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Making Employees’ Safety and Satisfaction a Priority
By Andrea Watts
“Make sure you talk about the guys,” says George Bridgewater, owner of Bridgewater Logging.
George may head up Bridgewater Logging, but he doesn’t want to be the center of attention; instead he would rather focus on his men, who he feels are responsible for the company’s success. But in this close-knit company, you can’t just focus on the men without giving due credit to a boss who built a company on the belief that the workplace should be a great place to show up each day and bringing men home safe from a job site is just standard operating procedure.
A Logger from the Start
“I always knew what I wanted to do since I was six years old,” George says. One of his earliest logging memories is being on a D4 Cat, spooling line to his dad. “I was always out tagging along. I was raised into the business...and didn’t know any better.”
George’s father and grandfather unofficially started the Bridgewater family logging business in Raymond in 1946, following World War II. For a number of years, it was just his father and grandfather working the jobs, with George tagging along. In 1971, a year after high school, George formally joined the company, then he and his father were out on the job sites with a skidder and cat.
The Beginning of a Workforce
The purchase of their first logging truck coincided with the hiring of their first employee. George recalls handing Glenn Borden, a friend of his from school, a check and the assignment of picking up the logging truck — though Glenn had no experience driving a logging truck. That first assignment turned into a 30-year career driving for Bridgewater Logging.
Through the years, Glenn has received a couple offers from other companies but says he wouldn’t leave and “couldn’t ask for a better place to work.”
That first logging truck, a 1977 Peterbilt, is still in George’s equipment portfolio though it’s no longer on the road. And that one Peterbilt is now a fleet of six other Peterbilt logging trucks.
George Takes the Helm
After George assumed leadership upon his dad’s retirement in 1990, he hired half a dozen employees during the 1990s, and now 20 full-time employees form the crew. Nicole Bridgewater, George’s daughter, recently joined as the company’s safety coordinator. She describes the workplace as “one big family,” a sentiment echoed by the men, while George adds, “We’ve grown because of our men.”
A combination of tower and shovel logging is among the services that George’s company offers. They are one of the four companies that offer tower logging in the Raymond area, and of their jobs, 50 percent are for Weyerhaeuser, 40 percent are on John Hancock’s timberland investment holdings, and 10 percent are for private landowners. With additional job sites on the coastal area of Washington State, George has yet to have a job site close due to extreme fire danger; however, humidity is checked each morning to ensure there is minimal fire risk.
In 1992 George started logging for Weyerhaeuser, and his business experienced an uptick in salvage logging following the storm in the fall of 2007. He started working for John Hancock a little over three years ago when the company purchased Weyerhaeuser timberlands. Though George had to introduce his company to new management, the introduction has proven fruitful. “It’s been a very good relationship and for them [too], I hope,” he says.
Keeping a Good Crew
Though work has remained steady over the years, George isn’t about to expand the payroll further because he has seen the cyclical nature of the industry and isn’t about to experience layoffs. “I’ve never ever had to lay someone off…even during tough times,” he says proudly. While this means he has accepted jobs that yield a slim margin, Jeff Frost — a 20-year veteran who operates the 300 Doosan with 600 Keto Processor — notices and appreciates that there is year-round work, saying, “[George] tries to keep everyone working.”
Year-round work is one of the reasons his crew wouldn’t consider leaving the company. Mike Goodin, one of the 325D Caterpillar shovel loggers, has spent his entire 22-year career with George. “I just went to work for him and been with him ever since,” he says. Another reason the guys stay is because of the camaraderie. “It’s like going to school every day. You know everyone,” says Jeff Frost.
On the industrial lands, George does only clear cutting. He used to take 100-acre jobs but now 40-50-acre jobs are the norm. He cuts a mixed bag of tree species and sizes; DBH Sitka spruce, Douglas-fir, western hemlock, and red alder from six inches to 36 inches, and the logs may be used for pulp, saw logs, chips, or exports. George doesn’t have fallers on staff; instead, he contracts out that job. For private timber owners, George also offers the services of tree planting and road building.
While jobs have taken the crew as far north as Fort Lewis, most of the work is primarily located in a 50-mile radius around Raymond, something that Chad Bair, the 290 Linkbelt shovel operator, appreciates. A recent addition to the company, Chad has worked all over western Washington, and he appreciates that George keeps the guys close to home.
Over the years, George has amassed an equipment portfolio that allows him to match machinery to the job, most of which have a tower and a Yoder configuration. Though he has three towers, only one tower can run at a time because of the number of men needed at the jobsite. The brand-new TTY 6170 Thunderbird is used most often, but they also have a TMY 45 Thunderbird to use when needed.
Tom Walker, one of the shovel logger operators, appreciates being able to have a say in the purchase of equipment. “[George] lets you pick the one you want,” he says.
When it came time to purchase another shovel logger, Tom, who has always been a Link-Belt man, selected the 370 Link-Belt. For George, allowing his men to select the equipment they will be operating just makes good business sense, but for his men it is a sign of trusting their judgment.
One of the largest shifts that George has seen in the industry is an increased focus on safety, something that he embraces. “I have my work cut out for me,” Nicole Bridgewater, safety coordinator says, describing the huge binder of safety regulations that she will be delving into. She has a background in safety compliance and intends to strengthen the company’s safety program.
The company also participates in the Drug Free Business program with a voluntary compliance program that has inspectors doing yearly compliance audits of job sites, which “help us to keep current on the safety standards.” George doesn’t mind the extra work that safety compliance brings because he wants the guys to go home each night.
Up and Coming
Though retirement isn’t on George’s mind just yet, he has handed over a number of responsibilities to his nephew, Matt Cron, who has worked with the company for 23 years and one month. It “must be in the blood,” George reasons about Matt’s decision to enter logging while Nicole teases that it was a good woman who kept him grounded in Raymond.
Regardless of the reason, George takes comfort in passing the company down to the second generation. “Matt takes care of all of this [the job sites]. I don’t have to worry about it.”
Matt says that everything he learned has been self-taught and by watching what George and his grandfather did. He is also proud of the company that his family has built.
With his company’s long ties in the community, George isn’t concerned about new logging outfits entering the marketplace. “As far as work goes, we’re in great shape.” But that confidence is also tempered by experiencing the cyclical nature of the industry. “Never take anything for granted,” George cautions, “take it one job at a time.”
This page and all contents ©1996-2012 Logging and Sawmilling Journal (L&S J) and TimberWest Journal.