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Sanders Precision Timber Falling enjoys the challenges of salvage timber
By Kathy Coatney
Logging isn't just something Ross Sanders does to put food on the table. He has "the sap of the pine" in his blood.
"Logging's been in our family for four generations," Sanders says.
Sanders' grandfather, Alik, started logging in northern Minnesota where he taught his son, Lars, the ins and outs of the logging business -- timber falling, in particular.
When Lars started out, he swung his ax and it bounced off a limb, slicing his leg. Rather than quit working, he took another swing at the same limb. It bounced off again and sliced his leg a second time, directly above the first cut.
"He went to my grandfather and told him what happened," Sanders says. His grandfather responded with, "You've got the sap of the spruce in you. You're going to be in the woods the rest of your life."
And that was exactly what happened, Sanders says. "My dad was in the woods all of his life."
History repeated itself when Sanders started logging, only he used a chainsaw rather than an ax.
"A limb kicked back the saw right into my knee, cut my knee -- blood pouring into my boot and everything. I went over to my dad, and he says, 'well, you've got the sap of the pine tree in you now. You're going to be in the woods the rest of your life,'" Sanders says, and he's been in the woods ever since.
Luckily, Sanders' sons, who log with him today, didn't have to go through a similar experience.
Twenty-seven years later, Sanders still works in the woods, and he is president of Sanders Precision Timber Falling Inc., a family-run business in Mt. Shasta, Calif. Early on in his career, he felled timber for big logging companies in the Mt. Shasta area, and at one time, he had 50 cutters working for him.
Ten years ago, Sanders changed gears and started doing salvage logging for Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI). While the bulk of Sanders' work is salvage logging these days, he does do some sales.
"We'll do some clear cuts for SPI when they need somebody to go do a clear cut or something else," Sanders says, but salvage is his main focus.
The business has been scaled down to Sanders' brother, his sons, and one employee who has been with him for 22 years.
"Both my sons are out here right now working with me. My youngest son is in college, but he's home during the summertime," Sanders says.
"It's pretty much four to five of us," Sanders says. "We all wear different hats at different times of the day. We cut trees or run a piece of equipment, or we'll do some greasing, mechanicing. We'll do whatever needs to be done."
Keeping It Running
Being small can be challenging, because it means keeping old equipment running smoothly. Sanders has two Caterpillar (CAT) 518 skidders and a D and a C CAT 966 loaders.
"They're old loaders. My newest piece of equipment is a 1993," Sanders says.
Despite their age, he keeps them busy. "We did 163 landings last year and covered 30 sections of land," he says. That's why he likes rubber-tired equipment. "We're rolling along down the road all the time."
With older equipment, you learn to repair it or pay to have it done, Sanders says. Knowing your limitations is important in a small operation.
Sanders confesses that he is not a mechanic. "We're loggers not mechanics, and we'd rather be hunting and fishing than repairing equipment on weekends."
He adds, "We just want to fall timber, and that's what our specialty is -- falling big trees and jacking trees out of creeks and things."
That isn't to say they don't do some work on the equipment. "We do what we can do. We'll change hoses, and we'll change starters and compressors and different things like that," Sanders says, but beyond that, it's farmed out to the experts.
The Right Saw
All that falling requires good chain saws. Sanders has tried every brand and has used Stihl for over 40 years. He currently uses a Stihl 460 and a 660.
"We like Husky's, too. It's a good saw," he says. "I'd like to have kept using American, but America quit making good saws. They didn't keep up with the changing times, so that's what we use -- just tried and true Stihls. They get the job done."
Economy Takes Its Toll
The struggling economy impacted Sanders last year. "It was a really slow start last year because everything was so down. We didn't get started until almost the first of June, but we worked until December," he says.
The larger impact of the economy has been the reduced income. "Everybody has had to go to work for less money. We're down about 15 percent, overall, in as far as what I'm getting paid than what I was before because of the economy," Sanders says.
He adds that the increase in fuel is also a concern. "Sierra Pacific has been pretty fair when it takes a big jump. They've tried to help out where they can or give us a little bit more when they can. But last year, and this year, we've kind of got to bite the bullet and just tighten our belt, and work a little harder, work a little longer."
Sanders' operation is all hands-on, which is labor intensive. "We are out there. We're cutting on logs. We're doing it the old-fashioned way -- cut them down, bump the knots in the landing, put them on the truck, and get them to the mill."
"You can get more mechanical, but then you've got to compete with these big outfits that are just more geared up for the mechanical side, and it's pretty expensive to run those," he says.
Sanders heart is with the hands-on approach. "I really like it. Every day is a picnic in the woods, and you know, it's a good feeling."
He continues, "We're out with hands-on, with the raw product. The sawdust is in our face, and that's the way we like it."
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