On Friday, June 13, 2008, Glenville Timberwrights, a timber frame home builder in central Wisconsin, was devastated by the loss of their business’ building due to massive flooding. The loss occurred during the height of the construction season and Glenville Timberwright had signed contracts that needed to be filled, deadlines to be met and clients and subcontractors depending on their business. The business struggled to find space for their materials to keep their business afloat. Then, at the peak of the crisis, the economy and the construction industry took a nose dive. Banks stopped lending no matter what the business’ legacy or great credit history. In dire need, Glenville Timberwrights turned to Central Wisconsin Community Action Agency (CWCAC). CWCAC had received funds from the USDA for flood-impacted businesses. By the anniversary of the flood, Glenville Timberwrights’ new building was erected. Fast forward to 2015. Glenville Timberwight’s has a beautiful, energy-efficient building are proud to say that our core group of employees is still working full time with the company. To date, a large amount of the loaned money has been repaid and Glenville Timberwrights has successfully survived its crisis.
Our Story by Thomas and Susan Holmes, Glenville Timberwights’ owners
There are defining moments in your life, some you expect, others you do not foresee. The flood of 2008 was such a moment for us. The exceptionally snowy winter and a very wet spring were not read by locals as the harbingers of what was coming our way on June 12, 2008. Toward evening on that Thursday, the last day of Baraboo’s school calendar and with it the promise of summer fun with our grandchildren, our business vanished in the pouring rains. Thirteen inches had pounded the area in a matter of a few hours and the resultant flooding wiped out everything we owned at Glenville Timberwrights.
On Friday, the 13th of June, we awoke to the fact that we couldn’t even drive on Highway 113 from our home to our shop as sections of that road had been washed away. After finding an alternative route, we arrived to find the total devastation of our business establishment.
Water surrounded the entire complex and a make-shift bridge had to be created before we could access the property. The factory overhead doors had been blown out by the force of the water and four feet of mud-filled debris had swallowed all of our tools, computers, desks, milling equipment, timbers and ‘works in progress.’ Other objects—generators and our brand new drafting plotter—had floated free to the Baraboo River or were hung up in trees in neighbors’ yards. The commode and new granite countertop had been reduced to rubble; the mangled refrigerator lay beyond repair. Every book, file, plan, blueprint was gone. A life’s work washed away. Our debt-free company protected by what we believed was full insurance coverage was gone in a twinkling. The saving grace? No one was injured. We realized that, had we been in the building when the flood hit, we would have been killed from the force that broke through the cinder block walls.
The initial shock was bad, but over time we slowly came to realize that the full impact of a devastating event is not felt or experienced immediately. Like a gift that keeps on giving, a flood brings new dilemmas over the course of time. Refurbished tools with their grit removed eventually begin to rust, buildings are left structurally unsound and no longer meet code. Inventory is scattered and damaged beyond repair.
While dealing with the clean-up and salvage operations, we were fully aware that we had signed contracts that we needed to fulfill, deadlines to meet and clients and subcontractors depending on us. Commitments had to be honored, but there was no place to lay out the timber frame members for our new structures at the old shop. As it was the height of the building season, we bought a large hoop house and graded a level gravel floor for temporary use on the hill above the flooded area until we could find new shelter for our business.
We searched for a new building that would fit our very specific needs. We ended up renting five different buildings to accommodate: a shop that had to contain level floors for timber framing lay-out purposes, a space large enough to contain our industrial-sized planer, office space, and a place to store our inventory. Trucking costs involved in getting timbers from building one located miles from building two and back again were exorbitant. The search began as soon as possible for a lot upon which to build.
We concentrated our search on industrial lots within the city limits. After designing our building, testing of the ground revealed that our first lot choice was unbuildable as it had been used by the city as a dumping spot for old concrete sidewalks. We purchased our second lot choice and went about redesigning a building that would work for a north/south access.
The building approval process takes a great deal of time, particularly for commercial buildings, as city committees, county officials and state engineers and entities all have a hand in the granting of building permits. With winter fast approaching and as each delay cost more money, the mind begins to picture holding a fistful of dollars in front of a fan and just watching it all blow away. Each day, every day, was spent working to save our 25-year old business as well as our 57-year-old hides. Then, at the peak of the crisis, the economy and the construction industry took a nose dive. Banks stopped lending no matter what your legacy or great credit history. The dark time just got darker, and we were running out of money.
Enter Karna Hannah. Director of Sauk County Development Economic Development Corporation referring us to Central Wisconsin Community Action Council (CWCAC), who informed us that USDA had made funds available for flood-impacted businesses and told us about the application process and explained their low-interest loans. We filled out the paperwork and did not have to wait long; a cloud was lifted. It was a very happy day when we found out that our loan application had been approved. We felt like the very hand of God had reached out and helped us onto our feet again. By the anniversary of the flood, our new building ala CWCAC’s money was erected, and we hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony with the CWCAC board and affiliates as the guests of honor.
Rest assured that the years from 2008 to 2014 were no cake walk for us or for any builder in Wisconsin when the Great Recession set in. It was heart wrenching to watch business associates, long-time fellow subcontractors and tradesmen lay off employees and whittle down inventory to the bare bones. While we were able to keep our employees busy, it wasn’t always as timber framers, because the housing boom had failed. Sometimes they swept floors, other times they built furniture. That was not a moneymaking adventure and the revenue generated did not cover our overhead, but it did help to keep them employed. There were many times when we thought that we would have to close the doors the next week. CWCAC always had our backs. We kept in contact, shared our financial situation, and showed our profit and loss statements; they were more than willing to work with us.
Fast forward to 2015. We have a beautiful, energy-efficient building thanks to the monies loaned by the CWCAC, and we are proud to say that our core group of employees is still working full time at Glenville Timberwrights. We are emerging from the cocoon and have been able to recommit a serious portion of our debt back to the CWCAC, and we are more than happy to know that others may find help through their crises thanks to the Center Wisconsin Community Action Council. We can speak of the benevolence of this organization firsthand and we often do.