Bringing the past to life in Patterson

Updated: Sep 7

by Mary Catherine Gaston

Off the beaten path in Pierce County, Chip and Julie Griner and their family are reviving the ancient art of turpentining, in hopes of making a positive impact on their rural community.


Oliver Wade Raulerson, better known as O.W., was 43 years old when he secured a loan from the Southern States Naval Stores Company in Savannah. The loan included a wagon, 35 barrels, a turpentine still, two mules named Ada and Jerry and enough cups to catch the sticky sap from as many as 35,000 pine trees. With all the necessary equipment in his possession, O.W. officially became a turpentiner.


The year was 1924, and Georgia was just regaining dominance in the turpentine industry after several

years lagging behind her neighbor to the south. At the time, turpentine production was big business in

the Southeast, especially in Georgia, which led the world in the production of pine-derived products

throughout the second half of the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries.


Also known as naval stores, products painstakingly harvested from live pine trees were primarily and

originally used in the building, maintenance and operation of wooden ships. Extracting the sap or

oleoresin of the vast pine forests of southeastern North America was a major priority for the British

crown in the eighteenth century, as the British boasted the largest navy in the world and needed

everything the virgin pine forests could offer to keep those boats afloat.


Beginning in North Carolina, colonists drained all they could from the towering trees by scraping off the

bark and cutting into the trunks to cause their resin to flow. When they had harvested all the resin they

could in North Carolina and shipped it elsewhere to be turned into turpentine, tar or pitch, the

operators packed up their camps and set out with all their workers to the pine forests of south Georgia.

The migration began in the 1870s, and by 1890 Georgia had surpassed North Carolina to become the top

producer of naval stores.


The industry was still going full-steam when O.W. began tapping trees in 1924. But with wooden ships a

thing of the past and technological advances making other means of turpentine production cheaper by

far, it wouldn’t be long before the industry that once employed tens of thousands of rural Southerners

would join wooden ships on the pages of history.

Though O.W. was only in the turpentine business for 30 years—about as long as it remained profitable in the U.S.—income from the operation allowed him to make several significant investments in his native Pierce County.


“He built two churches, two schools, blessed his family, his entire community through this business,” recalls O.W.’s great-grandson, Chip Griner.


Inspired by his great-grandfather’s legacy, Chip began researching the turpentine industry when he was just a teenager. So by the time he asked his wife Julie—formerly his high school sweetheart—to list his first pine gum product on eBay in 2011, she was quite accustomed to the idea. Still, she admits, she

thought he was a little crazy.


“He looked at me and said, ‘I can’t do this without you’,” Julie remembers. “I told him I’d do it, but he

would have to be right there by me the whole time!”


The couple have been side-by-side ever since, at the helm of what has become Diamond G Forest

Products, a family venture the likes of which neither of them could have imagined. Thanks in part to the

ongoing support of business partners Wade Griner (Chip’s dad) and long-time family friend, R.D. Thomas

Jr., what began with that first online sale in 2011 has grown to include customers in all 50 states and

more than 40 countries worldwide. The Griners admit they have a hard time keeping up with demand

for their home-grown products. And when the Pine Chemicals Association International held its annual

symposium two years ago in Savannah, that location was chosen for its proximity to tiny Patterson,

Georgia, population 751. The reason? So world leaders in the pine chemicals industry could travel to

Diamond G to see exactly what Chip and Julie are doing and how it could revolutionize their industry.

In addition to making international waves, the Griners feel blessed to be able to make an impact locally.

Diamond G now employs 11 people full-time, year-round and an additional nine or 10 full-time, seasonal

workers. Four of those seasonal employees are Julie, an elementary school teacher, and the couple’s

three daughters, Emma Grace, Ella and Elizabeth.


Ella, a 2020 graduate of Pierce County High School and president of the school’s FFA chapter, will begin

classes as an agricultural education major at ABAC in the fall. She was just 9 when the family business

began and has personally experienced every aspect of the hot, sticky work. At 18, she now knows more

about the ancient practice than most people on earth. And she loves it.


“What we are doing excites me, because it means another viable market for timber owners,” she says,

touching on another reason her dad, at her age, was preoccupied with reviving his great-grandfather’s

business.


Chip’s youthful pursuit led him to the work of Dr. Alan Hodges of the University of Florida, an

internationally recognized expert in the pine chemicals industry and, now, a friend of the Griner family.

Hodges developed the borehole method the Griners now use to tap their trees. Instead of scraping the

bark and cutting the trees to create the distinguishable “cat-face” scars like turpentiners did in the old

days, the Griners now drill a hole at the base of each tree, insert a small plastic pipe, and attach a long,

thin plastic bag to the pipe, into which the raw pine rosin slowly flows.


The new harvest method preserves the trunk for eventual harvest at a greater profit, protects the tree

from infestation by the devastating black turpentine beetle, and results in much higher quality,

contaminant-free resin.


After the resin is collected, the process of refining turpentine remains substantially the same as it has

been since the Greeks and Romans did it. The harvested resin is heated and the vapors separated and

allowed to cool and condense into liquid turpentine. The sticky, yellow solid left behind is known as

rosin, and is used in its raw form by musicians, athletes and artists and as an ingredient in a mind-

blowing variety of everyday products.

The Griners, of course, sell their turpentine and rosin on their website. That’s also where you’ll find a number of other pine gum-based products they make, including soaps and salves like those your great-grandmother may have sworn by.


All of this is a dream-come-true for Chip and a testimony for Julie, who can’t seem to stop

smiling when she retells the story of their unique journey into the past.


“I clearly recall hearing Chip say that this business had the potential to put shoes on a lot of little feet in

Pierce County, and that is really what inspires us,” she says. “It’s also taught me so much about being a

wife and mom and allowed us to provide our girls with invaluable life lessons as they’ve worked

alongside us.”


Chip adds, “If you can make a living and help somebody else at the same time—there’s just nothing

better than that.”


Want to learn more about the fascinating history of Georgia’s naval stores industry? Read more in this

article from the New Georgia Encyclopedia.

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