Lufkin is an upscale rural community of 35,000 located in the deep east Texas area of dense forests. The region is central to the Texas timber industry and Lufkin is home to the Texas Forestry Museum. Situated on the edge of town, the museum building is a nondescript affair that would go unnoticed unless sought out. Behind the museum is an overgrown area of outside artifacts and this unkempt appearance actually lends a quaintness as opposed to pristine tidiness.
The idea of lumber and old rusty saws does not inspire anticipation and excitement yet the forestry museum is interesting and informative.The exhibit entrance is done in the style of an early 1900s sawmill house. Turpentine is an important byproduct and collection tools are displayed. There is an introduction to the uses of timber in industry, shipping and manufacturing.
The first gallery offers the feel of entering a sawmill and is filled with vintage equipment. The 1900 steam engine is mammoth in size and an explanation of its workings is provided. Parked on the exhibit floor is an eight-wheel logging wagon and “Byrd Timber Co.” 1930 Model A Ford. The molder-planer machine dates from the early 1900s. When thinking timber, saws naturally come to mind and the museum boasts a sizable vintage saw collection from hand to powered.
Running a timber company is more than loggers chopping down trees and cutting them into lumber and various displays depict other facets of operation within the enterprise. A blacksmith’s shop was needed to maintain sawmill equipment and care for the horses once used to pull logging wagons. Illustrating the administrative side is a timekeeper’s desk on which sits an old ledger that kept track of employees. Company towns developed around the sawmill and home and community lives of workers are presented. The company store was a center of activity because there was no other place to buy goods and there is a fine accumulation of memorabilia to be seen. The dominance of the company is exemplified by the displayed tokens employees were forced to use in lieu of cash.
The second gallery takes visitors into more contemporary times and centers on local company Southland Paper Mill. The company time clock is a nice piece and the office conference table dates from 1938. The process of making paper is detailed. This is the kind of information that is good for children to learn and the museum does cater to school groups.
The fire service exhibition is concerned with the greatest threat to timber. A history of wildfires is shown and Texas continues to be plagued by wildfires though far fewer than California. Vintage forest service signs are also cool to look at. An original fire lookout tower room has been reconstructed to provide a glimpse into the fire watcher’s accommodation and fire detection tools used. A sawmill worker’s house has been recreated to illustrate living conditions and home life. Also displayed are a 1953 Jeep with plow and massive 1950 log cart.
Once visitors are through in the museum, they can exit to the rear to that jungle of heavy equipment including a 1946 log truck and road grader. The focal point of the outdoor display is a complete vintage train depot with accompanying engines and cars. The railroad was vital to the timber industry in shipping out products and bringing supplies in. A full size fire tower stands. The area is fenced off so visitors may look and read the identifying signs. It is disappointing not to wander around up close but there are understandable safety issues.
Kids in particular will enjoy the Texas Forestry Museum and the price is right: free.