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Rural Missouri Magazine

Landing at home
Airline pilot ‘flunks retirement’ and builds a specialty lumber business

by Bob McEowen

Owner Bill Seitz prepares to cut a beam on his sawmill. Since retiring from commercial aviation, Bill has built a specialty wood products company on his family’s farm.

Some people land where circumstances take them. Others set a goal and take the steps necessary to arrive at their intended destination. Bill Seitz is someone who knows where’s he’s going.

During 26 years in the cockpit for Delta Airlines, he safely piloted passengers to their destinations. A military pilot prior to his commercial career, he left the family farm near El Dorado Springs in search of adventure and to escape what he then perceived as the drudgery of home. At age 60 and retired from aviation, Bill is back home on the farm, guiding a growing business toward success during a time of economic uncertainty.

Three years ago, Bill launched Cedar Creek Timbers, a specialty wood products business on the 600-acre farm where he was raised. Utilizing a portable sawmill, a computer-monitored drying kiln and a well-equipped woodworking shop, the company offers everything from custom-cut lumber to finished products such as home furnishings, handmade cabinets and even caskets for beloved pets.

The exact nature of Bill’s retirement business and the products it offers has changed since he first hung a shingle in his yard in 2007. The purpose of the endeavor, however, has not.

“My goal was to find something that I could enjoy doing and provide a service to people in the community that they couldn’t get elsewhere,” he says. “That would make them happy and me happy, too.”

Like a flight that has been redirected and delayed by turbulence, Cedar Creek Timbers has experienced diversions as the economy has soured, but Bill keeps his destination in sight. Originally intending just to improve the family farm, Bill soon launched a sawmill business, only to begin building finished products out of necessity as demand for building products declined.

Together with Tom Reel, a talented woodworker with years of experience, Bill has steered Cedar Creek Timbers through the storms of a rough economy by adapting and providing customers exactly what they need. Along with rough-cut lumber, paneling, millwork and flooring made from local hardwoods, the business supplies mantel pieces, bar tops, engraved mail box posts, decorative clocks housed in solid walnut, custom cabinets and furniture built entirely of local hardwood to customers searching for that something special in wood.

“You have to respond to the customers’ needs, not the other way around,” the Sac-Osage Electric Cooperative member says. “You can make things all day long, but if you aren’t able to sell it or market it, it’s not going to do you a bit of good.”

Woodworker Tom Reel sands a section of walnut kitchen cabinets in the climate-controlled workshop of Cedar Creek Timbers near El Dorado Springs. The shop offers finished products as well as processed lumber.

Dan McGrew, a retired builder and land developer from Oronogo, first contacted Cedar Creek Timbers in search of cedar beams for a home he’s building on Spring River. Bill not only supplied the timbers, but he also will manufacture barn wood-style paneling for the project.

“He made some 8-by-8 cedar timbers and some 13-by-13 cedar timbers,” McGrew says. “He did everything he said he would do. He had it ready when he said he would have it ready, and I’m pleased with the product.”

McGrew says he also was pleased with the extra level of service Bill provided. After taking delivery, the builder cut one of the timbers incorrectly and needed a replacement. Bill was able to have a new beam cut in the time it took McGrew to drive the hour and a half from the job site.

Bill wasn’t always so attentive to the needs of others. Growing up on the farm, he felt oppressed by farm chores. “I worked on this farm as a kid and thought I was terribly abused and mistreated. I found out later on that I probably wasn’t,” he says.

Determined to escape the farm and see the world, Bill headed off to college at Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State). Bill joined the Army ROTC program and earned a commercial pilot’s license while still in school. Upon graduation, he transferred to the Air Force, which put him to work flying F-105 fighter-bombers. Following military service, Bill flew passenger jets for Delta until retiring in 2005.

After all those years in the cockpit, traveling from city to city, Bill’s wanderlust was satisfied. “I loved going to all the different places that I never did as a kid,” he says. “By the time I retired, I was ready to unpack a suitcase and settle down. It only seemed natural to me to come back here.”

Suddenly, home and the farm seemed pretty attractive. Bill and his wife, Jeni, sold their home in Denton, Texas, and moved back to the farm his great-great grandparents settled in 1859. A state-designated Century Farm — the deed was signed by President James Buchanan — the land had sustained the family for generations with crops and cattle. It also rooted the family in Cedar County, where Bill’s father (also Bill Seitz) served as county clerk.

Bill’s original plan was simply to clean up the farm that his parents, now deceased, left him. He bought a bulldozer and began clearing land, only to realize that the timber — most of which had never been harvested in his lifetime — was too valuable to push over and burn. He bought a sawmill and began cutting lumber for his own use.

