Logging and Sawmilling Information for the Western United States
January 2001 - Volume 26 Number 1
Long Term Logging With an Edge
Innovation, experienced operators and the right equipment have kept Eugene Park Jr. in business for over 30 years
By Carmen Edwards
You make it work for everybody," says Eugene Park Jr., the hands-on owner/operator of Artemis, Inc., an independent logging company based in Aberdeen, Wash. That philosophy has kept Gene working in the woods for thirty years. Five to six days a week you can find him running a machine with cell phone in hand, at one of his job sites. "Margins are thin and if you can pass profits along and keep other people working, then when the cycle comes around, you'll be well positioned." And after thirty years, Gene is well positioned with a tight seven man crew, the best equipment he can get, and an approach that always looks for anything that can give him an edge. Gene thinks the key to surviving is having an edge.
The edge can come from introducing innovative ways of doing business that save pennies and increase profits for everyone down the line. The edge can come from highly skilled operators. The edge can come from having the right equipment for increasing productivity and reducing downtime. At a current job for the Forest System, Gene uses all of the above. At the job site, Gene stands on the side of a vast, steep sided bowl ringed by firs and spotted with deer, and surveys the progress on the Forest System job. It's drizzling lightly and the trees shimmer in the gray light. The scent of new cut wood, pine and rain freshen the air. The North River cutting area where Gene stands is south of Aberdeen, and at 140 acres and 4 million feet of small wood, the job is large enough to require all of Gene's equipment on site.
His machines include a 322, 325, two 330s - all CATs; (2) Denharco 3500 DT stroke delimber, one CAT 320 and one on a Komatsu 220; a Hahn harvester; and Gene's newly acquired TK1127T feller buncher, the key to working the steep slopes of the bowl. Gene, always on the lookout for a competitive edge, was the first in the U.S. to acquire the TK1100 series buncher, which is available with either a high speed continuous or new improved 29 inch intermittent saw head. Manufactured and distributed by Risley Manufacturing Ltd., the TK is sold and serviced by Washington's CAT dealer, N C Machinery Co. Jim Stevens, the N C salesman out of the Chehalis branch, was instrumental in putting the TK1127T buncher on Gene's job. (Note: a letter of intent has been signed by Caterpillar, Inc. to purchase the TK line of bunchers, to be available as TimberKing by Caterpillar) "One of the keys is to put the wood down very gently so we save it all the way out. A lot of times we're trying to cut a four inch, four and a half inch top - to do that you need to be able to put these trees down really easily," notes Gene. "The TK is the only machine we found that is capable of doing that. "This is the only one we found that could actually do what we wanted.
The rest of them, when you get up to about a 22inch tree, especially hemlock, which is really heavy - when you get to a certain position, they go. They're either going to let go of the tree or something's going to break and go. The more speed it picks up, the more likely it's going to break. Whereas with this buncher, on a lot of those trees, we can actually just set them right down.
"It was also the only one we found that we could go out full boom's length, cut the tree off, pick it up off the stump and bring it back, swing it around and then place it. The other ones, when you go out full boom, you might be able to cut the tree, but then you can't handle it from there, you have to let it go. I was blown away." Gene has had the TK buncher since April. Six and a half months later, its cut 12 to 14 million feet of wood. The forest systems job was originally set up for tower logging, but Gene proposed an innovative alternative that eliminated the need for towers, and the client agreed. Gene explains how it works: "Rather than build 1200 feet of road, we just built 300 feet of road. The other 900 feet of road - we just punched that up and put a bunch of brush down and used that as a road to forward all the wood." Gene says they put one skid road off the designated landing to go right down into the bottom. Then used their D6Hs to go down to the bottom with the shovels and brought it up with the CAT to the landing. "I had one stroker and two shovels set up at the bottom where the tower's supposed to be and the CAT. It was just like a factory," says Gene with satisfaction.
The TK1127T, the T indicating a house tilt version, was the only way Gene and his crew could do the steep hillsides of the North River bowl. "You have to have those machines because of the forces you're dealing with," says Gene. "If you tilt it like that, and then you get that weight coming down, that's going to flip you over. Also, on that machine you can't build a road for it 'cause of stumps and everything occasionally you're going to have one track up on the stump so it's real important to stabilize that. We looked at a big flat bottom buncher, but we could never get it to do what we wanted it to do." Gene says using the forwarding method increases profits. "We reduce the road costs for the person purchasing the timber. We centralize everything in one place. It's the same as shovel logging to your regular road. We'll use one road for forwarding, and when we're done, we can take it out easily. You get your ground back to plant trees, you don't have a road there you have to worry about.
