Logging and Sawmilling Information for the Western United States
January 2001 - Volume 26 Number 1
Blown Into the Business
Starting with one bulldozer, Mike Neuharth builds his business into a fully mechanized logging operation into the Business
By Mark Morey
A major windstorm in 1979 blew Mike Neuharth into the logging business. The tremendous gale brought down acres of timber on Marrowstone Island, near Port Townsend, Wash. "That's kind of what kicked me in the pants at that time," says Neuharth. "Originally in the excavation business, I had a little John Deere bulldozer and just started from there." He and a partner purchased their first fellerbuncher, a converted 690 John Deere tractor, in 1986 and used it for about a year. They then shifted to a modified 227 Caterpillar rig for a while. In 1990, they went to the Timbco 2520, the first level swing type. Meanwhile they held to the primarily traditional logging. "For a long time, we weren't fully mechanized," says Neuharth. "We still had chasers and the landing."
That changed about five years ago. Now his fully mechanized operation helps maintain his place in the timber market. Neuharth, the owner of Bay Timber and Construction in Sequim, Wash., operates a ground-based operation that relies on the fellerbuncher to keep dozens of log trucks rolling every day. "I guess you could call it the prime mover," said Neuharth in a recent interview at his Port Angeles shop. "It's the most important piece of equipment for the type of logging I do." A Timbco Hydraulics 445D purchased from PBI Machinery in Kelso, Wash., in April 2000 now leads his productive pack of machinery. He runs three CTR 314 whole tree processors and is also renting a Kobelco 290 with a 750 Keto processing head to keep trucks rolling out from four current sites across the Olympic Peninsula. Neuharth says safety and some reduction in labor costs drove the transition.
He hasn't recorded a serious injury since the early 1980s - and that wasn't even directly related to the logging operation. Mechanization also allowed him to go from five to three workers at each site. "Those three guys get out roughly the volume I had with five guys," Neuharth says. However, he intentionally keeps the company's size limited, extracting only about a dozen loads per day from each site instead of the more common 1520 loads. "I just have never went that route," partly in order to maintain his ability to respond customers' needs. "It's easier on the neighbors, as well as the haul roads," he adds. He decided on the small load plan after seeing residents close to logging operations riled over the number of log trucks rolling by their property. In addition, multiple truck visits tend to overload the dirt and gravel roads to landings. The smaller load target also helps keep cash flows and production in line, says Neuharth.
He centers his business on the Olympic Peninsula between the Hood Canal and the Clearwater River, in southwestern Jefferson County. The occasional long-distance job keeps him busy between Omak and Aberdeen. While expanding to handle state and private contract logging, he hasn't left behind pushing dirt. His crews build their own roads, which he said reduces the chance of problems arising between another builder and the landowner, with the logger in the middle. "It's a necessary evil when we're logging," Neuharth says. "I tend to overbuild the roads because I am the one that has to be on them." With the fellerbuncher, he prefers the engine up models because they are easier to work on and provide better ground clearance in the front. For his most recent buy, he chose the Timbco 445D. "It's a proven design," says Neuharth. "Everybody I talked to was happy." Besides the fellerbunchers, he uses six shovel loaders and D4 and D5 Caterpillar dozers as track skidders with swing booms. "I haven't had a rubber tired skidder for years," Neuharth explains, because they damage too much in their path and sink into the mud during the rainy season on the Olympic Peninsula.
As another reason to drop the rubber tired rigs from his inventory, the Washington Department of Natural Resources won't allow rutting on its timberland. "I had a piece of equipment I couldn't use fulltime so I got rid of it," says Neuharth. The severe environment they must operate in takes its toll as he runs the machines about 60 hours a week with two operators splitting the busy shifts. He credits a strict maintenance schedule with keeping the show on the road as many days a week as possible. "When we started, we had a lot of machines with high hours and we spent a lot of time fixing them," says Neuharth. Now he limits the fellerbunchers to about 5,000 hours, considered their half-life.
The other equipment gets traded in with about 15,000 hours on the clock. He's looking to purchase a processing head, but plans to hold off until one of the leading brands becomes the industry standard. Prices are still running high until that decision becomes clear in the market, Neuharth says. Until then, he's renting the Kobelco mounted Keto unit to try it out. Even so, he intends to keep using the CTR set length equipment because of the lower cost over the processing head. "I can't foresee getting rid of them," says Neuharth. "They have been really maintenance free."
However, he notes that the CTRs don't have the sizing flexibility, which has become a problem as timber purchasers increasingly request varying lengths in the product. But even more important to Neuharth than his equipment is his crew. It's their hard work and dedication that keeps the operation up, running and profitable. "They are the ones that are on the front lines as far as I'm concerned," says Neuharth. He and his crew do most of their work for private companies, such as Rayonier and Merrill and Ring, two of the leading landowners on the Olympic Peninsula, as well as Tacoma based Portac Inc.'s beaver division. He also takes some thinning contracts on state DNR lands, though that market has declined in the last two years because of tightening regulations and the low pulp price. Neuharth sees a need for loggers such as himself to become more conscious of the approach needed to help the public learn about today's timber harvesting.
Much of the focus in recent times has involved aesthetics, he believes: Motorists along the highway see the newly logged section of timber before they think of their new house. To resolve that concern, "You have to create something that looks better than a clearcut." Another part of the picture is "green certification," a process used to guarantee that lumber sold by such major outlets as Home Depot was produced following certain environmental standards.
He has already earned certification in one such program through the Washington Contract Loggers Association (WCLA). Next he plans to make sure that at least one operator per harvest site has taken the same training. Students in the WCLA certification class study the best methods of harvesting and other aspects of modern logging for 40 hours and then continue with yearly seminars, such as those given at the Oregon Loggers Conference. "It's a public image thing," Neuharth says about certification. "I'm starting to see that it will probably benefit the logging industry in the long run." Another trend in the industry troubles him - the lack of new blood. Even though he provides his employees with retirement, medical and vision benefits and a decent wage for the area, the average age of his crews has steadily risen over the years.
To him it's an indicator that high school graduates aren't heading for the woods like their fathers did.
Mark Morey is a freelance writer and photographer in Port Angeles, Washington. He's been handling a variety of stories for over 5 years.
This page was last updated on Tuesday, July 08, 2003