Maley & Wertz: A Century With NHLA

By Crystal Oldham

In 1885, Daniel Wertz chose to create his own path. One of seven brothers, Wertz went against the brotherly-tradition of farming and found his niche working with timber in a sawmill. He opened the Daniel Wertz Sawmill in Bartholomew County, IN.

Today, the company he started is known as Maley & Wertz and is located in Evansville, IN. With more than 45 employees, it is no longer a sawmill and operates as a dry-kiln facility and concentration yard. As Maley & Wertz celebrates 100 years with NHLA, it is clear that it does stand out within the industry. Its success speaks for itself.

“Today’s operations are much different than they were over a century ago,” said Mike Powers, General Manager.

“We now have 15 kilns, three-to-four million board feet in kiln-dried inventory and three-to-four million board feet in green lumber. The company operates four grading chains, has a half million square foot warehouse and eight air-drying sheds with a total capacity of 2.7 million board feet. It also operates its own fleet of trucks.”

Throughout the journey that spans more than a century, today’s Maley & Wertz lumber company developed as a result of a series of events.

Six years after its opening, Henry Maley (Wertz’s uncle) was already a successful sawmill operator in nearby Shelby County, so the two worked closely together.

In 1901, they purchased the Thompson and Bonnell Sawmill in Evansville and formed a partnership called Maley & Wertz.

Maley stayed with his Shelby County mill and sent his son, Claude Maley, to Evansville to operate the new company with Wertz. It was a family affair.

In 1918, the elder Maley died unexpectedly and Wertz bought his uncle’s share of the company, but never changed the name.

The company principally produced Indiana quartered white oak and shipped it all over the world. Ironically, a log-purchasing list dated 1922 firmly states, “No red oak logs allowed on this yard.” Times have, indeed, changed.

“At that time, Evansville was considered the leading furniture manufacturing city. A century ago the primary species that were manufactured were white oak, both quartered and plain sawn, poplar and walnut. These species were sold air-dried, because although dry kilns were developed in the 1870s and 1880s, there wasn’t a market for kiln-dried lumber in the Evansville area until the mid-30s. Red oak is vital to the lumber industry today, yet it was considered an inferior species 100 years ago. Red oak was just not used in fine homes. This trend was probably carried over from the fact that Europeans did not use red oak in their homes due to a lack of availability,” Powers said.

As business grew, so did the number of sawmills, eventually expanding as far south as Greenwood, MS.

Ultimately, however, the growth reversed, as the Great Depression caused the company to close all the mills except the original in Evansville.

“The Evansville mill was the primary location since it was opened. As for the reason it was selected to remain operational while the others were closed, it could be as simple as the fact that this mill was the closest to their [employees’] homes,” said Powers.

Daniel Wertz passed away in 1944 and was succeeded as President by his son, Claude Wertz, who began his work with the company back in 1916.

In 1957, Claude Wertz’s son, known as J., also joined Maley & Wertz. He became President in 1964 and is still on staff today.

In 1968, the Wertz family sold the company to an entrepreneur, Richard Klispch. Today, his son Art Klispsch owns Maley & Wertz.

“As an employee of Maley & Wertz, I am most proud of the company’s longevity- 120 years is quite an accomplishment! Whether challenged by the Great Depression or today’s rapidly changing marketplace, Maley & Wertz has stood strong, supporting its employees and their families, as well as working to ensure that its customers remain profitable and competitive,” Powers said.

Powers added: “I believe the foundation that has allowed our company to withstand the test of time has been customer service and extensive product knowledge. You see, that longevity extends to our employees as well. Our kiln manager has over 28 years of experience, our mill manager has 25 years. Heck, our three primary salesmen have over 100 years between them!”

Although well respected within the hardwood industry, Maley & Wertz has always focused on its relationships with customers.

“We [Maley & Mertz] don’t want to ‘stand-out.’ We rarely advertise or self promote and have a greater tendency to fly under the radar, so to speak. I liken it to a passage I read in Bill Hybels’ book Character: Who You Are When No One’s Looking.

“Hybels says we all do our best when we are self-promoting or others are watching, but what about when no one is looking? That’s where our true character comes in, giving us consistency when it’s just between the customer and us,” Powers said, adding, “It’s the individual customer that we strive to stand out to, not the industry.”

Maley & Wertz specializes in: ash, African mahogany, genuine mahogany, basswood, beech, riverbirch, yellow birch, cherry, cottonwood, hackberry, hickory, hard maple, soft maple, red oak, white oak, poplar, sycamore, sassafras and walnut. It stocks 4/4-8/4 in all species and 10/4-16/4 in selected species.

Shipments are done by company truck, common carrier, LTL, ocean container or railroad. Maley & Wertz in Evansville, IN can be reached at 812-425-3358.

Published July, 2006 in Hardwood Matters, magazine of the National Hardwood Lumber Association.

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