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The woodprocessing factory of Heliulia

The history of the Woodprocessing factory begins in 1881, when a factory, producing school furniture, started operating in Heliulia. At the same time a lumberyard was built nearby for the needs of the factory, and in 1906 a hydroelectric power station was built in the nearby Miulliukiulia village. The factory was growing rather quickly, and soon they decided to combine it with a wooden toys factory in the town of Porvoo in Finland (the Grand Duchy of Finland at that time) - on the basis of the two they created a combine to produce furniture, including school furniture, and wooden toys. Final unification took place in the beginning of 1916, the new venture was called the Heliulia combine according to the name of the village - a place, where the railroad and postal road went practically under the walls of the workshops and which had its own hydroelectric power station, a river for transporting logs, and Ladoga was not so far away.
Already at the end of that year they had built a relatively large production facility. There was factory with an overall area of over 2500 square meters, a three-floor warehouse - the top floor was for smaller products and the bottom two floors for furniture. Soon it was found that one power station did not suffice for the growing production and nearby they built a second power station with two steam boilers. Now there was enough energy for both the combine and the village. The lumberyard, started working harder and producing enough timber, and they decided to use the surplus to produce door and window sets for building needs. So the combine started growing right from its foundation. The capital funds of the combine amounted to 4 million Finnish marks, 300 people worked there. 80 families lived in Heliulia in combine's apartments, and the rest lived in their own houses in the village and on the nearby farms and boweries. After some time the Heliulia combine was the largest woodprocessing factory in the Nordic countries.
Products range did not vary much until the Soviet-Finnish (Winter) War of 1939-1940. According to the peace treaty signed, the Ladoga Karelia territory was ceded to the Soviet Union and they immediately started bringing settlers there.
The time between the two wars is a special period in the combine's life. The settlers started using the agricultural facilities and workshops of mills and factories in 1940. And to Heliulia started coming people who knew how to handle lumbering equipment and those who had no idea how to use it. They needed to start producing. Among those people were some people were also those, whose working biographies will tie together the histories of a small ski-producing factory of the "Kareldrev" trust in Petrozavodsk and the Novo-Vyatski combine, the largest at the time in the country in producing skis. Professionals of ski production organized here such a ski production that the skis are even now known all over the country and abroad. Being there in evacuation in 1941-1944 in the Kirov area, they started production there, having made their input in the future fame of the Novo-Vyatski combine. Among those people were S.A. Kopytova, P.A. Vlasov, O.E. Tuomi, E.E. Ero, and others.
But a new war came, this time the World War II, which led to the combine's full destruction. Finnish troops destroyed two production premises, two power stations of 300 kilowatts total capacity, ruined the steam-operated shop, many houses, when they wwere retreating. The full damage was determined by the government commission to be 2311 thousand roubles.
The decree of the "Kareldrev" trust from August 23rd, 1945, says:
1. To begin restoring the furniture factory on August 15th, 1945.
2. To equip a temporary repair-mechanical workshop, an electrical workshop, saw workshop and smith workshop by September 15th current year.
...4. To start operating the lumber shop by September 15th, 1945.
...13. To restore the compilation shop by December 25th current year..."
By a decree of the Council of National Commissioners and of CC of CP (of b) of Karelian-Finnish SSR #491 from August 14th 1945, the date of beginning of first-degree operation of the Sortavala furniture factory in Heliulia village was set to May 1st, 1946."

