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Keim Lumber History

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Keim Lumber in 1920 Keim Lumber in 1920
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Keim Lumber Company can trace its early beginning to the first part of the (20th) century right here in Charm, Ohio.

Moses J. Keim, son of Joseph Keim, grew up on a farm, a mile northwest of Charm. In young adulthood he learned the carpentry and woodworking trade along with working on the water powered sawmill at the home.

In 1908 he purchased 1-3/4 acres at Charm and built a house a few hundred feet north of the original store; this was the initial survey of the Keim Lumber grounds of today.

Pursuing his interests further, he set up a sawmill in 1911. Within the same year, Moses formed a partnership with his brother John, and together, they built a two story planing mill for surfacing and molding finish lumber. The following year, in 1912, Moses and his brother Abe, who was working for the partnership, went to Massillon by train and purchased a new 25HP Russel steam engine as a power unit.

The building, part of which is still standing today, was placed immediately south of the already existing sawmill. The engine was set under the extended roof to the north, and there it could run both the sawmill and inside machinery.

Moses Keim, later recalling his days with the sawmill, related how the big sawdust pile had to be removed. Since the streets of Charm were still dirt, dust, and mud, he loaded the sawdust on wagons and spread a four-inch layer across the road. He remarked, "... (it) mixed with the mud and made a pretty good road."

The original milling trade was known as Keim Brothers. Despite a successful undertaking, the partnership was short lived, as in 1916 John sold his share to Moses and moved to Defiance County. The John Keims had lived immediately south of the mill building, then in 1918 also deeded their property to Moses.

Soon after the partnership was dissolved, the sawmill was discontinued. Moses continued doing carpentry work, even with the lumber business at home.

At home, Moses was making furniture as early as 1909. A secretary desk ($20.00) for John H. Miller is known to have been made that year. Later, in the shop, his work included the construction of solid wooden caskets, which were made and stored on the second floor of the mill. During the early years that the mill was in operation, Mose made a child's coffin and rough box for $5.25, while a regular size was $14.00. During the early years of business, Moses Keim saw a need for expansion at the planing mill, and planned to tear off the south end of the mill.

In 1918 one of the company's first owners, John Keim, returned from Defiance Country and moved 1-1/2 miles northwest of Charm. The Keim family lived there five years, then in 1923 they moved again, to the Bowman Harness Shop acreage, three miles north of Bunker Hill. Here the Keim's operated a lumber supply, with both a saw mill and planing mill.

During the beginning of the Depression era, John was seeking a new location to set up a mill.  When he finally secured land at the south edge of Mt Hope, construction was soon underway. By 1932, the Depression had left Moses Keim substantially out of work, and making a living from lumber work looked bleak. His brother John needed help and wanted to give employment to Moses, so he offered him the opportunity to set up the shop machinery. When Moses accepted the offer, he sold his Charm acreage (in 1932), including the mill and home, to his brother Albert.

Moses began with doing concrete work for the Mt Hope building, then set up machinery, line shafts, and steam engine. Supposedly, the last steam engine made by the Russel Company of Massillon was purchased by Keim at a reduced price of $250.00 from $1,700.00, and set up by Moses as a power unit.

At Charm, Al installed a feed grinder in the planing mill, and from this initial venture later built the feed mill at the south edge of the village. After a 1-1/2 year stay at Mt. Hope, Moses Keim again bought the Charm investment in 1934, and moved back to town. At this time, his son Roman took an interest in the company, and the business became known as M. J. Keim and Son. Slowly they saw their trade increase and prosper after the failing years of the Depression.

Plywood was first sold by the lumber company in the early 1940's.  A small dry kiln was attached to the planing mill, and in 1948 the first storage shed was built behind the mill. During the growth of the business, a new flooring machine was added in 1954, for manufacturing hardwood floors. By the middle of the century, the planing mill was expanded again, with a block building enclosing the original wooden structure on the front and north sides, as is evident today. An office and hardware store were added on the south end of the reconstructed mill. The north side housed a complete line of woodworking equipment now run by a Cummins diesel.

During the 1960's, the Keim house, to the south, was being used as an office for the growing company. The first pole building was added on the rising hillside to the east in 1962. By this time the company had been joined by the present owner, Bill Keim, a son of Roman, and was now known as Keim Lumber Company. With the grandson's involvement, the Charm-based lumber company saw its third generation of ownership, with each contributing an active part to the business.

Grandfather Moses was still able to help with milling beyond his ninety years of age. His remark, "I work, not because I have to, but because I enjoy it," displayed his character well. With keen eyesight and an outstanding ability, he still honed a sharp edge to the planer knives with a flat file without removing the set from the machine's head. Or, with the use of an antique folding pocket rule, he was able to maintain exacting lumber dimensions. Physically, the gray-haired gentleman was well, as his energetic, brisk walk could easily switch to a slow jog. Humorously, Mose would credit his good health to a breakfast of "coffee soup" each morning.

Aside from his business at Charm, Roman took great interest in big game hunting.  His hunting trips took him across the western states and into Canada and Alaska, while collecting and bringing home trophy mounts of big game animals.

Bill Keim, the third generation owner, has been instrumental in the lumber company's most significant growth during its nearly 100 year history. As a teenager in the 1960's, Bill had already taken the responsibility of placing stock orders, because of his father's ill health. Roman's extended ordeal with health problems restricted his continual attention to business, and his son's help was well needed. Bill's years of solid commitment are truly an important factor in the company's growth of today.

By 1973 additional office, storage, and display areas were needed.  A block storage and garage building had already been added by this time. Continuing plans finally developed into an extensive excavating project, with construction of the 80'x160' steel beam building, beginning in 1973. Early the next year the new display store, warehouse, and office areas were opened. By now the building material retailer had also become an HWI (Hardware Wholesaler Inc.) distributor. Hundreds of hardware items were readily available, which added greatly to the company's inventory.

An expanded service desk island was added, along with a large selection of Rockwell and hand tools. The following year the first of the newer pole buildings, measuring 70'x200', was erected. Later another one of identical size, was added to the north end of the earlier shed. During the next decade, more storage buildings were added to the complex. Renovation of the store building was begun in 1987. A two story block addition was added along the east side, again greatly increasing store, warehouse, and office areas. Committed to the lumber industry, the big structure was then clad with a wooden lap siding.

Meanwhile in the planning mill, the machinery was eventually becoming outdated, and most of the company's trim and finish lumber supply was being purchased elsewhere. By the 1980s, significant changes were being made. Newer, electrical machinery was replacing the older, belt driven equipment. Now, with increased capabilities and multiplying milling orders, the old building was rapidly becoming overcrowded. In 1985 the company acquired a number of acres of farm land from neighbor Crist U Miller, and by the fall of 1989 work had begun on a 150'x150' mill building along the east edge of the tract. That winter, during Christmas vacation, the machinery was transferred to the greatly expanded facility, and operations began by the second week of January, 1990.

We thank Vernon Miller for allowing us to use these historical excerpts from his book HISTORICAL ALBUM OF CHARM OHIO.  Copies of this book may be obtained by writing: Vernon J Miller 4755 CR 19, Millersburg, OH 44654 or by calling: Ivan J Miller at Keim Lumber, 800 362-6682 Ext 201.

Keim Lumber Company has seen continued growth. There are now almost 700,000 sq ft under roof; an enlarged treated lumber storage area; over 400 employees and 26 delivery trucks offering free delivery within a 150 mile radius.