Friday, November 02, 2007

I’m Going With Blue Ox Again

I still hadn’t heard anything about the millwork as of today, so I went down on my lunch break to either get some answers or get my samples back. I expected the worst and I was prepared for battle. I had it all worked out in my head what I was going to say. I was going to be a polite, yet very stern in my condemnation of their business practices. I was going to go on and on about how I know I’m a “little guy” but that doesn’t mean I should be ignored. I was going get my samples back, and as I stepped out the door I was going turn back and have one final and succinct comment that would express my dissatisfaction and drive home the point that I would never be doing business with them again.

Something along the lines of…


“I used to have respect for you, but from now on I’m taking my business else where.”

“I came here for the quality of the workmanship, but you don’t know how to run a business. From now I’m going to Mad River Millworks”

“I’ve enjoyed doing business with you in the past, but no more! I’m going to be taking my businesses to someone who appreciates it.”

Anyway, you get the idea. Anyone of those would have done.

The Blue Ox Mill is at the foot of X street, right on the water. This area of town is sort of an odd mix of light industry, some retail, and a smattering of residential properties. Those few residential properties that still exist are all from the turn of the century. There are some nice homes that over time have ended up in a poor location. When you get to the end of X street there are a few clumps of shrubs very close on either side of a one lane dirt road that continues after X street seems to have ended. This is the entrance to the mill. The shrubs are so close that both mirrors on my truck brush against them as I drive through. It sort of feels like you’re driving in to the Bat Cave or something.

After just a few yards of driving on the dirt road you pass over some railroad tracks and then you start to see some odd things. There is a very large, doll house sitting there along the road. There is an antique, rusted, steam powered logging saw. There is a really large, carved statue of Paul Bunion (Blue Ox Mill, get it? There is also a real live ox named Babe some place on the mill property). There is a 1870s, story and a half settlement era home that sort of looks like it just landed on the site after being dropped by a tornado. There is also a large wooden fishing boat. More like a small ship, really. All around are piles of lumber and logs, along with other odd little things that you only notice if you really look. It has that feeling that some antique thing was headed for the dump and it found its way to the mill instead. When it arrived, it was placed some place on the property out of convenience and that is where it has sat ever since.

After driving on the dirt road for maybe 20 yards or so you come up on the mill. The building was one of Eureka’s first power plants. There is a very good chance that Thomas Petch spent a lot of time in there. I’ve been told the building is from 1902, but I’m not really sure. It is huge and it looks like it is about to fall over. There are always more than a couple of dogs wandering around out front or sleeping on the front stairs. Once inside there are a few cats sleeping on the counter or curled up next to the fire place.

The office is small and crowded, but just beyond the back wall of the office is the actual mill. I’ve been back in there on a few occasions. It is filled with restored and unrestored antique milling and logging equipment. Once when I was there I saw a guy working on a massive antique lathe turning a 12 foot log in to a Victorian porch column. The place seems to be half museum and half working mill. The owners work a lot with troubled youth as well, and there is even a radio station run by the kids someplace on the property. There is also, supposedly, a reproduction of an old logging camp on the mill site, but I’ve never seen it.

Inside the mill there are all sorts of vintage, architectural elements from buildings that no longer exist leaning up against walls and piled in corners. There are stacks of lumber here and there. There are small little rooms and stalls filled with piles of who knows what. It has a that disheveled look you would imagine finding in a 100 year old warehouse that has been a working mill for decades, and who knows what before that. The old plank flooring is uneven in places. The lighting is not great. And everything is covered in saw dust.

Anyway, so I walk up the stairs ready to state my case and try and find out what the hell is going on. I had run in to Viviana – Eric and Viviana are the owners - at the market on Tuesday and asked here why I hadn’t heard from her. She said that Eric, her husband, and the mill operator, and been sick at home for the past 4 or 5 days. Honestly, I didn’t believe her. We only spoke briefly as we passed each other in the parking lot. I sighed and sort of rolled my eyes.

When I walked in Eric was in the office. He looked like hell. He saw me walk in and said hello from across the room. As he came to the counter he grabbed my samples and some paper work from the his desk. He was coughing the entire time. It turns out he really was sick. The quote was written up and ready to go. I’m not sure if he had done it that morning or if it had been sitting around and they just didn’t bother to call. I didn’t ask. In fact, I didn’t say much at all. Even though he had been sick, I was still kind if pissed. I was just in no mood to deal with excuses.

Eric and Viviana are really very nice people. They don’t have the best business savvy in the world and some like to criticize their work. Yes, they have screwed up some of my jobs, but they made them right, for the most part. They’ve screwed up two jobs for me in the past 5 years. One they made right at no cost to me, and the other I never asked them to fix, but they did offer. The corner blocks I had them reproduce were about a quarter inch too thick. I decided it is not really noticeable, so I didn’t bother to take them back. Better too thick, than too thin.

So Eric hands me the quote and it’s more than I thought it would be. Several hundred dollars more, in fact. I asked if this quote is for redwood and he said it was. I’ve always gotten redwood in the past, but I decided to go with poplar this time to save some money. It’s all going to be interior and painted anyway. I told him I wanted poplar and he calls the lumber yard right then and there to get a price. The polar is exactly half the cost of redwood. He refigures the quote and it looks much better.

As he’s adding numbers I start to get a feel for when I’m going to get this. As a last minute favor to some friends – actually, I offered – I’m going to be holding a party in 2 weeks at my house for a bunch of old house nuts like myself. I’m hoping to get the mudroom finished by then. I ask Eric how business is and he tells me he’s crazy busy. Not a good sign. He says he’s quoting jobs now that he won’t start until April of next year. Gulp!

I ask him when I can get my stuff and he says that little jobs like this he can do right away and I should have it in two weeks. I’m sort of talking to him and Shelia at the same time. Shelia is the book-keeper/scheduler. As I’m pleading my case with her, Eric picks up the phone again to call the lumberyard to order the wood.

Eventually it was decided that they can have it a week from this Monday. That is two days before the party. Shelia said to call on Friday, one week from today, because they may be able to get it to me sooner. I’m not sure what to think. I left there feeling glad that I didn’t let my temper destroy the relationship, but I’m still a little ambivalent about it. I feel kind of like the wife whose husband keeps cheating on her and she keeps taking him back.

Maybe they’ve changed this time. I want to believe it, but you just never know. Maybe one week from tonight I’ll have my millwork, or maybe I won’t.

1 comment:

Hank Sims said...

I'm betting you probably won't.