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Quality Work and Strong Associations Go Hand in Hand
By Bob Bruce
For four generations, the Kirkpatrick family has logged the coastal forests around Coos Bay and Brookings, owning their own mill at first and later, taking on logging jobs from a number of different timber companies. Larry Kirkpatrick, the current standard-bearer for the Kirkpatrick Logging dynasty, recently relocated inland to the Eugene area where he now logs almost exclusively for Roseburg Lumber.
“They know my quality,” Larry says. “I’m on the job every day so I’m personally responsible for maintaining quality. I take pride in what I log. I may not make a lot of money at it, but I log clean. If you look out over a hillside we’ve cut, there’s nothing out there that would make you wonder if there’s something we left.”
“My father taught me, a long time ago, that this is the last time this land will be logged for maybe 40 or 50 years so we want to utilize everything off of the land right now. I tell my rigging crew, ‘if in doubt, put in on the landing and let me decide if it’s no good.’”
Larry uses a tower and is careful to give each haul a good lift so they don’t tear up the ground. As part of their effort to log clean and deliver maximum value to their customer, Larry and his crew are doing more sorting on the landing than ever before.
“Years ago when we worked the Coos area,” he says, “especially when we had spruce and hemlock in the same stand, we would have these huge limb piles that they’d come and burn. Now we make a pile of hardwood for chip logs, a pile of conifer chip logs, and then another pile of biomass, which would have been my limb pile.”
Generating all these various sort piles may be good for the environment, but that does not necessarily translate into any increased revenue for Larry. “I get about $75 a load for these chip logs to fall, buck, yard, and load them, and that’s not really enough. I’ve heard of a few loggers that complain about separating out the biomass, but I think it’s here, and it’s something we’re all going to have to live with. The problem is that currently the end result doesn’t pay for itself.”
Child Labor Laws
Although Larry is a fourth generation logger and proud of it, he admits that there probably won’t be a fifth generation. Some years ago, when his son was still young enough to need a babysitter, Larry took him along to work out in the brush.
“I had been out four-wheeling on the sand dunes, and I’d had an accident where I hurt my legs,” he says. “I brought my son along to sort of be my legs – I stayed in the shovel, and he did this and that on the landing.”
As luck would have it, that very day, the local OSHA compliance officer decided to follow one of Larry’s trucks off the highway up into the landing to do an impromptu inspection.
“He spent two hours walking around and finally came up with a couple of citations,” says Larry. “He didn’t mention anything about my son, so I asked if we were going to hear about that later. The officer said no, it was great my son was learning the family business.”
“By the time I got home, my dad had already received a phone call from the Portland office of the Bureau of Labor and Industries. The officer had turned us in and was filing a $14,000 citation saying we were violating child labor laws.”
He adds, “We talked our way out of the citation, but they told us if they caught my son out there again before he turned 18 plus one day old, they would double the citation to $28,000.”
After that episode, says Larry, his son was so afraid of going back out with him and maybe getting hit with that citation that he stayed away and eventually developed an interest in electrical contracting. But just because Larry doesn’t have his son out there working alongside, that doesn’t mean he works without family. Every day on the job, his core team is a couple of guys that are about as close as you can get to a brother and a son without a direct blood connection.
Ten years ago, when Larry’s Dad finally decided to quit logging, pull all the equipment in, and sell it at auction, Larry told his wife Pam that he wanted to buy him out. “She has always been very understanding and supportive,” says Larry. “So we went to my Dad, and I told him I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I was going to buy him out.”
The next step was to invite his cousin Rick Haug, Rick’s wife, Rick’s son Steve, and Steve’s girlfriend, over for dinner. Both Rick and Steve had been working for Larry for some time at that point, Rick on the yarder and Steve on the processor.
“I sat them down and said ‘Okay, here’s the deal; Dad quit, and I’m buying him out but if you two guys aren’t in, I’m not doing it.’ Those two are my two key guys. I could hire everybody else out there in the brush, the choker setters and all that, but those two were the most important.”
Today Larry runs a fairly small operation in terms of equipment, but it suits his needs well. His core team on the landing is Rick with a Madill 071 yarder on a Terex cat undercarriage. Steve runs a Linkbelt LX290 with a 624 Waratah. Larry’s machine is a big old Cat 330A. “I bought it at auction and try to keep it running,” says Larry. “It’s big and heavy – I don’t really need that big of equipment to load these little bitty logs but I’d tear up one of those little machines.”
A Strong Association
Although Larry is out in the brush every day along with Rick and Steve, he also makes time to serve various positions within the Associated Oregon Loggers (AOL) – an organization that he strongly supports and believes in. In fact, he was the AOL Chapter Chairman in Coos County for 10 years. When he moved to Eugene, he accepted chapter chair for the Eugene/Springfield area.
“A long time ago — we’re talking clear back in the late 60s and 70s — somebody came up with the suggestion that there are a lot of issues that affect the logging industry directly, and we needed to group together and stand together,” he says.
“My father caught wind of AOL, Associated Oregon Loggers, and went to an annual meeting. When he came back, he thought it was so good and so important that he became a member of this statewide organization, and the next year we shut the side down and both of us went.”
Keeping in Touch
According to Larry, it’s not just the information and workshops that the AOL offers at these meetings, but also the opportunities to connect with other loggers and to speak face-to-face with elected officials like U.S. senators and congressmen.
There is strength in numbers. Although AOL has about 1,000 current members, that number is multiplied by the fact that each member can have anywhere from five to 50 employees working for them. “That’s 20,000 people in the timber industry,” he points out, “just in Oregon.”
“You have to straighten the system out once in a while,” he says. “We can’t cow down to a minority group of protestors or environmentalists. They have their issues, and we listened to them and said, ‘Okay, we’ll peel off this piece of the pie and give it to the environmentalists.’ But now they’re after the rest of the pie. You just don’t want to lock up a whole forest and say, ‘Don’t Touch.’ It won’t work.”
He also notes that maintaining a healthy AOL is good for normal everyday concerns as well. “Probably the biggest bill that passed, thanks to the efforts of AOL, was to exempt logging equipment from personal property taxes, just as is done for farmers,” he says.
“We all need to be a part of this organization if we’re going to stay in business. It’s just part of doing business, for me.”
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