Here's a story of one of the veterans, who took part in the combine's restoration: "We came here from Vologda area in July, 1945. Several days after we came we were sent to haymaking - we needed to provide for the part-time farm of the factory. In September our brigade of 12 people was sent to the lumber distribution yard. It was hard. The logs were under the hill-slope and clogged up on the river - about 10 thousand cubic meters. Most of them had to be carried up using horses to the equipment to provide materials for winter work, for we did not get any materials from the state distribution division.
We worked without looking at the clock. Our daily supply of bread was 800 gramms. If we worked well, we got rye porridge for lunch. A difficult year. Standard salary was 13 roubles and 6 copecks, but we made 20-25 roubles.
In the winter the logs were passed on to the machines via the transporter. 6-7-meter long logs were first sawed into bars, and then sawed the second time to get planks..."
On July 1st, almost right after the first groups of workers and officials returned to the factory, cleaning and preparing of the Lankashire steam boiler in the boiler shop began in the place, which was called the Heliulia furniture factory. Power stations and steam shops were at the heart of any production, the factory wouldn't e brought back to life without them. At that time the factory had only 45 workers - a part of them was taking apart the blockage of the ruined part of the gluing shop and building walls.
In October they started restoring the hydroelectric power station of a 175 kilowatt capacity, which was not far from the shops, and the machine tool in the lumbering shop. The main effort was directed at getting electricity and starting operating that shop by November 7th - so far the factory was immersed in deadly silence, and on autumn evenings the village was covered in darkness. By November 5th due to the effort of the restorators they got elecetrical power, and by November 7th they successfully tested the lumbering machine tool. Around the New Year they got steam boilers to work. That day was marked by the beginning of operation of two drying chambers and a hoot. The factory sounded its voice, which was heard all over the village.
In spite of such destruction of the factory, the republic, which already started renovating, was already waiting for products - the houses needed furniture. They organized production of stools and tables - those were of primary importance. The items were assembled manually, because at that time the only operating machinery were the cutting tool and the trimming tool. Altogether that year they produced 453 stools and 65 tables. At that time 168 workers were employed at the factory.
By the end of February, 1946 17 lumbering machine tools were installed in the machinery shop on the assembly line, developed for ski production, and that same month first skis were produced in Heliulia. In March the factory produced its first chairs. By April a new product type was developed - a table with inside drawers. Increasing the restoration rates, the factory grew, and the village grew along with it. The building group, which was restoring the residential area of the village, daily completed 115-120% of the plan; by the end of the year it had provided over 3500 m2 of living space. The village got its school for over 200 students, a kindergarten, a nursing home for 75 babies, a small hospital, a club with a movie machine, a public bath. On April 17th, according to a decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the republic, Heliulia receives the status of a working village. altogether in 1946 they had produced 488 thousand roubles worth of products - 30.5 thousand chairs, 3.4 thousand tables and 3.2 thousand pairs of skis.

