The History of Wilson Lumber
A Legacy of Working Hard
Ken Wilson was only 7 years old when he climbed on top of a lumber truck and handed planks down to his father. At 9, he was using a band saw out behind their home, working to fill an order for a big customer. They seemed like tough life lessons at the time — Ken even jokes about how dramatic he was when his father made him saw planks in the cold.
“I went on out to the lumber shed to do it, and I was feeling so sorry for myself that I thought, ‘If I were to freeze to death, my dad would really be sorry that he made me work,’” Ken said.
Of course, he wasn’t at risk of frostbite. This is Alabama, where winters barely require a coat. Those life lessons — the hard work, the customer service, the overall ethics of the company were hard at first, but now Ken, along with his brothers Rick and Steve, know that those were the foundations of good business practices.
By the time Ken was an adult, he knew he wanted to go into the family business, Wilson Lumber, to continue their family tradition of hard work and honesty. Rick and Steve followed afterwards, and the three took over the business from their father, Clyde. Today, they’ve handed down the company to their three sons, Robb, Russ and Mark, but the values instilled in them by their fathers and grandfather are still alive and well in the lumberyard.
Who Was Clyde Wilson?
To hear Ken, Rick and Steve tell it, Clyde comes across like a character straight out of a John Steinbeck novel, a literal up-from-the-bootstraps, depression-era farmer who moved his family from rural Alabama to the big city of Huntsville. At least at that time it was considered a big city.
Born in 1914, Clyde Wilson grew up in Winston County where his sons say the depression hit, but they were so poor already they didn’t even notice. Clyde even called black-eyed peas lifesavers because that’s all he had to eat for many meals growing up.
Even at a young age, Clyde was out in the fields working from dawn to dusk. He was a logger and a farmer until the middle of the twentieth century, when a failed cotton crop forced him to move north a little bit. Times were different then, and men were expected to labor outside for a full day before coming home for dinner. It’s that mindset that Clyde carried over into his own family.
Clyde’s brother-in-law was already in Huntsville, so he moved the family up to Huntsville and jumped right into what he knew best. He already knew a lot about the industry since he had been in logging, so it wasn’t a stretch. He started the lumber company a few years later, starting off the legacy of hard-working Wilson men who would own and operate the business.
The Third Generation
Ken, Rick and Steve passed the business down to their sons Robb, Russ and Mark. They wanted to pass on the lessons they learned from their father, but just like Clyde, they knew the way to reach and influence young men wasn’t to teach and preach at them.
In fact, Ken says he didn’t teach his son anything in the traditional sense, again leading by example and hoping his son picked up on the life lessons. Rick’s son Russ graduated from college and went to work in a different industry before realizing the family business was in his blood. Steve was careful not to pressure his son, Mark, into working for Wilson Lumber. He just wanted him to be a good employee somewhere. Eventually, Mark found his own way back to Huntsville and started working alongside his cousins.
Over the past 70 years, almost everything about the way Wilson Lumber operates has changed, from the technology used to the Wilson men in charge. “That was one thing that my dad would tell us,” Ken said. “If you’re not growing, you’re digressing. One thing he said was that the one thing that doesn’t change is that everything changes. I guess that’s kind of the secret to the whole business.” But the one thing that hasn’t changed is the Wilson Lumber devotion to good, clean business practices and giving the customer the best experience they can muster.
Written by: The TN Valley Community Journal