For many companies, a flood equals the end of their business. But, for Mo Pac Lumber Company, it was the catalyst they needed to grow. Mo Pac’s history begins in the 1930s, when Louis Pescaglia realized he could make more money cutting mine timbers than delivering coal. In 1960, Jim Pescaglia joined his father in the family business. By then, Louis was primarily making pallet material for the nearby Caterpillar Tractor Company and Keystone Steel and Wire. It was Jim’s idea to transition from making pallets to cutting furniture grade lumber. Jim’s brother, Jerry, joined them in 1970 and helped to expand the business.
Ten years later, the third generation of the Pescaglia family joined the business. Bucky Pescaglia attended the Inspector Training School and graduated with the 71st class while his cousin, Rick Butler, also began working at the company. There isn’t a huge timber base in Illinois, so they did some research as to which species would be the best to focus their efforts. The answer was walnut, and since Missouri has more walnut than the next two states combined, they sold the business to Rick and bought a small sawmill in New Franklin, Missouri.
Bucky recalls, “We grew the mill from five acres, and 3,500 board-feet a day to 36 acres, and 15,000 board-feet a day. Then the flood of 1993 hit us. We didn’t have any flood insurance because our mill was two-and-a-half miles away from the river and we didn’t think we needed it. The flood was devastating. Our mill was swallowed under 14-feet of water. Almost all of our logs floated away, and everything we had left was heavily damaged with mud. We were underwater for 30 days, and out of commission for 100 days. After the flood, we built a new mill on higher ground in Fayette, Missouri. It opened in 1996 and is still going strong.”
Moving the mill and choosing to focus on walnut paid off in spades. 24 years later, Mo Pac is still on a successful run. When asked what makes Mo Pac special, Bucky said, “There are three things that we do to separate ourselves from our competition. The first of which is specializing in black walnut. It is such a distinctive species that everything about it is unique, the log characteristics, how you saw them, how you handle every part of the steaming and drying process, and the inspection. It all takes experience to do it well. And since that’s what we do, it’s over 90% of our production.
We also make sure that our lumber is NHLA grade certified because walnut is much different than other species. Black Walnut makes up 3% or less of the hardwood forests in North America. Because of that, not everyone knows how it is graded. The certification gives the customer a sense of security knowing that they are getting what they paid for, that the lumber will meet or exceed the requirements of the grade. So that separates us, we think from most of our competition. And we have a wide variety of walnut, we don’t just have four and a quarter. We cut through 16 quarter, and we have a variety of specialty widths and specialty grain patterns – all so we can provide exactly what the customer wants.”
Bucky continued, “Finally, we feel it is extremely important to hire NHLA certified inspectors/graders. Not only did I get my start by attending Inspector Training School, but my youngest son did as well. Graduates know the rules and know what our customers are expecting. Since they understand this, our customers are always happy. Lumber inspectors are revered in this industry, and ITS is a fantastic way to create a great career for yourself. ITS gave me the opportunity to grow in this industry. I have applied the education I got from there throughout my life, and it has been the most important thing that contributed to my success. That’s why I joined the board of the Inspector Training School Educational Foundation. I want to make sure that school is always there, and that everyone has the opportunity to climb the same ladder that I did, whether it is scholarships or just keeping the school up to date with technology.”
Bucky also contributes part of Mo Pac Lumber’s success to their NHLA membership. “We, as a company and as family, feel it’s important to be members of the biggest association that represents our industry. And not just with our dues, but with our participation in events, being on their board, being on their committees, participating in surveys that they send out. By supporting the association, we support our industry. And we feel like it’s extremely important to participate because, from that participation, you get all the benefits that come from being a member.”
Despite all of the turmoil happening in the world, Bucky still has a positive attitude, saying, “I believe the future is extremely bright. Walnut is popular all over the world because it only really grows here in the United States. As a result, we export about 60% of our production. We are in the process of upgrading our mill and installing new equipment, and we are looking forward to continuing to grow our markets all over the world. I have two sons that work in the family business. They will take over as I look toward retirement. That will be four generations of leadership, which can only make us stronger.”