Old wood fuels new Vail Valley business
Vail, CO, Colorado
MINTURN ” Every barn Chris Mech tears down saves several trees. It also puts old wood into new buildings.
Mech runs Vintage Wood Supply, a company that strips old buildings ” often farm buildings in the Midwest ” and then sells the well-worn wood to people building new homes.
Mech’s interest in using old wood in new ways started when he built a cabin in Alaska a few years ago and used a lot of wood from an old gravel barge nearby. More recently, he built a home on Tennessee Pass and searched from Denver to Carbondale for used materials for the project. He hit a jackpot in Vail.
“When they were tearing out the Lionshead skier bridge, I saw a pile of used four-by-sixes, 18 feet long,” Mech said. “I got 40 of them for a case of beer and put them in my deck railings and in the deck.”
His home project, along with his wife’s experience selling items on eBay, led Mech to start looking around. What he found was a niche no one had yet filled.
“More people are going to reclaimed wood,” Mech said. “It looks good, and there’s an ecological aspect to it.”
In fact, the county’s “Eco-build” regulations encourage using reclaimed and recycled building materials.
So Mech started looking around for old wood. He’s coy about his sources, but he said a lot of old farm buildings are being torn down in states such as Indiana, Illinois and Nebraska.
“I’ve started to develop a rapport with people out in farm country,” he said. “They can find materials a little easier than I can.”
But that rapport isn’t always easy to come by. When Mech was just starting out, he found himself in a rental truck out in a rural area of eastern Kansas. He’d failed to strike a deal with a man who had an old barn and had parked down the road a way.
“Because of the (1995) Oklahoma City bombing, a stranger in a big Penske truck isn’t welcome there,” Mech said. “I had neighbors checking me out, and I talked to the police, too.”
But Mech did strike a deal.
To save time and money, Mech will pay to have a building torn down. Then he and a helper fly out, rent a big truck, load it and drive back. He’s made five such trips this year and has a growing stack of wood at a rental yard in Leadville.
A lot of what he’s found simply isn’t made anymore, like flooring planks in 18-inch widths. Some of the old barns and sheds also are made from hard-to-find hardwoods.
Mech will search for specific materials, and he also culls out unusable pieces and saws off bad ends of boards so customers don’t have to deal with it.
Once in customers’ hands, the wood can be used for everything from flooring to exterior siding to fireplace mantles. But it can’t be used as structural wood since it hasn’t passed modern engineering tests to make sure it will hold loads.
While “green” may be the color of the moment, Mech thinks it’s here to stay.
“There seems to be a need,” he said. “I don’t think reclaimed wood is going away.”
And there’s still a good supply of barns out in farm country.