MINING, AGGREGATES & CONSTRUCTION

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In 1947, the Oregon Saw Chain Manufacturing Corporation was founded with four employees and one product. Today, known as the Oregon Cutting Systems Division of Blount, Inc., the same company is part of a corporation with 5,000 employees and thousands of products ranging from a single chain link to the 72,000-seat New Orleans Super Dome.

Here are some of the people, products, and events that have marked the history of the world’s number-one name in chainsaw accessories–Oregon brand.

A Better Way of Woodcutting
Logger/inventor Joseph Buford Cox was chopping firewood one chilly autumn day in 1946 when he paused for a moment to examine the curious activity in a tree stump. A timber-beetle larva, the size of a man’s forefinger, was easily chewing its way through sound timber, going both across and with the wood grain at will.

Joe was an experienced operator of the gas-powered saws used in those days, but the cutting chain was a problem. It required a lot of filing and maintenance time. “I spent several months looking for nature’s answer to the problem,” Joe recalled. “I found it in the larva of the timber beetle.”

Joe knew if he could duplicate the larva’s alternating C-shaped jaws in steel, it just might catch on. He went to work in the basement shop of his Portland, Oregon home and came up with a revolutionary new chain. The first Cox Chipper Chain was produced and sold in November, 1947. The basic design of Joe’s original chain is still widely used today and represents one of the biggest influences in the history of timber harvesting.

In 1948, two significant things happened. First, the company moved from Joe’s basement into a bigger facility (a 5,000-square-foot garage). Second, Joe hired his sixteenth employee, John D. Gray.

John was 28 and a recent graduate of the Harvard University Graduate School of Business. When John joined the company, his original office chair was a nail keg. In spite of the humble beginnings, John said, “I like the challenge of being in on the ground floor of something so exciting with so much obvious potential.” Eventually, John would see the business grow from $300 thousand to $300 million.

In 1951, sales exceeded $1 million. The company became a multinational corporation in 1952 by acquiring Planer Chain Ltd. of Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

In 1953, Joe sold the company to John Gray and vigorous growth continued. The company moved into its first bona fide plant in 1955, a 65,000-square-foot facility in Portland that later served as the administration building. A new plant was built for the Canadian operation, and John Gray made a sales trip to Sweden, where he found the first European customer for Oregon-brand chain.

In 1959, the company moved into international markets, and made its first application for a patent on guard links for saw chain.

Today, guard links are usually associated with safety and kickback reduction. But in 1959, these original guard links were only expected to reduce the frequent hooking and grabbing of small brush. After a period of use, pulpwood producers observed an unexpected benefit–fewer chain saw accidents. A number of these companies mandated the use of the new chain.

In 1963, a remarkable new saw and new chain initiated the modern era of lightweight, high-speed, direct-drive chain saws. The saw was the Homelite XL12, and the chain was Oregon® 72D, the first 3/8″ pitch chain specifically built for such a saw. Both products were immensely successful, and derivative chains based on the original 72D design are still widely used today.

A Safer Way of Woodcutting
The late sixties and early seventies were marked by research and development toward reducing the hazards of bar-nose kickback. In 1970, development of a kickback test machine began. In 1972, development was finalized when the third-generation kickback test machine was completed.

Development of new reduced-kickback products was made possible by the Oregon® test machine. Low profile chains such as 91 series (1974), and 76 series (1976) were among the first.

Early kickback research also revealed that smaller bar-nose sizes were effective in controlling kickback. Oregon® Guard Tip bars, dubbed the “banana bars” due to their asymmetrical shape, were introduced in 1977.

Intensive, cooperative work toward a kickback-performance standard was begun in the late seventies by many chainsaw-industry manufacturers and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Oregon® engineers played a major role during the years of work that finally, in 1985, resulted in the kickback-performance requirements found in the voluntary chain saw safety standard known as ANSI B175.1.

Also in 1985, Omark Industries, which had become the parent company of Oregon Saw Chain, was purchased by the international construction and manufacturing firm, Blount, Inc., of Montgomery, Alabama. Then in August, 1999 Blount merged with an affiliate of Lehman Brothers Merchant Banking Partners, the 88th largest U.S. company on the Fortune 500 list.

Oregon Cutting Systems is part of Blount’s Outdoor Products Group. The other units are Dixon Industries, Inc; Frederick Manufacturing Corp; and Windsor Forestry Tools, LLC. Dixon, located in Coffeyville, Kansas, was acquired by Blount in 1990 and has made zero-turning-radius lawnmowers and related attachments since 1974. Frederick, located in Kansas City, Missouri, was acquired in 1997. Frederick is a well-known manufacturer that supplies high-quality Silver Streak-brand accessories for lawnmowers and other outdoor products. In October, 2000 Windsor Forestry Tools of Milan, Tennessee was integrated into the Outdoor Products Group. It manufacturers chainsaw guide bars and cutting chain similar to products made by Oregon Cutting Systems.

Tomorrow’s Way of Woodcutting
Mechanized timber harvesters deliver increased productivity and safety together in one machine, and will play an increasing role in future woodcutting–worldwide. In 1989, specialized Oregon® 18H harvester chain and matching .080″-gauge harvester bars were introduced to withstand the rapid speeds and greater stress as created by these high-output machines.

In the early to late 1990’s many of the company’s cutting-chain products were upgraded via design changes and new, advanced products were introduced.

Oregon Cutting Systems intends to continue making positive contributions to the world’s forest industry with innovative products. At the same time, the company will encourage sound environmental practices to meet the ever-growing needs for clean air, water, wildlife habitat, and wood products.