Paper mill marks 50 years of growth in world market

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It was the only job Ray Floyd has ever had.

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Dudley Wheeler (from center left), Ralph Dillman and Ray Floyd have worked at International Paper since its predecessor was founded 50 years ago. The co-workers were honored Saturday. 
  Corey Perrine/Staff
Corey Perrine/Staff
Dudley Wheeler (from center left), Ralph Dillman and Ray Floyd have worked at International Paper since its predecessor was founded 50 years ago. The co-workers were honored Saturday.

He grew up "near the river swamps" a mile away from the sprawling factory where he "could roll down the hill and be at work in no time," he said.

He knew the International Paper Augusta Mill before it was the powerhouse it is today, producing enough board every year to circle the Earth 17 times.

He knew it 50 years ago, when it was still a cattle farm with a three-story barn.

Since he took his job in 1960, he has seen the mill grow from a one-line assembly to a three-paper-machine operation.

On Saturday, he helped celebrate the mill's 50- year anniversary and was honored as one of three of the mill's longest-serving employees.

"This place has been really good to me," Floyd said. "With paper machines, it could be a great day or it could be a disastrous day. I've had a lot of good days."

The mill brought nearly 2,000 of its past and present employees and their families for a carnival held on the slope below the mill.

The mill has more than 700 employees and produces paper board that ends up in DVD cases, paper plates and lottery tickets all over the world, said mill manager Chris Mallon.

The mill uses timber from a 100-mile radius around Augusta, meeting 80 percent of its fuel needs from by-products of the harvested trees, Mallon said. On average, the plant produces 1,900 tons of paper a day.

Ralph Dillman stepped on the mill site 50 years ago, when he was 18, and helped build the factory where he has worked ever since.

"I remember walking right down here with a bag of peanuts on my shoulders heading to the job site," Dillman said.

Between laying pipes in construction, Dillman would sell bags of peanuts for 15 cents each to the 3,000 construction workers, where Dudley Wheeler was also working.

Wheeler, who also was honored Saturday for his 50 years of service, began in the mill as a stock operator and moved to a finished products operator, where he works today at 80 years old.

"I've had a good life here," Wheeler said.

The celebration Saturday was also a reunion for most employees.

It was the first time in decades some had seen friends that they once worked beside for years.

When Ike Benefield, a 42-year mill employee, spotted Wheeler in the crowd he joked about when his friend would finally join him in retirement.

"Maybe another 10 years," Wheeler said.

Timeline in Augusta

International Paper's Augusta Mill started in 1960 as Continental Can Co.'s forest products division. They developed the 3,000-acre site on Mike Padgett Highway. Additional production capacity was installed in 1965 and 1977.

The plant was acquired in 1985 by Federal Paper Board Co. The facility underwent a $1 billion expansion between 1986 and 1992.

In 1996, Federal was acquired by International Paper for $3.5 billion.

International Paper's Augusta Mill employs nearly 720 employees. More than 260 of those employees have worked there for more than 25 years.

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Rozzie2003 11/14/10 - 01:13 pm
A Great Corporative Citizen!

A Great Corporative Citizen! Congratulations on 50 years, contributing immensely to the greater Augsta's economy

walrus4ever 11/14/10 - 02:06 pm
Congrats to International

Congrats to International Paper. My dad retired from the then Continental Can Co in 1975. I worked on the Snowflake III expansion in the 70s. A great employer that supports the economy and actually makes something.

Sweet son
Sweet son 11/14/10 - 04:41 pm
I remember as a younger man

I remember as a younger man that our neighbor in the Mt. Vernon area worked at the plant. I said to him one day what does the sulfur smell make you think of. He said it made him think of bacon and eggs. A lot of people have made careers at the "plant" and also have raised families on bacon and eggs. It did smell kinda bad in the early years but that just came with the territory.

StepAT 11/15/10 - 11:01 am
Lots of memories associated

Lots of memories associated with that mill. My daddy started there when it was Continental Can back in the 60's and retired in 1996.When I complained about the smell he would ask me if I liked the shoes I was wearing and when I said yes, he would say that stink bought them! That was the smell of money :)

Warrior 11/15/10 - 11:26 pm
In memory of Thomas Stokes

In memory of Thomas Stokes Sr. aka "Broboy" who worked at Federal Paper for over 25 years. RIP

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