January and February 2006
 

 

 

Humble Beginnings

A-1 goes from chain saw to 20 million board feet.

By Bob Bruce

 

Back in 1983, Larry Heesacker got himself a chain saw and started cutting firewood. It wasn’t long though before “one thing led to another,” and through a combination of planning and sometimes just being in the right place at the right time, today he heads a company headquartered outside of McMinnville, Ore., that works four sides and harvests on average 17 – 20 million board feet of timber each year.

 

Starting Small

“First I bought a chain saw, so then I needed a pickup,” he recalls. Every time he got a new piece of equipment that helped him do his job better, it ended up causing him to make another upgrade down the road to keep up with demand. For example, the firewood job he was working also involved some clearing, so they put him up on a Cat one day to help out. He tackled the assignment head-on, just like with everything else he did. “The owner said he’d never seen a guy work so hard and make so little,” he says, “so in 1984 he sold me a Cat and gave me enough work to start me out.” Of course, nobody knew what was about to happen in timber. The next year, says Larry, bad news came to town and Larry — along with lots of others — went broke. So he oiled up his chain saw and cut timber for six years. “Then the spotted owl came in and I got laid off. So I went and got a side job and we never stopped. Everybody remembered me from the first time. We’ve been busy ever since.”

 

Larger Jobs

Larry still does logging and thinning for small plot landowners and backyard homeowners, but within the last five years in particular he has seen more and more of his work come from mills and larger timber owners.

“For me, it’s better working for the mills,” he says. “We’ve got a lot of equipment payments to make, so that makes the
mills way more attractive.” Larry has been fortunate being able to find work generally within an hour and a half radius from McMinnville. “We just finished up a job in Depoe Bay,” he says. “Now we’re at Lincoln City with one side, one side west of McMinnville, one side west of Yamhill, and one up by Gales Creek.”

 

Finding the Right Tools

One of the main things that helped A1 Logging grow was whenever Larry would get a request from a customer to do a particular job, he would go find the equipment, the people, or the training to get it done. If he had to buy some new piece of equipment, he’d do it. And then, since the monthly payments don’t go away when the job ends, he would get busy and shake the bushes for more work to keep everything running.

“The first experience when we didn’t make it, that was a tough lesson. I never thought I’d start again, but necessity pushed me into it. You just keep finding a way to do it.”

The hardest thing Larry had to learn as an independent businessman was how to negotiate with the timber owners and the mills. “I don’t know if it’s being a tough negotiator,” he says, “it’s just having all the information to explain things. If I understand the costs real well, then I can explain it. Most people are reasonable and they understand that. You can’t be afraid to say what’s on your mind about the price. Sometimes when I didn’t get a fuel increase, the next time I’d raised my prices to compensate.”

Doing so would knock him out of being the first place bid, but he still won the contract more often than not because he could back up his bid with facts and figures.

Larry Heesacker (right) got his start with a chain saw. Today his son Jeremy (left) is one of his operators.

 

Recognition

Of course, not all planning works out the way it was intended. For example, in 2000 A1 Logging received the Operator of the Year for the Northwest corner of Oregon. “I thought that recognition would help business so I bought a Prentice 620 processor, self-leveling with a Logmax head on it. We started looking for work, but we didn’t find any.”

So he adapted and went after thinning jobs on private patches instead. The move paid off. He put his oldest boy, Jeremy, in the cab of the Prentice and for four years they did thinning jobs. In 2005 they moved Jeremy into a new Linkbelt 240 with a Logma 7000 head.

“It was less risky than buying a self-leveler financially, but now I wish I would have bought another self-leveler also, because boy, there’s a lot of work in the thinning. It’s growing in popularity again.”

A-1 Logging has 35 pieces of equipment in use, including a Cat loader with a Logmax 7000 head.

 

Taking a Test Run

When Triad Machinery came out to A1, they also brought along a new Logmax 7000 head to try out on their 620. “I said I’m not going to buy it, but you can bring it out and put it on. So they put it on and we liked it so much we bought two of them — one for the Prentice and the other for our Cat 322B. The Triad salesman, Larry Nord, worked really hard and he’s always there for us. Logmax has been real dependable for us. They are close for us to go get parts. They have good parts availability and their service department is great.”

A1 currently has about 35 pieces of equipment, with the main items being a John Deere 650, Cat D7, HiDrive D4 swing grapple, D4, D6D, two Linkbelt 3400 yoders, the Linkbelt 240 feller/buncher with the Logmax 7000 head, Cat 322C loader, a 322B with a Logmax 7000 head, and Kobelco 220.

One of A1’s current long-term projects is a three-year thinning job on 370 acres of BLM land over varied terrain, located in four different areas in Yamhill County, Oregon. The project is challenging in a number of ways, not the least of which is that the BLM has mandated a highly compressed working season while still wanting to remove 5 million board feet of timber.

“My crew is experienced in clearcut, but teaching them to thin was a challenge,” says Larry, “particularly things like the intermediate supports and laying out the corridors. Also, some of this job is really small – there’s no merchantable in some spots. Even so, I’m real proud of the crew. I’ve done some tours of other thinnings, and I think our crew has done an outstanding job. I’ve got one of the best groups of people we’ve ever had as a company. Probably the best team I’ve ever had work for us, right now employed.”

 

TW

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This page was last updated on Friday, June 16, 2006