A rural American dream becomes a reality for a local entrepreneur
Scott Smith, owner of Gooch Sawmill in Guthrie, Oklahoma. Photo by Ryan West
Buying your first car or home can be thrilling, but for native Oklahoman Norval Gooch, investing in his first sawmill is what fulfilled him the most.
A World War II and Korean War veteran and 30-year business owner, Gooch retired at the ripe age of 54, but he soon found out ‘sitting in a rocking chair all day’ wasn’t his style. His grandson, Central Electric Cooperative member Scott Smith, grew up watching him work wonders with lumber. In 2009, the grandfather and grandson duo became business partners and opened Guthrie, Oklahoma-based Gooch Sawmill to the public.
Five years later, Gooch passed away after his 90th birthday. Smith was somber but proud to inherit the family business and continue the rough-cut and custom cutting lumber business in his grandfather’s name. On March 30, 2014, Smith received his first-ever sawmill—the very same day his grandfather bought his own in 1983.
“When I got the receipt that my new sawmill was going to be delivered to me that day, I was overwhelmed because it all hit home for me,” Smith said. “It meant so much, and in a way, it was a sign that I had made the right decision to continue doing business with Gooch Sawmill.”
“Even if the furniture outlives the customer, the wood lives on as a sentimental piece, and that’s what makes my work so special,” Scott Smith, owner, says. Photo by Ryan West
Taking over the family business wasn’t always a dream of Smith’s. He entered college to pursue medicine but graduated with a degree in finance from the University of Central Oklahoma.
Throughout his collegiate career, he would go back to Guthrie on summer breaks to work at the mill and occasionally help when he could during the semester. He still wasn’t sold on labor work until he gained a new appreciation for it while employed in the corporate workforce.
“I was confident in my skills and my work ethic in my office job, but I realized that it wasn’t for me and that my grandfather’s work was something I loved doing,” Smith said.
But life handed Smith another opportunity: a job with the El Reno Police Department. He accepted it, and during his time as a police officer, he bought his grandfather out of half of the sawmill and helped him run it on his days off. Smith soon realized he couldn’t do it all and knew it was time to commit himself to the family business full time.
“The timing was really perfect,” Smith said. “Since I’ve come back to the mill, I’ve never been caught up. That’s how much work we do here.”
Gooch Sawmill does it all. They buy, sell and craft wood any way you like it. From bar tops and table tops to boards and fireplace mantels, they focus on creating pieces that will last a lifetime and then some. Smith said he doesn’t make much money out of providing custom cutting services, but it’s one of the most rewarding parts of his job.
“I got pine trees from a family not too long ago. Their parents had planted the trees on their property, but they were dying and they wanted to salvage them by making furniture out of the trees,” Smith said. “Even if the furniture outlives the customer, the wood lives on as a sentimental piece, and that’s what makes my work so special.”
Photo by Ryan West
Smith works with customers and businesses all over the country, but it’s Oklahomans like owner of Rough Cut Originals, Mark Volentine, who spread the good word of Gooch Sawmill, Smith’s dedication to his craft and how he openly shares his knowledge with other craftsmen.
“Scott has been in the business for a long time, and he is very knowledgeable about the industry; he won’t hesitate to advise or accommodate his clients in any way,” Volentine said. “I’m always highly impressed with his service, selection and the willingness to answer all of my 5,009 questions.”
At the end of the day, it all comes back to the name of the sawmill for Smith. His grandfather not only taught him the tools of the trade, but how to appreciate and live a simpler life on their family farm, he said. He does it all in honor of Gooch’s legacy, and hopes that he’s proud of him, too.
“He was a great man, and I learned more from him than what I learned to get my degree,” Smith said. “Just days before my grandfather passed, he was still helping me with business at the mill, which is a testament to his character. I know I will probably go out doing the same, passing down the tradition to the generations of our family to come.”
To learn more about Gooch Sawmill and the services they provide, visit their Facebook page, Gooch Sawmill, or watch them in action on their YouTube channel, GoochSawmill.