From the Paul Bunyan Logging Camp Museum in Eau Claire to Cook-Rutledge Mansion in Chippewa Falls, many Chippewa Valley residents are familiar with the area’s roots in the lumber industry. 

But Karen Hurd of Fall Creek wants to make that history known worldwide, and that dream took a step toward becoming reality Monday when filming began at Cook-Rutledge Mansion for her first feature-length film, “The Lumber Baron.” 

“I wanted to bring alive the Chippewa Valley’s heritage ... when I saw the actors playing those first scenes, it was exactly what I wanted,” Hurd said Monday afternoon outside the mansion. “I’m overwhelmed in the best way possible. My dream is coming alive.” 

“The Lumber Baron” is a historical fiction film set in 1910 in the Chippewa Valley. It follows Daniel Rimsdale, a 23-year-old medical student who returns to the Chippewa Valley after the unexpected death of his father. He must choose whether to pursue his medical dreams or help save his family’s lumber business. He meets resistance from his father’s friend, Silas Lynch, who hopes to secure the Rimsdale mansion and rumored treasure it contains. 

Until August, the film crew will be on-site at locations such as the Bunyan  museum and Schlegelmilch House in Eau Claire, the Chippewa Falls’ post office, an Amish sawmill in New Auburn and a couple of private homes in the area. 

“We have tons of these lumber baron mansions in Chippewa Falls, and Cook-Rutledge is a prime example,” Hurd said. “Many have been renovated now, but this one they’ve kept really well.” 

She should know. Hurd has spent years writing and directing plays and musicals, many about the Chippewa Valley’s history, and also writes a weekly historical fiction column for the Augusta Area Times. 

The film, which was written and is being produced by Hurd, is based off one of her earlier plays.  She is working with her daughter and production manager, Ruth Voetmann, as well as director Barry Andersson of Minneapolis and 77 actors ranging from professionals to locals. 

All the extras, including several scenes with lumberjacks, are played by local talent, while all of the named parts and those with lines are played by professional actors, which Hurd thinks has upped the caliber of the production.

“The characters are playing exactly the way I wanted them played; they are such good actors,” she said.

Actor Joseph Vasko-Bezenek, a Sioux Falls, S.D., native who met Andersson while working in Minneapolis, plays lead Daniel Rimsdale.

Seeing the transformation of his character throughout the movie and taking risks is something that resonates deeply with Vasko-Bezenek, who recently took a risk of his own moving to Los Angeles for his career.

“That’s something we’re doing every day of our lives. We have a lot of moments where we can be courageous or go something safe,” Vasko-Bezenek said. “Sometimes being conservative is smart, but the times I’ve taken a leap, done something a little crazy, usually bodes well. Especially that being taking a risk to save his family, which is something I care about very much.”

Several actors, including Vasko-Bezenek, just finished working with Andersson on another project. Andersson said being able to continue working together has allowed them to fully immerse themselves in the time period of the lumbering era in the Chippewa Valley.

“It’s been kicking around people’s brains for several months. They’re bringing their best ideas to the table,” Andersson said. “It’s fun going into projects when everyone’s thinking and churning and ready to go.” 

Andersson appreciated Hurd’s attention to detail in choosing filming locations that are not only aesthetically appealing but true to the story’s roots.

“For the budget and what we’re doing, it’s kind of an ambitious project, which is kind of fun to push yourself like that,” Andersson said. “We’re going to knock it out of the ballpark.” 

Filming continues for the next few weeks before “The Lumber Baron” goes into post-production, though Hurd said they will fly all the actors back out for one week after the first snowfall to film several outdoor scenes. She hopes to see the production finished in early 2018.

And then?

“A distributor will take it and we’ll sell it, and hopefully you’ll be able to watch it on Netflix, Hulu or wherever,” she said. “We want the world to watch this.”

Contact: 715-833-9214,, @KatherineMacek on Twitter