Sawing Heavy Timbers for Movie Sets in Alberta

By Tony Kryzanowski, Wood-Mizer Contributing Author

Forest in Alberta Canada

The Leonardo DiCaprio movie, ‘The Revenant’ was filmed in southern Alberta, Canada. Its set designers purchased a lot of wood products manufactured by Brooks Sawmill, and this is one of several Western movies that the sawmill has supplied in addition to its highly eclectic client list.

The businesses’ website, which is really the only public profile the company has besides supporting a number of community groups in nearby Cochrane, says that they are ‘easy to talk to’. And they are, which is why customers keep coming back.

While it has maintained a relatively low profile because business through word-of-mouth has served it well, Brooks Sawmill has a long and storied history. It is a five generation sawmill nestled among million-dollar ranches and oil money mansions located in the picturesque Rocky Mountain foothills west of Cochrane, many of whom they have supplied. Chances are the lumber for the corrals and out buildings, the beautifully-knotted and burled gate posts leading to ranch houses, peeled logs for log homes, and even wood for furniture was supplied by the Brooks Sawmill.

LT40 hydraulic portable sawmill sawing

Business at the sawmill, which features both a Wood-Mizer LT40 bandsaw and a circular sawmill, is steady. Owned by David and Marcie Brooks, Marcie says that their current website is probably the highest profile the company has ever had, even though it is almost 100 years old. A custom sawing operation, Brooks Sawmill aims for high quality and has shipped wood products as far as Texas. The lumber sawn at the sawmill helped build Cochrane and the surrounding area.

LT40 hydraulic portable sawmill sawing

The sawmill derives its income from both solid wood products and firewood, with just over half coming from the solid wood side of the business. Their product mix extends from as small as 1” x 4” lumber as short as 8’ to as large at 14” x 14” timbers as long as 32’. They also produce rough dimension lumber in popular sizes from 2” x 4” to 2” x 10” for non-structural applications, and aim for high quality, removing all lumber with red rot indication from their lifts, and sending it for firewood.

Logs loading Volvo forklift

“We’ve shipped material, such as heavy timbers as far as Texas, and we’ve done a lot of movie sets,” says David. “Pretty much every movie that has been filmed here that is a Western, we’ve supplied most, if not all their timber.”

Brooks Sawmill purchases its 5000 cubic meters of wood fiber from surplus oversized spruce and pine logs sold typically by large dimension sawmills in the province.

For custom jobs that take a little longer and are more suited for a bandsaw, Brooks Sawmill operates its Wood-Mizer LT40 bandsaw with one operator, in tandem with a circular saw operation to produce commodity dimension lumber. “We use the bandsaw for doing heavy and long timbers up to 32 feet long, and a lot of one inch material due to the small kerf on the band,” says David.

LT40 hydraulic portable sawmill sawing

The area surrounding the Brooks Sawmill is highly prosperous now, but the fictitious, hinterland backdrop shown in ‘The Revenant’ movie was daily life for decades for the Brooks family. It is a mere half-hour drive from Cochrane today, but in its early days, it was wagon trails and pioneer living in the wilderness.

The property where the sawmill is located was purchased by David’s great grandfather, Frank Brooks, in 1901. The Brooks Sawmill was established in 1923 and is likely the oldest, continuously-family-owned, sawmill business in the province. The business started with manual felling and horse logging on the Brooks property as well as adjacent properties. “When my great grandfather started the business, they were producing a lot of ties for the mines around Canmore and further east,” says David, as well as lumber for area farmers and ranchers.

LT40 hydraulic portable sawmill sawing

In the 1930’s, they acquired a steam engine from an old Canmore coal mine that provided the power to operate their sawmill. “There was a drought in those days, so there was only enough water to saw for half a day,” says David. “We’d run the engine till we ran out of water.” Later, it was upgraded to a TD14 diesel engine, which powered the sawmill till 1990, when it was replaced with a Detroit diesel engine.

The Brooks Sawmill has supplied everything from timbers, to lumber, to authentic-looking hanging trees, to biscuits from the ends of logs for wedding decorations. David says that after so many years in the business, he has seen his share of unusual customer requests, coming from movie set designers, log home builders, furniture builders, oil companies, mining companies, ranchers, farmers and homebuilders.

LT40 hydraulic portable sawmill sawing and sawyer

Both David and Marcie are actively involved, with David setting up the weekly production schedule, bucking logs by hand to the desired length to fill orders in a lay-up yard, and then driving the front-end loader to deliver logs to one of two sawmills, depending on orders. Marcie is the office manager and takes care of the books. The business has four sawmill employees and nine part-time employees who work a couple of days per week on the firewood packaging assembly line. David and Marcie established the firewood division when they took over the company in about 2000, purchasing a firewood plant, establishing an assembly line, and hiring part-time staff. They have contracts to supply several campgrounds and hotels in the surrounding area. David’s brother, Roy, also works in the business as a sawyer.

David brings considerable experience to the business, first working with his father and grandfather at Brooks Sawmill, then spending 15 years working at Spray Lakes Sawmill, a high volume, fully modern, dimension sawmill in Cochrane. He took over the 93-year-old family business when his father retired. In addition to managing the sawmill, David and Marcie also manage a herd of 30 head of cattle.

