(NEAR BRADY) In this week’s Montana Made feature, reporter Julianne Dellorso introduces us to the family behind River Bottom Restoration Furniture, and the unusual material they use.
Two years ago, while living in Billings, Andrew Bishop wanted to build a table with sentimental value from his family’s farm east of Brady.
Now, the pieces he sells from the River Bottom Restoration Furniture business he created are branching out across the country.
When Andrew’s family put roots down on a farm just east of Brady 100 years ago, they had a hard time finding a tree that would grow.
“My dad tells the story about my grandfather trying to plant every species of trees there was back in the 40s and he just couldn’t find a tree that would grow out here,” said Andrew.
The family might never have imagined that Andrew would go out on a limb and use their weeds to grow a business.
“My family thought I was crazy,” said Andrew.
They’re referring to the fact that Andrew now makes furniture of out Russian Olive trees – first planted by Teddy Roosevelt in the plains, used by the Bishop family on their farm, and which are now considered a noxious weed.
“I’m the only guy that shows up when you google Russian Olive furniture,” Andrew says with a laugh.
From scouting the perfect tree, to milling it out, curing it for sometimes months at a time, planing the wood, sanding it, and finishing it with tung oil, you’d think this is a full-time job for Andrew and his wife, Jennifer.
“I’m a lawyer,” laughs Jennifer. “I’m a lawyer, and Andrew is an engineer. So this is very different from my day-to-day. Working with Russian Olive wood and tromping around in the trees and milling out wood, nothing that I expected but it’s fun.”
And Andrew and Jennifer keep the business all within their family tree.
“I call my 91 year-old grandmother my head of sales,” said Andrew. “Because anyone that will listen, she’ll tell ‘em everything they need to know about Russian Olive wood and her grandson that works with it.”
The family has sold furniture as far out as Alaska and doesn’t outsource any of the work. Andrew says its hard for him to describe the wood, but, this is how he attempts to:
“What I always go back to is ,it looks like a wild walnut. It is just a very, very wild-looking wood. And it’s unlike anything else. I’m very prejudice but I think it’s the coolest-looking domestic hardwood there is.”
But every Russian olive tree has its thorns.
“I don’t think I’ve ever cut down a Russian Olive tree without drawing blood,” chuckles Andrew.
He says the wood is difficult to work with.
But for Andrew and Jennifer, the beauty of the finished product is worth it.
“We like our work [as a lawyer and engineer], but it’s so fun at the end of the day to be able to come home, work on some projects together, and actually see this wood come to life,” said Jennifer.
And the Russian Olive, Jen says, is the type of hard wood that will likely last forever.
“I certainly hope that each piece we build does get treasured forever. That’s what people tell us a lot of times when they order a piece is they want to buy something that can be handed down and I think that’s great. Its really wonderful to have so much trust put in us to build something that people think will outlive them.”
They market their business entirely online through Facebook and social media. Andrew doesn’t have a store front, nor does he say he plans to. They say the only drawback is that pictures don’t to the wood justice.