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A Pillar of the Community

A small-town wood chip company plays a big role in the local economy of East Texas.

Landscapes Winter 2017
Ricky Lout with family

Photo by Jason Reina

East Texas entrepreneur Ricky Lout, center, operates several agribusiness companies with his two children. To the left of Ricky are son Dusty Lout and his family, Abby, Dax and Elly. Pictured to the right are daughter Britt Mathews with her family, Jake, Kain and Iris.

We all know that paper comes from trees. But seldom do we think about how it gets from the forest to our hands.

Well, if you’re holding a paper coffee cup right now, there’s a chance that the paper sleeve over the cup started out at the Lout family’s wood chip mill near San Augustine, Texas.

Lout is the president of L&R Timber, a wood chip business that supplies approximately 500,000 tons of wood chips a year to pulp and paper mills within a 200-mile radius of his East Texas chip mill. Those wood chips are processed into pulp, which is then turned into paperboard that is used to make packaging products.

“Ricky works to build something that will sustain his children and grandchildren and the people who work for him. He doesn’t work for personal gain, that’s for sure.”

– Angela Shannon, Texas Farm Credit

To keep his mill humming, 80 to 100 truckloads of pine logs are delivered to L&R Timber every day from Texas and Louisiana.

“It’s always busy around here,” Lout says, understating the obvious.

On this particular August afternoon, a semi-truck loaded with pine logs pulls onto a platform scale at L&R Timber. Across the grounds, the hydraulic grapple of an overhead crane lifts logs off a parked semi and drops them into a massive metal bin. Beyond the mill, a wheel loader pushes freshly ground mulch into mounds.

Lout, the ringmaster in this circus of wood-processing activities, monitors the comings and goings via a live video feed on his desktop computer.

A customer of Texas Farm Credit in Nacogdoches, Lout knows the timber business well — he’s worked in it since he was a child, doing every job in the mill at one time or another.

Working at Age 7

“My grandfather, Pratt Lout, worked in logging,” he says. “He and my father, J.H., owned a country store in Patroon, too. But I was raised more in the timber business than the store. They ran the store until 1970. After that, my father got into timber and owned a chip mill with a partner until 1985. I started working with Dad when I was 7 years old.”

Later, in 1985, J.H. and his sons — Ricky, Mike, Shon and Barry — bought out the partner and moved the mill to its present location.

Since 2000, L&R Timber has supplied chips for five paper mills in the region. Today, the company provides chips to the WestRock paper mill in Evadale, Texas. The business also annually produces close to 20,000 tons of pine bark, which is sold as mulch and boiler fuel.

Family matters in a big way to Lout, whose father passed in 1997. His mother, Shirley, stops by the mill nearly every day at noon for a home-cooked meal in the company’s kitchen. So do his children and their families: son Dusty with Abby and children, Elly, 6, and Dax, 1, and daughter Britt Mathews with her husband, Jake Mathews, and children, Kain, 4, and Iris, 2. Both Dusty and Britt have themselves worked alongside their father since they were children.

Wood chips

Photo by Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

L&R Timber supplies wood chips to pulp and paper mills that produce paperboard used for packaging.

Diversified in Trucking, Oil and Agriculture

“We all work together in this company and other businesses,” Lout says. The family also owns a second chip mill, a saltwater disposal company, trucking businesses, oil and gas businesses, chicken farms and cattle.

Angela Shannon, vice president and branch manager of Texas Farm Credit’s forest products lending division, has partnered with Lout for two decades. A Farm Credit loan in 2007 financed the cost of drilling a saltwater disposal well and enabled him to establish Common Disposal LLC. The San Augustine–based company disposes of wastewater produced by the oil and gas industry.

“Ricky is very cautious,” Shannon says. “He doesn’t like debt. He doesn’t take big trips or buy fancy vehicles. Ricky works to build something that will sustain his children and grandchildren and the people who work for him. He doesn’t work for personal gain, that’s for sure.”

Lout’s conservative nature plays an important role in his success as a businessman.

“Ricky is part of the backbone of our country,” says Mike Massey, Lout’s financial consultant. “He’s among the smaller companies and entrepreneurs who keep the economy going in rural areas by providing a payroll to a lot of people who pay taxes.”

Creating Local Jobs

Altogether, the Lout companies employ approximately 175 people. Several have worked for the Louts for more than 30 years.

“We do affect a lot of families in the area,” Lout agrees. “Whenever we gather them up for safety meetings and I look them in the eyes, it hits me what a big role we play in their lives. And I take that very seriously. I wouldn’t be anything without our employees.”

Looking to the future, he hopes that L&R Timber will continue to provide many jobs for East Texans as well as support future generations of Louts, who he would like to see follow his hardworking ways.

“There’s nothing different about me,” he adds. “There’s not a job that I’ve asked a guy to do at the mill that I haven’t done myself. My main thing is that I want to leave my kids something so they don’t have to struggle. But they’re going to have to use it in the right way — just like I did.”

Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

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