You've just got a little short stub instead of 1200 feet of road." He advises using the brush from the processors and building up a base of brush to run on, to avoid creating a lot of mud. He says, "Once they (clients) see that it works, it will change a lot of the way logging's done around here. It goes back to the old philosophy, let's do it a little different way, cut costs, increase production, and make everybody an extra few pennies all the way down the line." Gene is proud of the way his idea has worked at North River. "We haven't rigged one tower yet," he said. "There are no tower roads crisscrossing this beautiful bowl." While today Gene is comfortable in the woods completing large jobs such as North River, when he first started out, Gene is the first to joke that he couldn't tell the difference between a fir and a hemlock. So how did he go from being a knot of inexperience to being a veteran still innovating after 30 years? The seed for his love of the woods was sown when Gene was a young boy living in Colorado. One day, he saw a movie that would set the course of his life. The film? Disney's "Charlie the Cougar." Gene's eyes glow as he recalls his fascination with the film. "It came out in the late '50s, and I loved that movie and how it portrayed logging camps and logging." The movie's images stayed with him and sparked his imagination.
As he grew up, he never forgot the film, and a little over ten years later, when he was 20, he moved from Colorado to the Northwest to start making his logging dreams a reality. He started out working in the woods for someone else for those first two years, then started his own business. "I didn't know how to start a business," says Gene. "I just bought this guy's house and his equipment - a TD9 International Cat." It was the first time he'd ever run any heavy equipment. That was in 1972, and Gene was so excited, he wasn't about to let inexperience stop him. "Basically, I didn't know anything about anything, but '72 and '73 were very exciting times for me," recalls Gene. There was opportunity and there was money to be made for anybody willing to apply themselves. "Right off the get go, I started buying small timber sales. I was very successful at that. Right up through 1979 was a very productive, very exciting time for me."
Gene tried out a lot of different things in his business, feeling innovation gave him a bit of an edge. He was doing salvage logging, primarily in cedar. He notes, "Most of the guys doing that were just sending cedar blocks. I was looking for other markets - we'd cut fence posts, fence rails, cedar blocks, salal poles." As well as expanding his markets, Gene looked for other ways to increase profits. About that time, most people were buying salvage sales. While most people were doing this by hand, with small cable systems, Gene's company was one of the first to start using helicopters for transport. "We jumped on board and lowered the cost of transportation of the material," says Gene. "We had two or three other markets no one else was really involved in. It wasn't big money for those markets, but it helped. It made buying the sales a little bit easier because you always had an edge." By '77, Gene had 35 people doing handwork for him.
Those were boom times, but in the early '80s, everything went sour in the woods and in the timber markets. Gene decided to leave the woods and venture into a different arena. "I went into partnership doing remote telecasts of Seahawks football, Mariners baseball, Sonics basketball games," he explains. "I did very little logging work during that time." After a year, Gene sold his half of the telecast business to his partner and returned to what he loves best. He says, "In '82, I came back out to the woods and within two weeks, bought a salvage timber sale. I still had a D6 CAT at the time, and went back at it all by myself, I didn't have a crew. I worked for three months, built up a little capital, hired a couple fellows and built it back up again. We've been through some pretty tough times." But tough times seem to agree with Gene. What carries him through? "Every time I get presented with something that's a negative, that a lot of people say 'It's just too much,' or 'Not again,' I tend to just suck it up and say 'Okay, hang on, we're going for the ride.'" And that ride took him through the early '80s, when Gene did more contract logging work and less timber sales. He bought a shovel and skidder and got more into the production contract logging. In the mid '80s and early '90s, Gene worked with Quinault Logging, and says the experience made him a better business person and logger.
When they laid off a lot of people, Gene then worked for a couple of small companies, R & E Timber and P.L.S. When they went out of business, it was back to working his own timber sales once more. Bidding on a sale was how he first met Dick Jacobs and Jerry Eaton, and he ended up logging for them. He still does work for them today, as well as working with Merill & Ring (M&R) and others on land clearing, salvage logging and logging road construction. Today, he contracts some work out, works with a lean crew of seven, and has just signed an agreement with a trucking company, Don Entis trucking. When asked what makes logging worthwhile for him, Gene pauses a moment, "It's the most challenging thing I know to do right now - to take my gained knowledge over the last thirty years and to apply that to a very fluid, ever-changing situation.
And to make that work, day in and day out, and to look ahead, make it work six months ahead, a year ahead, whatever, that is a huge challenge." But with his philosophy of making logging work for all involved, Gene is well positioned to keep meeting that challenge for many years.
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