If it wasn’t for the sounds of big trucks outside and the whine of high-speed planing equipment nearby, you’d be justified in thinking the bright red baby sled with its curved heirloom-style runners had been turned out in the workshop of olden-day craftsmen. Well, craftsmen, yes! But, from yesteryear, no. The beautiful little sled, a marriage of sturdy wood to graceful design, is just one model in the Streamridge.ca line of sleek sleds and toboggans made by Bauman Sawmill and on display in their Wallenstein, Ontario showroom. Located north-west of Kitchener in the heart of what tourist brochures call “Mennonite farming country”, Bauman Sawmill is owned and operated by Joe Bauman and six other local businessmen, who originally joined forces to create and strengthen opportunities for their community.
Now in his mid forties, Joe has had a long history in wood working. By the early 90s, on the family farm where he was born and raised, Joe was running a thriving wood products and services business when retailer Home Hardware (HH) came calling. In 1992, the national hardware chain, which is headquartered in the nearby town of St Jacobs, was looking for a new supplier to produce a line of high-quality kids’ wagons for sale through its dealers’ stores. Joe stepped up to the plate, designing and producing an appealing product that was just what the retailer wanted.
However, the toy wagon business was very much a collective effort, explains Joe. While he milled the wagon pieces from supplied lumber, the assembly of the product was completed by relatives at another nearby location. All went well until the following year when lumber prices began to skyrocket. To combat rising costs, Joe installed a portable sawmill that would convert logs brought directly to the farm. However, once sawn, the lumber was sent off-property to be dried at a custom dry-kiln and then returned to Joe’s shop for production into wagon parts.
While not particularly efficient, the process worked well until 1994, at which time Joe decided to streamline and upgrade the growing business by building a 20,000-square-foot sawmill and wood-working facility that included an office and two large dry-kilns on a neighboring property.
By ’95 and for the next few years, the new facility hummed along. Although Joe continued to produce parts for the HH wagons, during this time he transferred responsibility for that end of the business to his relative, John Martin. (Under the name Millside Industries, John produces several wagon styles including a unique wagon that converts to a sled.) Meanwhile, Joe focused on sawmill production, kiln drying and supplying woodworking services for the area’s many furniture manufacturers.
In order to ensure reliable sources of good quality trees for his orders, Joe also began working with suppliers, advising them on how to manage their woodlots using “green” practices that resulted in sustainable harvests. (Wood, ranging from hard and soft maple to oak, ash and cherry, comes from woodlots as far away as Ottawa, North Bay and Windsor.) Joe says the many aspects of his business are best explained by the simple tagline on his business card: “From Forest Management to Finished Product”.
Click on the image (left) for a look at different Streamridge.ca model designs and features.
In the late 90s, the business changed again. In addition to acquiring a nearby 11,700-square-foot sawmill to turn the logs into lumber, Joe also saw an opportunity to explore new directions and markets. When a Quebec manufacturer of wooden toboggans and sleds ceased production in 1999, Joe and his partners decided they had the capabilities to fill the void with Bauman-made products. They weren’t wrong. The defunct company’s market share quickly became Bauman Sawmill-territory, with the company supplying large retailers, such as Home Hardware and the U.S.’s L.L. Bean, with a range of toboggans and sleds in a variety of sizes, styles and price ranges. About this time, the company also established connections with other local businesses that were able to supply parts like molded plastic runners for lower-end models, and comfy padded seat liners for the baby sleds.
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