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Always Up and Running
Huffman Wright Logging knows a thing or two about keeping the old equipment running
A little over 50 years ago, Ralph Huffman and Roger Wright decided to team up and start a logging company. According to Roger, “It was just me and Ralph. We had an old, used beat-up Cat and an International pick-up. We paid a third of our income for the equipment. I always say we started with two hardhats and a pair of gloves.”
What Roger doesn’t mention is that they also brought along a generous helping of old fashioned dedication and hard work.
Making the Most of
Like a lot of startups, Huffman and Wright had to buy most of their equipment used. It helped a lot that Roger not only really enjoyed working on heavy equipment, he was also a darned good mechanic.
Some guys like to fix up old cars — Roger likes to rebuild shovels and bulldozers. And where most logging companies would probably trade in an old forwarder for a new one (or a slightly less used one) Ralph and Roger will either rebuild it from the wheel bearings on up or keep it out back for spare parts.
After all, as Roger points out, “Once it’s paid for, it doesn’t really cost anything to keep it around.”
Ready for Repair
Ralph and Roger have both learned over the last 50 years that the logging industry changes — sometimes without a lot of warning. The government may decide to move from clear cutting to thinning. The mills may decide to switch from short logs to long logs. The bulk of the available timber sales may all go from shovel logging to tower logging.
When things change, it’s handy to have your own personal stockpile of logging equipment to pull from rather than having to sell what you do have in order to buy what you don’t have. Particularly since next year the market could change again and you’d need to buy back all that iron you sold off the year before.
Over the years, the equipment Roger has amassed for his company is so vast and varied that he could almost qualify as a regional distribution center for repair parts. If it goes on a piece of logging equipment or one of the support vehicles, Roger probably has at least a half dozen of the items already in stock either new, used, or rebuilt. If he doesn’t have the part somewhere in the main shop, he probably has a machine somewhere out back that he could pull the part from.
“We’ve got nine yarder sides out there working right now,” says Roger. “In the summer we get some ground-based going, and then we’ve got one road building crew that works year-round. We’ve got plenty of old stuff we need to keep running (almost 100 vehicles total), and that takes a big shop crew and lots of shop trucks.”
Roger has built up a pretty impressive support structure over the last ten decades. “We’ve got quite a shop here,” he admits. “We do everything. We rebuild our own motors, do our own body work; we’ve also got a paint booth where we paint them.”
That’s just in the main shop area. “We’ve got a 300-foot storage building where we have some rigs we’re going to rebuild for more fuel trucks and fire trucks, and we have some benches cut into the hillside out back where we keep more equipment.”
They also have their own line shop. “We started it for our own use but it got so big we started selling to other people. Now we have pretty near all the running line business clear up to Roseburg.” They also have a saw shop they operate down in the center of Canyonville, about a half mile away from their equipment yard.
That might sound like a lot of overhead, what with all the spare parts, mechanics, shop equipment, buildings, and just plain huge inventory of stuff, but Ralph and Roger have learned through experience that the added cost of maintaining that infrastructure can really pay off when there’s work to be done out in the brush.
Of course, even with a couple of buildings full of spare parts and a team of highly skilled mechanics who could build a complete bulldozer out of bits and pieces already lying around (they’ve done it before, according to Roger), there are times when Huffman and Wright still have to buy new iron.
Recently they shook hands on the delivery of a brand new Cat 325D.
“The main reason we got the new shovel is because of the cab,” says Roger. “Oregon OSHA is not going to approve the cabs we have on the older shovels, so we wouldn’t have any shovel loggers when that takes effect.” Even though it would probably be possible to retrofit their existing shovels, Ralph and Roger figured that the cost and time involved to complete such a project just wasn’t worth it.
Besides, the new Cat comes with a bunch of other improvements that no amount of refurbishing could match. Along with the computerized control system, joystick operation, and data uplink that has become standard high-tech equipment, the undercarriage of this beast is 20 metric tons bigger than what was available on the previous model in this series.
According to Deon Meyer, the Cat rep from Peterson Cat out of Eugene, the main benefits to be had from such a beefy undercarriage are longer equipment life, increased reliability, greatly increased stability, and of course the ability to handle bigger logs.
Benefits of New Equipment
Along with all the day-to-day operational issues of bidding on jobs, managing jobs, maintaining equipment, and occasionally buying new equipment, the founding generation of Huffman and Wright is also working through the process of transferring the company over to the current generation of Huffman and Wright — Mike Huffman and Butch Wright.
As Butch sees it, while the new equipment may be expensive, it is worth it even if it wasn’t partly motivated by the new Oregon OSHA requirements. “There’s less downtime with new equipment,” he says, “and the operators are generally going to accomplish a little bit more with the newer equipment. Don’t get me wrong, the older equipment has served us well, there’s no doubt about that, but you still have that downtime. It’s very hard to compete with a lot of these other guys, especially in shovel logging, if you don’t have the newer equipment.”
New Management, Same Practices
In many of the important areas however, Butch does not see much deviation from past practices as he and Mike move into top management.
“One of the reasons this company has been successful is because our fathers, Ralph and Roger, have never been so much into it to make money. I mean yes, they want to make money but they are more family-oriented. They’ve got 100 people with families that they want to take care of, and their intent has always been that.”
“My and Mike’s intent is we want to keep this operation going long term,” he continues. “I think the key to that is to just keep your nose to the grindstone and keep after it. That’s the way Ralph and Roger did it. It hasn’t been easy for them. It’s come a lot easier for us guys because those guys spent seven days a week, 20 hours a day for many years to get us where we’re at.”
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