The combine workers' houses

The old school

In March of 1958 the Heliulia and Sortavala (in the city itself) furniture factories were combined into the Sortavala furniture and ski combine. Skis, produced in Heliulia, start getting special orders, they start appearing in exhibitions and become more popular. By 1957 the combine became the largest in Karelia in ski production. The furniture shop continued to produce newer types of furniture; the range of produced articles increased along with their quality. Workers, acting as rationalizers, made suggestions on simplification of the production process and decreasing material waste, saving large amounts of money for the factory. In 1959 due to the innitiative and wit of the rationalizers, a record was set - the combine saved over a million roubles that year. In early 60's they start the production of slalom skis, first in the RSFSR (Russian republic within the USSR). In 1966 the factory begins publlishing a newspaper "Mebelschik" ("The Furniture Maker"), which for four and a half years weekly brought to its readers the factory's news, told them about its famous workers, spoke about essential issues, discussed plans for the future. That same year several workers of the combine received Lenin's Order, The Labour Red Banner Order, The Honor Mark Order, and such medals as "For Labour Achievements" and "For Excellence In Labour".
By the end of the 70's - beginning of the 80's the combine expanded significantly, having increased the number of its shops and added to the range of products dozens of new titles, including ice hockey sticks, floor tiles, souvenirs. Residential building significantly increased after the formation of the factory's own construction group and began to produce high results. The first apartment houseswere built, as well as a village cafeteria for 110 persons, a new school for 960 students. An administration premise, capacitating offices, a cafeteria and a nurse's office, was also built. The building was considered to be the best premise of the "Karellesoexport" administrative division. The head of the technological department of the factory V.L. Tervonen stated then: "Reconstruction is the fastest and most economic way of increasing the efficiency of public production." and, indeed, after new objects were installed, production expanded and grew. During the Xth five-year period (1976-1980) the combine invested 4.3 million roubles in reconstruction. As a result of the reconstruction production of commodity products increased by 3 million roubles during that five-year period; given that the material supply for the combine was decreased by 44.7 cubic meters (almost by a third), ski production increased by 75.5 thousand pairs (16%). And, along with that, manufacture per worker increased by 949 roubles and the number of people involved in manual labour decreased by 79.
Ice hockey sticks, which the combine began producing iin 1977, deserve a special notice. Already a year and a half after the shop was started, their mass production hockey sticks receive the state "quality grade". 200 hockey sticks were produced were produced for the leaders of USSR and world hockey - the CSKA ice hockey team. The players' comments helped the combine workers, which developed newer versions of the product. In September, 1978 a USSR-wide conference regarding issues of producing a wider variety of hockey sticks and improving their quality took place in the Heliulia combine. Such an honor was presented to a small village, that can't be found on most maps. Thirty factories in the country were producing hockey sticks back then, but the conference was held at the woodprocessing factory, in Heliulia. And during that conference, at the exhibition-contest of the product, the representatives of only three factories were graded as class "A", including those produced in Heliulia. The tests proved these sticks to be the most durable, while remaining the lightest in weight.
In the early 80's the factory decided to strive for production efficiency. Introduction of newest achievements of the scientific and technological progress took place on literally every production, on every workplace, and here a large role was played by cooperation with specialized institutions and design bureaus. A lot was learned from cooperation with other factories in the woodprocessing industry - experience came even from those in Ukraine and Estonia. By 1982 such cooperation allowed Sortavala skis to enter the quality level of the best skis in the country - those produced by "Viisnurk" and the Finnish firm "Karhu", which was the leader in this area. And hockey sticks, produced in Heliulia, received the following comment at the all-USSR seminar concerning the improvement of construction and technology of their production at factories of "Minlesbumprom" (the industry) of USSR: "...The Heliulia furniture and ski combine production is by now ready to begin producing high-quality sports equipment here very soon..." This type of factories all over the country - about fifty combines and factories were producing hockey sticks back then - faced the same problem: Soviet professionals of ice battles were famous all over the world, but the sticks for them were purchased abroad. And the Heliulia combine's personnel proved that it will successfully master this challenge, constantly improving this type of product. Hockey sticks from Heliulia were lightweight, attractive, and very durable, surviving hundreds of wristshots and slapshots. In 1983 the combine started mass production of professional hockey sticks.
Due to innovative solutions and cooperation with domestic and foreign companies, the combine reached high results in ski production. Contacts with the finnish "Makron" firm allowed the combine to start importing such materials, as fiberglass, special paint, plastic and glue, and also presses for ski gluing, grinding and milling-copy machines and other technological equipment from the city of Lahti in Finland in 1981. Some skis, produced at the factory, was exported to Finland, and from there to Sweden, Norway, Denmark... In 1984 over 25% of produced skis were exported. Furniture production was also introducing innovative solutions in producing basic types of furniture and in developing new models. The recycling of production scrap also increased. Because of almost scrap-free production fine results were achieved - in 1985 one cubic meter of lumber produced almost 120 roubles worth of products - a country-high result at the time. Generally, the activities on introduction of new equipment and technology, held at the combine, allowed to multiply the production volumes during the XIth five-year period (1981-1985) by 1.3, to increase labour productivity by 23.3%, to decrease the cost price by 6.41 copecks per rouble of products, to multiply the production of higher category goods by 7.7. Only because of reconstruction and technical upgrade of the shops the labour productivity at the combine grew by 25.4% during the five-year period. Economy was everywhere - one of the ways to use wasted valuable resources was the erection of a greenhouse of 600 m 2, the "green shop" of the combine, on the roof of the drying chambers in 1982. The heat, that used to go out into the atmosphere, was now used to grow tomatos, cucumbers, onion and other vegetable.
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In early 90's with the collapse of the Soviet Union and privatization of state companies, the combine functioned for some time, and then, due to overall financial difficulties and the general instability, a "quiet" period began in the history of the factory. The combine had several owners, its production facilities were used at a tiny fraction of their potential. Separate shops continued operation on the territory of the combine; most of the production activity was carried out by the joint-stock ski company "Sorsu", founded on the basis of the combine. In the late 90's the issue of restoration of this large venture, which still has a large potential in the development of the whole republic, was discussed in the Karelia republic government. Open this page in  new windowone of the suggested solutions to the combine's restoration was a so-called "Technological village" - a type of production organisation, where separate shops on the territory of the combine are rented by different firms, participating in the production process. In the beginning of the third millenium it was decided to choose this path, and at present production growth can be seen. Combine's revival also had a positive effect on employment of the population - commissioning of larger capacities created additional workplaces and vacancies and helped employ a part of the village's population. The main direction is still plastic skis production, performed by the "Sorsu" firm, and the current state of things allows us to look into the future with hope, even if our hope is moderate.

Materials of V.P. Sudakov's manuscript "Sortavala Furniture and Ski Combine" were used in the creation of this page.