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Chambers Logging Co. says partnering with firms has created a solid foundation for the company
By Mary Bullwinkle
The family-owned Chambers Logging Company has been working in the woods of northern California for more than 50 years. Founded in 1958 by Bob and Gloria Chambers, the couple is still actively engaged in the day-to-day management of the Fortuna-based business. And the employees are considered part of the family, as many have been working for Chambers Logging for more than 20 years.
At the ripe age of 74, Bob Chambers is still doing today what he started out doing. “I’ve always been an equipment operator,” Chambers says.
During their logging career, the Chambers have established some long-term partnerships with the firms for which they worked. In the beginning (1960s), there was Fortuna Wood Products. In the 1970s, when Sierra Pacific Industries purchased that mill and several others in nearby communities, a decades-long logging relationship began. Chambers Logging’s current long-term partner is the Russ Ranch, a family run outfit that has both timber and livestock operations. They also do some logging for Humboldt Redwood Company (HRC) based in Scotia, Calif.
Chambers Logging uses three John Deere 650s on the cat sides of the operations. “I think they’re a great machine,” Chambers says. “But if 20 years ago, someone had told me I’d be logging with a John Deere, I’d have laughed at them.” It was all D-8 and D-7 Cats back then he says, mainly used for building the roads to get the timber out. Today, according to Chambers, “All the roads are just re-opens.” Chambers still has two D-7 Cats that he uses.
The John Deere 650 has a cab forward design to improve visibility, an overhead instrument panel (including an electric monitor with diagnostic capabilities), and an ergonomically designed single lever for low-effort steering.
Keeping Relationships Strong
Chambers said it is hard work and long-term relationships that have kept Chambers Logging going all these years. These lasting relationships, he says, are not just about who you work for, but also who works for you. Take a look at the logging crews and truck drivers who work for Bob and Gloria Chambers, and you’ll understand what that means. “[These employees] are very experienced,” he says, “and they definitely know what they are doing.”
Ron Machado, a truck driver for Chambers Logging, describes it this way, “Chambers [Logging Company] is probably one of the oldest loggers; a very Ma and Pa place to work, and great people to work for. He [Chambers] comes to check on everything in the woods every day, and you don’t see many people like that.”
Employee Relationships Developing New Ones
These steadfast employees keep operations running smoothly, according to Chambers, and he mentions two in particular who are his right-hand men. They are loader operator Victor Brovelli and yarder engineer Bill Little. “I give these guys a bigger role all the time, and that’s the way it’s going to be,” Chambers says.
“Bill has been here since he got out of college,” Chambers says and describes him as the “key to the whole outfit.” One of these days, if and when he decides to retire, Chambers envisions turning the logging operations over to these two. But don’t expect that anytime soon because there’s sawdust running through Chambers veins. “I’m going to keep logging as long as I can,” he says. “What else would I do?”
The loyal dedication of his long-time employees is somewhat both a blessing and a curse though, as Chambers looks at an aging workforce and wonders who will replace those workers when they retire.
“I’ve got truck drivers in their 60s and 70s, and that’s a problem,” says Chambers. He and Gloria have added some younger loggers to their crews over the past several years, but they are concerned about a lack of skilled workers, as well as the current length of the logging season in California.
His yarder logging season is approximately ten months out of the year, but the cat side operations are much shorter. “The cat sides work five to six months out of the year, and who wants to, or can afford to, work that much?”
Chambers adds that there is also more competition among the logging outfits to find cat side crews. “A lot of smaller guys might not have a yarder, but they do have a Cat.”
Quality Partnering & the Future
While Chambers Logging’s 17-year relationship with the Russ Ranch in Humboldt County provides annual certainty for the logging company, the problem is a lack of local sawmills to process some of the timber being logged (mainly fir).
“The local market is flooded with timber,” says Chambers, referring to Humboldt County. So Chambers logging trucks are taking the logs all the way to Trinity River Lumber’s sawmill in Weaverville, Calif., an approximately 275 mile round trip. “It’s a long run to go over there, come right back, and go over again, and it burns lots of diesel.” The trucks make one trip one day followed by two trips the next day.
The partnership between Chambers Logging and HRC this summer included a redwood logging operation near the Scotia Mill, and the trucking distance was much shorter for the timber being logged. Another financial benefit is a contract with HRC for projects that keep two Chambers Logging dump trucks and one water truck (during summer months) working on a daily basis.
Chambers believes the future of logging will include smaller, more mobile, and mechanized equipment. The difficulty for the small logging companies like theirs, Chambers says, is the financial burden associated with acquiring mechanized equipment such as feller bunchers, processors, and the like.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” says Chambers. There are days when he thinks about stepping down, but more days when he can’t imagine not going to the woods every day to check on the logging operations and operate the equipment.
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