A few of the company’s products are on display in the lobby of the shop.

The mill led to a kiln, shipped to Missouri from Maine, for drying lumber. Bill received training in timber processing from the National Hardwood Lumber Association in Memphis. Soon area residents began bringing logs for him to cut and before he knew it, he was too busy cutting other people’s lumber to tend to his own property. As customers requested more processing, he added new machinery and began offering different services.

“I’m just about to flunk retirement completely,” Bill says, recalling how a retirement woodcutting hobby quickly turned into a full-time building products business.

Initially, most of the output from Bill’s sawmill headed out of state. More recently, local builders and homeowners have turned to him for lumber, including white and red oak, black walnut, hickory, sycamore, maple and even Osage Orange.

Although he keeps an inventory of materials on hand, customers also bring him timber harvested from their own property.

“They like the idea of being able to take their logs somewhere, get them sawed, get them processed, get them turned into a table or trim or paneling, or whatever it happens to be,” Bill says. “They point to it in their house and say ‘This came off of my property.’”

As the housing market collapsed, Bill found that custom sawing and millwork could not sustain the struggling business. Thanks to the experience of Reel, whose family owned a cabinet shop in Kansas City, he’s been able to offer finished products like furniture and cabinets.

“I should have realized it’s not a good time to start this business, but I didn’t know any better,” he says. “So we’ve diversified and used our resources and talents to come up with some ideas and do some things.”

As with the specialized lumber-cutting services Cedar Creek Timbers offers, customers have come to Bill’s business in search of one-of-a-kind finished products as well.

Bill examines boards drying in his temperature- and humidity-controlled kiln. The kiln, manufactured in Maine, allows him to dry 7,000 board feet of lumber within a few weeks.

“This is pretty unique,” Reel says as he works on a set of kitchen cabinets made completely from native walnut — not even the drawers or cabinet backs are made with plywood or particleboard. “It’s specialty stuff. It’s what they can’t go to Home Depot or Lowe’s to find.”

The same can be said for the wide hardwood flooring and handcrafted furniture Cedar Creek Timbers supplies. As an example, he recalls a customer who wanted a cedar log mantelpiece for a new home. “They had the opportunity to come down and pick their log, and then we cut it and got it ready. When she came to look at it, she had tears in her eyes,” Bill says. “She was happy.”

Later, when the customer held a Christmas open house to present their new home, Bill was among the invited guests. That’s a sign, he says, that he’s on course to arrive at his business destination of providing meaningful work on the family farm, while satisfying his customers’ needs.

“It is rewarding,” he says of the past three years supplying wood products to builders and homeowners in southwest Missouri. “That makes us feel good that they are happy.”

For more information about Cedar Creek Timbers, call Bill Seitz at 417-876-0227 or log on to www.cedarcreektimbers.com.

Fit for man’s best friend

Bill Seitz, owner of Cedar Creek Timbers, places the lid on a handcrafted pet casket, while employee Juan Campos of Humansville looks on. Seitz developed the unusual product to supplement his business providing materials to the building trades.

In searching for products to utilize leftover materials, and to provide new opportunities in a troubled economy, Bill Seitz and employee Tom Reel have come up with some unique finished products. Without a doubt, the most unusual is a line of hardwood pet caskets.

Cedar Creek Timbers offers three sizes of handcrafted caskets. Each is available either unlined or with satin upholstery. The company also offers handcrafted wooden urns for devoted pet owners to keep a beloved animals cremated remains.

The company is slowly introducing the product, unsure how to market caskets without offending pet owners. Bill is pretty sure he won’t sell many to his neighbors. “Cedar County is probably not my market,” he says.

Instead, Bill envisions demand for pet caskets to come primarily from the urban pet owners, who he says often view companion animals differently than rural people do.

“It’s probably a bit of a misnomer to say that city people care more for their pets, but they have a different attitude about them,” Bill says. “There’s a different way of life there. There are people whose pets never go to a kennel. They hire house sitters or dog sitters.”

Unlike in rural areas, city ordinances often prevent burying deceased pets in the backyard. Bill hopes urban pet cemeteries will discover his handcrafted pet caskets and offer them to their customers. The caskets range in price from $189 for an unlined economy model to $465 for a deluxe version made from black walnut, red oak, cherry, pecan or other native hardwoods.

“There is a niche,” Bill says. “Now whether or not we will be able to capture that, I don’t know, but we wanted to offer a high-quality product to try to take advantage of that.”

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