By MIKE WEST, Courier Editor
Alex Robinson went to college to be an environmentalist but he had sawdust in his blood.
Now he is the latest member of the Robinson family to own and operate a sawmill. His operation, Laidback Custom Lumber, 11630 Jim Cummings Highway, joined the Cannon County Chamber of Commerce last week.
“I started, officially (in the sawmill business) in 1992 when I finished high school. I was going to ITT in the morning and working at the sawmill in the afternoon,” Robinson said. But, “I actually started working for Uncle John Robinson making pallets for him when I was 9 or so.”
When he graduated from college, Robinson initially worked for an environmental engineering concern in Nashville. Eventually, the smell and the noise of the lumber business … along with his family’s roots … lured him back.
“I can’t think of anything I would rather be doing,” Robinson confided.
“My great-grandfather used to log, I’m not sure how many generations logging goes back in my family,” he said.
Robinson bought his sawmill in 1995 near Midway and has been in operation there ever since.
“We do lots of custom sawing. We will cut logs in just about any dimension,” he explained.
Currently, Laidback Custom Lumber has 10 employees. “We had only five employees last year at this time. We expect to add another five by mid-summer,” Robinson said.
The firm’s customers come from outside of Nashville all the way to Sparta with many of them desiring custom work ranging from barn wood to parts for swing sets. Basically, Laidback Custom Lumber rough cuts green lumber by order.
And just how “Laidback” is Robinson’s operation.
“We’re still working on a sign for the business,” he laughed. “Now one of our customers who does signage says he’s going to provide one.”
His sawmill heritage speaks volumes about his dedication to the business.
“I’m Richard Allen Robinson the III. Dad goes by R.A. Mom didn’t like the name Richard so she called me Alex,” he said. “My father just retired last week. He worked at Beaman (Bottling Company) in Tullahoma for 40 years. Now he’s at the sawmill looking for something to do.”
His grand father was called “Old Man Robinson.”
“Richard A. is what everybody called him to his face. He was like Johnny Appleseed except his plant was corn. He would plant corn everywhere even around the Courthouse,” Robinson said.
When he wasn’t planting corn, Richard A. would tear down old houses.
“Old Man” was a friend of banker turned funeral home operator Bill Smith.
Back when Smith was still running the Bank of Commerce, “Old Man” gave him a special Christmas present. “It was a spindle from an old house. Bill’s kept it ever since and carries it around in his truck,” Robinson said.
Bill Smith is one of Robinson’s regular customers. “He comes by at least once a month” and enjoys talking about old times.
Meanwhile, business continues to expand for Robinson.
“Expansion means you are doing well, but it does create new problems,” he grinned.