Brooks Sawmill workers in Alberta Canada

The Leonardo DiCaprio movie, ‘The Revenant’ was filmed in southern Alberta, Canada. Its set designers purchased a lot of wood products manufactured by Brooks Sawmill, and this is one of several Western movies that the sawmill has supplied in addition to its highly eclectic client list.

The businesses’ website, which is really the only public profile the company has besides supporting a number of community groups in nearby Cochrane, says that they are ‘easy to talk to’. And they are, which is why customers keep coming back.

While it has maintained a relatively low profile because business through word-of-mouth has served it well, Brooks Sawmill has a long and storied history. It is a five generation sawmill nestled among million-dollar ranches and oil money mansions located in the picturesque Rocky Mountain foothills west of Cochrane, many of whom they have supplied. Chances are the lumber for the corrals and out buildings, the beautifully-knotted and burled gate posts leading to ranch houses, peeled logs for log homes, and even wood for furniture was supplied by the Brooks Sawmill.

 

 

Business at the sawmill, which features both a Wood-Mizer LT40 bandsaw and a circular sawmill, is steady. Owned by David and Marcie Brooks, Marcie says that their current website is probably the highest profile the company has ever had, even though it is almost 100 years old. A custom sawing operation, Brooks Sawmill aims for high quality and has shipped wood products as far as Texas. The lumber sawn at the sawmill helped build Cochrane and the surrounding area.

 

 

The sawmill derives its income from both solid wood products and firewood, with just over half coming from the solid wood side of the business. Their product mix extends from as small as 1” x 4” lumber as short as 8’ to as large at 14” x 14” timbers as long as 32’. They also produce rough dimension lumber in popular sizes from 2” x 4” to 2” x 10” for non-structural applications, and aim for high quality, removing all lumber with red rot indication from their lifts, and sending it for firewood.

 

 

“We’ve shipped material, such as heavy timbers as far as Texas, and we’ve done a lot of movie sets,” says David. “Pretty much every movie that has been filmed here that is a Western, we’ve supplied most, if not all their timber.”

Brooks Sawmill purchases its 5000 cubic meters of wood fiber from surplus oversized spruce and pine logs sold typically by large dimension sawmills in the province.

For custom jobs that take a little longer and are more suited for a bandsaw, Brooks Sawmill operates its Wood-Mizer LT40 bandsaw with one operator, in tandem with a circular saw operation to produce commodity dimension lumber. “We use the bandsaw for doing heavy and long timbers up to 32 feet long, and a lot of one inch material due to the small kerf on the band,” says David.

 

 

The area surrounding the Brooks Sawmill is highly prosperous now, but the fictitious, hinterland backdrop shown in ‘The Revenant’ movie was daily life for decades for the Brooks family. It is a mere half-hour drive from Cochrane today, but in its early days, it was wagon trails and pioneer living in the wilderness.

The property where the sawmill is located was purchased by David’s great grandfather, Frank Brooks, in 1901. The Brooks Sawmill was established in 1923 and is likely the oldest, continuously-family-owned, sawmill business in the province. The business started with manual felling and horse logging on the Brooks property as well as adjacent properties. “When my great grandfather started the business, they were producing a lot of ties for the mines around Canmore and further east,” says David, as well as lumber for area farmers and ranchers.

 

 

In the 1930’s, they acquired a steam engine from an old Canmore coal mine that provided the power to operate their sawmill. “There was a drought in those days, so there was only enough water to saw for half a day,” says David. “We’d run the engine till we ran out of water.” Later, it was upgraded to a TD14 diesel engine, which powered the sawmill till 1990, when it was replaced with a Detroit diesel engine.

The Brooks Sawmill has supplied everything from timbers, to lumber, to authentic-looking hanging trees, to biscuits from the ends of logs for wedding decorations. David says that after so many years in the business, he has seen his share of unusual customer requests, coming from movie set designers, log home builders, furniture builders, oil companies, mining companies, ranchers, farmers and homebuilders.

 

 

Both David and Marcie are actively involved, with David setting up the weekly production schedule, bucking logs by hand to the desired length to fill orders in a lay-up yard, and then driving the front-end loader to deliver logs to one of two sawmills, depending on orders. Marcie is the office manager and takes care of the books. The business has four sawmill employees and nine part-time employees who work a couple of days per week on the firewood packaging assembly line. David and Marcie established the firewood division when they took over the company in about 2000, purchasing a firewood plant, establishing an assembly line, and hiring part-time staff. They have contracts to supply several campgrounds and hotels in the surrounding area. David’s brother, Roy, also works in the business as a sawyer.

David brings considerable experience to the business, first working with his father and grandfather at Brooks Sawmill, then spending 15 years working at Spray Lakes Sawmill, a high volume, fully modern, dimension sawmill in Cochrane. He took over the 93-year-old family business when his father retired. In addition to managing the sawmill, David and Marcie also manage a herd of 30 head of cattle.

 

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