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Mill worker is a master of wood

May 18, 1997

By JENNYLYNN BROWN

Staff Writer

The way Thurman Frey's desk nameplate is made gives a hint about what he does for a living.

The letters, T-H-U-R-M-A-N, are each made of machine-cut, 2-inch chunks of wood.

For 44 years, Frey has cut, designed and repaired wooden items at the lumber mill at 449 N. Prospect St.

"He's probably one of the most experienced and knowledgeable in the state," said Robert A. Rauth, president of R & R Lumber and Millworks Inc. "People come in and ask for him by name. He has and probably can do almost anything related to mill work."

Frey, 71, said the Army trained him in 1950. "They put me with the construction engineer," Frey said. "I was assigned as 1st carpenter. My dad said he couldn't understand it because when I was at home, I couldn't saw a board straight."

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"I told him, `They have machines that cut the board straight.'"

As the mill supervisor of 17 years, Frey makes project estimates, directs the staff and keeps the machines repaired.

"When I don't have anything else to do, I get up and do my share," he said.

Over the years, he's worked on numerous projects: parts of the original Bavarian Inn, including the registration desk, buildings at Fort Detrick and various churches.

"I built the big cross outside the Lutheran church on Cleveland Avenue," he said.

Now he is directing the millwork for the renovations on the Antietam Fire Co. on Summit Ave.

"My motto is, `If it's made of wood, we can do it."

Inside the two-story mill, there's a lumber project everywhere and a thin layer of sawdust on almost everything - including Frey's push-button telephone and his calculator.

On a desk shelf he made sits a 15-inch stack of company books from 1903, 1926, 1937 and 1935. He uses the diagrams and color drawings on those well-worn pages for duplicating designs.

Those books and the mill had been part of Coffman Lumber Corp. until early last September when R & R bought the property.

Frey said that the Coffman Lumber Corp. opened in 1906 and moved in 1924 to 449 N. Prospect St., which had been a barrel and wagon wheel factory.

The mill is the original building used in 1924, he said.

"When I came here, all the machines were run by a big motor in the basement," Frey said. Machines got individual motors around 1955, he said.

Some equipment has been there as long as he has.

"One old saw here can do more than the new saws," he said. "It's slower, but so am I. They're not replacing it while I'm here."

Working on the machines requires proper clothes and concentration. Loose clothes could get caught in the machines and paying attention saves appendages, he said.

"I'm pretty lucky. I still have all my fingers," he said, holding out his hands. "You've got to respect the machines. If you don't, you can lose a finger in a hurry."

From years of experience, Frey said he has developed a natural instinct for the art of woodworking, but he does not consider himself a "master craftsman."

Frey and his wife, Helen, a retired secretary, live on Mapleville Road. They have three sons..

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