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Economy fails to stop mill's growth

A unique Tuolumne County wood-shavings plant is hoping to carve out a larger share of the market for animal bedding, adding new technology.
California Wood Shavings, on La Grange Road, which is already the state’s only free-standing shavings plant, is adding a two-story-tall baling machine to bag its product.

Owner Bob Brewster says the baler — when it comes online in early April — will compact shavings and seal them in 3-by-2-by-1-foot bags, allowing the product, now sold in bulk, to be sold in retail markets.
It’s not the first time Brewster has blazed a new trail with his enterprise, which launched in 2008.
The business, to make its bedding, grinds up trees deemed too small for lumber mills. Most companies rely on surplus shavings from lumber mills but, as many mills have closed, the supply chain has dried up.
Currently, about four big-rig loads of shavings a day are trucked from California Wood Shavings to large equestrian centers and other places where they can be used for animal bedding.
Baling the shavings will increase the amount per truckload by about 300 percent because of compaction, Brewster said.
Brewster, who retired from the construction business in Canada, started this business in 2008 after researching locations throughout California, where he already had a market for shavings.
Brewster’s permanent home is in Vancouver, British Columbia. He also rents a home in Calaveras County.
A former sawmill worker and one-time member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Brewster said he became interested in ways to use wood waste because of how much the construction firm he owned spent to get rid of it. 
“This is a hobby for me, although I have to admit it has been a little more than that lately,” he said, referring to efforts to get the baler up and going. 
He declined to state the cost of the complicated piece of European equipment, but admitted it was “a lot of money.”
Vicki Albrecht is general manager of the day-to-day operations of the La Grange Road plant, assisted by her husband, Mike. It employs six people.
Mike Albrecht and Stacey Dodge are owners of the Sonora logging firm Sierra Resource Management — one of several companies that provides logs for California Wood Shavings. 
Neither the Albrechts nor Dodge have any ownership in California Wood Shavings, although the plant is at the same location as Sierra Resource Management, Mike Albrecht said.
The two businesses occupy a 10-acre site owned by Joe and Joyce Martin, which is part of the old Keystone Lumber Mill.

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