any business, keeping your costs down is the main thing. Like I said, what we do is not glamorous and some would say it is outdated, but people call, we get the product to them and we stand behind it,” Rusty Fuqua said.

He added, “We’ve been doing this a long time, so I assume we are doing something right.”

Obviously the company has been doing something right being in business for more than 65 years. It was started by Rusty and Larry’s grandfather, John W. Fuqua Sr., when he moved to Florida from Alabama. “That’s all he knew — logging, timber and sawmills. This company has been in business for 67 years with him just doing what he knew. He got in with the right people at the right time. There’s wasn’t much else he could do so he took the idea and ran with it, and things just work out from there, Rusty Fuqua noted.

As children, Rusty and Larry, the company’s co-owner and president, were raised to keep busy with work, so they helped their grandfather at the sawmill. “Being a sawmill and being the type of work that it is, we were made to start at the bottom to get an appreciation for the work,” Rusty said.

Both worked summers and Larry stayed on at the mill after high school while Rusty went on to Florida State. He later decided, after graduation, to come back to the sawmill himself. “I’m not an 8 by 8 office with a suit type of guy. I love what I do and this gave us a chance to be around our grandfather — to spend time with him and learn the business.

“He came from a modest education and came out here and did all this. It’s been nice. I don’t regret ever coming out here,” Rusty said.

As for the future, Rusty noted that Fuqua has no immediate plans to expand as of yet. “We’ve looked into things. With any business, you have to change and go with things, but nothing is really concrete right now.”

Not that they have to worry. According to Rusty, “There is not a whole lot of competition. A lot of the old hardwood sawmills phased out over the years. Times have changed and the amount of business is just not there,” he said.

And with any business, larger companies have squeezed out the smaller, mom-and-pop companies, driving much of the competition away.

But for Fuqua Sawmill, things are running smoothly. “We have maintained the same business base and customers. We feel like we have put out a quality product for a long time and most people have stayed loyal to us. That’s where we are now,” Rusty relayed.

For more information, call 352/629-4713.

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