'My dad was here 20 years. I've worked here 37 years.'

When the alarm went off at 5 a.m., Alan Johnson was ready to jump out of bed and get ready for another long day.

"Yeah, woke up this morning and almost headed off to work," said Johnson, 64, who has worked in the Rough & Ready Lumber Co. mill for nearly 40 years.

But the longtime planer operator immediately remembered he no longer has a job. He was one of 88 employees who lost their job with the plant's closing. His last day was Monday.

Originally hailing from Montana, he came to the Illinois Valley by way of San Francisco in the early 1970s. His hair was a mite longer, he acknowledges.

"Back in those days, there was a song out that went, 'I'm going to the country — that's where I want to go,'" he recalled. "'If you don't come with me, your sister Lucille said she'd go.' That's how I got here. Wanted to get out in the country."

He was hired by Lou and Fred Krauss, the father and uncle respectively of co-owner Jennifer Phillippi.

"I started out on the green chain, and stacking green lumber — pine — over at the big mill," he said when he dropped in at the plant to pick up his rain gear and last paycheck.

For him, longtime fellow workers such as Ivan Cross and Randy Hanson were as close as family. Cross began working at the mill shortly after graduating from Illinois Valley High School in 1968; Hanson, a 1969 IVHS graduate, started working there after a hitch in the Army.

"You work with someone a long time, you share a lot of memories," Johnson said as he looked out over the now quiet mill yard.

"I worked on night shift for 13 years back in the heyday," he recalled. "That was 11 hours a day, six days a week, then we'd come in on Sunday to do maintenance.

"But lately it has been down to 40 hours a week," he said.

Johnson, who has two grown children, lives with his wife on a picturesque farm east of Cave Junction.

"I'm going to try to take some educational class that might enhance the abilities I have," he said. "I'll see what I can develop for around this area. I really don't want to move."

Nor does company employee Ed Cunningham, 54, a 1976 IVHS graduate.

"I graduated on a Thursday and went to work here the following Monday," he said of his initial job of sorting lumber.

"My dad started working here in 1959," he said. John Cunningham was a longtime head saw filer at the mill. "My dad was here 20 years. I've worked here 37 years."

He has pulled green chain, drove forklift, filed saws and is finishing up as a lumber salesman with some operations management thrown in. He is currently working on shipping out inventory, and expects to work through the end of the month.

"I'm going to be looking for work now," he said. "Still going to go out and make a living, that's what I'm going to do. I don't have an answer yet because I don't know what's out there.

"I'll probably have to relocate," he added. "I have a family here in the valley. My son and his wife and grandchild are here. My dad is here. The wife's family is here."

Like Johnson, he stopped talking for a moment as he thought about his options.

"Everything is paid off here," he said. "I like this area. I like the fact we are 20 minutes from the redwoods, an hour from the coast. We have all the mountain hiking around here."

And people with whom he has worked all his adult life.

"It's been real tough to say goodbye to them," he said.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

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