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Bitterroot log home industry seeing rebound

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VICTOR, Mont. - There's evidence the Bitterroot's custom log home industry continues to pull out of the recession.

Montana Idaho Log and Timber, south of Victor, forecasts 2015 will be the best year since 2007.

At its peak, Montana Idaho employed 22 people.

It's now back up to 14 workers.

The company stayed afloat during the recession, often by doing remodel jobs.

It's owner, Jim Cain, said he sees a turn around, especially with wealthier clients who disappeared when the financial bubble burst.

"We're booked out six, eight weeks, which is unusual," said Cain. "We were always booked out two, three weeks, four weeks. But now we're getting extended further out there. The quality of the projects, and the size of the projects is increasing."

As many as half a dozen custom log home builders in the Bitterroot closed shop during the recession, as well as about 60% nationwide.

Pioneer Log Homes near Victor, saw bumpy years, but it stayed in business.

The company is busy building one of the largest custom houses it has seen in a long time.

Crews are building it as a family getaway home for a wealthy client in Michigan.

Builder Shawn Jeffords said its size and complex architecture are a fun challenge.

"When we get to a certain height," said Jeffords, "We've gotta' put the other half on the ground and start building all over again. That's always a challenge."

It's the kind of thing Jeffords loves to do.

He's one of eight builders at Pioneer who kept working through the recession.

Now, there are 15 builders here, and crews are working six days a week.

"The orders are coming in almost daily," said Pioneer's owner, Jay Pohley.

It's not to the level it was in the late 90's and early 2,000's, when there were 85 to 90 employees working on 40 to 50 projects.

But Pohley sees a major resurgence.

"We're moving the wages back up," he said. "Everybody seems to be happy. They're walking with a little hop in their step."

Tom Hamilton's specialty is building trusses.

He too, worked at Pioneer through the recession.

"It's been a long road," said Hamilton. "We went backwards for quite awhile. And now it seems to be turning around, changing quite a bit."

Pioneer is also working on resort cabins that will be shipped to Missouri.

There's another large, high end home destined for Utah.

"We have some of our commercial stuff that's going anywhere from California to New Brunswick," said Pohley.

Pioneer has built a number of Bass Pro stores across the country.

Pohley started the company in California 39 years ago, and moved it to Victor in 1990, when the log home industry was going strong.

Today, he's happy with 15 to 18 employees.

"We're gonna try and hold to that," he said. "If the industry pushes us to grow a little bit, then we'll consider that,"he said. "But right now, I want to stay where I'm at."

Pohley said the years of being "big' was exciting.

But with ten years left in his career, he's content with a smaller company.

Many log home manufacturers started in the Bitterroot when local timber supplies were more available.

But those sales waned considerably.

Pioneer Log Homes gets most of its supply from the Pacific Northwest, but buys as many local logs as possible.

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