PINELLAS PARK — Julie Pauley is used to hearing that annoying buzzing, and squeaky shrill of the sawmill from her house nearby.
But now that the sawdust has settled at Axley Bros. Sawmill after 50 years, she said it’s “eerie” to envision life without being annoyed by that same screeching sound.
“I used to say to Ron (her husband) ‘put some oil on that thing’," Pauley, 61, said.
"But now that I don’t hear it anymore, it’s like dang; little things like that you don’t think about until now.”
It was literally her life.
She grew up in Minnesota watching her parents, John and Lillian Axley, own and operate a sawmill, and watching her brother Bill Axley, and her uncle, Ralph Axley, work tirelessly in the business.
Even on vacations everywhere they traveled, her dad had to check out the sawmills.
One time in particular while on vacation in Tampa Bay, they visited the then-McBride Saw Mill at 12300 62nd St N and it happened to be for sale.
They loved it, but never thought they’d leave Minnesota.
Two years later, in 1969, they moved, bought the 14.5 acre property, and opened it under a new name, Axley Bros. Saw Mill, after John and Ralph.
Julie, her brother Bill and their mother Lillian Axley now own the business, and Julie, her husband, Ron, Bill and his son, Brian Axley help with business operations.
Julie saw some of the business’ greatest successes and greatest struggles, like the time just a few years after they opened, when a fire erupted overnight and forced her family to rebuild everything from scratch.
Another struggle came later between 2007 and 2009, when the family business survived the Great Recession, unlike many other small, mom-and-pop businesses.
It still amazes her and Ron, 64, that they’ve made it all these years.
“Business has been phenomenal,” Ron said.
“God has truly blessed us. We’re just getting older and it’s time to retire.'
Ron credits his father-in-law, John, for always running a debt-free, cash and check-only business.
He says it was hard, but they adjusted by adding a fence building and siding operation to their longtime specialty in rough cut cypress.
Adding fencing and siding helped them stay afloat and maintain payroll when hard times hit.
Although they survived that recession, Ron says that was another consideration when deciding to close the business.
“We didn’t want to go through another downturn,” he said.
“We’re a dinosaur. With our age, it takes five or six years to recover after a downturn.”
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But they’ll miss their customers the most— many of whom they have worked with for years but never met in person.
And the feeling is mutual.
Many customers have called to let them know how much they will be missed and some even gave parting gifts.
Marie Belote, the owner of Lumber & Fencing Products in Gibsonton, has worked with the Axleys since the mid-1980s and said it has always been fun and easy.
She considers them family and will miss them tremendously because she knows she’ll never have anything like it.
“Their product was the absolute best on the market,” Belote said. “It could not be matched.”
“We have another supplier and it’ll work out okay, but we don’t expect it to be the quality that Axley produced. And I knew the first generation of Axleys, and they would be so proud of the second generation because nothing changed. Everything was always number one.”
They easily stood out in an area like Pinellas County where there were many lumber companies, but few sawmills.
Their biggest competitor throughout the years was Crossroads Sawmill & Lumber in Land O’ Lakes. But like Axley Bros., it too is nearing the end of the road after 51 years. It will close on Nov. 5.
When the owners first heard the news that Axley Bros. was closing, it was not a surprise.
“It’s kind of like the sign of the times,” said Lee Williams, who is the son of the founding owner, Virgil Williams, and co-owns Crossroads with his brother, Jeff Williams.
“The whole cypress industry in this area has pretty much dwindled out. It’s kind of sad, but we were expecting it because they (Axley Bros.) were having the same problems we were as far as getting the material and the logs in.”
And at the Axleys’ age, it was becoming too much.
But saying goodbye was not as easy as they thought.
On July 17, they sawed their last log and it got pretty emotional.
“Everyone was bawling,” Ron said. “It’s been our life.”
On Aug. 20, they dismantled the sawmill and other equipment to ship it to be sold in states like Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama —places that have more sawmills and a greater demand.
They have to be completely off the property by Sept. 30 to make way for new owners, Blue Steel, a development company, but they plan to be gone way before then.
Blue Steel paid $3.2 million for the property and plans to build two large warehouses. In a nod to the site’s history, they plan to call it Cypress Business Park.
In addition to its rough cypress cuts, fencing and siding services, Axley Bros. was also known for its cypress mulch, special timbers and beams that supplied some of its biggest customers, including Pinellas County Schools.
According to Ron, they had ongoing contracts with Pinellas County Schools periodically for 40 years where they supplied the mulch for landscaping.
Their services were also highly utilized within the boating and RV trailer industry. Their cypress wood served as docks for boats and their 14.5 acre site provided ample storage for many RV trailers.
The business also resonated with local homeowners looking to buy wood for fencing, decking, building gazebos, hurricane proofing and more.
They would sell as few as one board for $1.60 increasing to $8,000-$10,000 worth of wood at a time especially during hurricane season.
In their last few days of production they held a “going out of business sale” offering up tools, electric motors, hydraulics, and any remaining cypress they had left. But that sold quickly.
Ken McClendon, a St. Petersburg resident, is building a hurricane room and needed durable wood.
He heard that he needed to go to a sawmill rather than chain stores for the best quality and he came across Axley Bros. in the nick of time.
“I was fortunate enough to be one of their last customers and get everything I needed before they closed,” McClendon said. "Places like this are hard to come by. This place will forever be missed.”