Gordon Vaden has been calling the shots at Mackay Lumber for the past 30 years, running it with his dad Robert until the elder Vaden retired in 2000. The yard has been in the same spot on U.S. 93 since 1905, just four years after the town of Mackay [pop. 562] was founded to serve the needs of the settlers who came to work in the White Knob copper mine.
Mountain Man: Mackay [“Mackie”] lies in the Lost River Valley between the Lost River Range and the White Knob Mountains. We are the highest spot on 93, and have seven of the top 10 peaks in Idaho within 20 miles of Mackay. The valley where the town is is a mile wide. I don’t know if I could ever live where it’s flat.
Hidden Talent: I’m a big hiker and I like to fly fish. When I’m out hiking I take photos. I use them in a calendar that I used to give away to customers, but so many people started asking for it, I began selling them. Last year I sold 150 of them.
The Favor: We bought the place in 1967. Dad was working on a ranch, and the lady who owned the yard at the time, her and her daughter and son-in-law ran it. The son-in-law ran out on them and took the money, and those ladies had to figure how to keep it going. As a favor, dad delivered coal to her, and she told him he should buy the place. He told her couldn’t afford to, but she said, “I’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse.”
Small-Town Struggles: It’s as hard as finding hen’s teeth, getting good help. I’m looking for a part-timer right now, but it’s hard, especially for the wage I have to offer. A lot of people just don’t want to work. The biggest employer around here is the atomic energy plant 50 miles away. We need something to keep the kids around here. White Knob was still around until the mid-70s, then it shut down. There’s a company out of Canada that did core drilling for two years up there, and the guy told me he found what he was looking for, but the paperwork would take another five years. Apparently, we still have one of the biggest copper deposits in the U.S.
Friendly Competition: The closest yard is 25 miles south of us in Arco. I have customers from Challis, 53 miles north of us, and Arco. We’re not necessarily a better lumberyard, it’s just you can’t please everybody all the time.
Looking Ahead: I’m getting to the age where I need to retire, but I may keep working. A guy’s got to have something to do. My son’s an engineer for Micron in Boise—he makes twice what I do—and they don’t want to move back because his wife’s a city girl.—As told to Kate Tyndall