July, 2001

 

 

 

 

Logger of the Year

Reynolds Logging foreman Jeff Connolly can run all the equipment but specializes in the forwarder. He represented the U.S. in the international forwarder operators' competition in Sweden early this summer.

Northwest logging contractors know the incredible shrinking picture well. Shrinking timber availability, shrinking profit margins, shrinking numbers of loggers and mills doing business, even shrinking timber diameters. The only thing not shrinking is the equipment payment. But a bigger equipment investment pays off for Priest River, Idaho logger Mike Reynolds, especially when he mixes it with small diameter logs. While Reynolds isn't exactly hauling show loads out of the woods, his cut-to-length equipment helps him maximize profits for landowners, while at the same time decreasing fuel loads in dense stands. The cut-to-length combo reduces the amount of soil compaction and erosion, yet beefs up profits by salvaging small diameter trees for lumber instead of pulp. 

The Valmet 860 forwarder picks up processed logs.

Attention to details is what helped Reynolds net Logger of the Year 2000 honors from the Idaho Tree Farm Association. "I like to be innovative," says the 49- year-old Reynolds who began logging with his dad 30 years ago. "I'm just trying to survive at this game and trying to improve the industry's image whenever I can. Federal lands are locked up and the days of endless forests are gone. My idea is to not get behind in the curve. I'd just as soon stay ahead of the game." Reynolds' humble beginnings - a chainsaw, a cat, and a pickup - evolved into experiments with feller-bunchers and stroke delimbers in the early 90's. By 1995, equipment demos and a flexible leasing program enabled him to "try before you buy." He committed to cut-to-length in 1996 and has never been sorry. "Scandinavian equipment gives us the ability to do a really nice job. 

Mike Reynolds cut-to-length system keeps him profitable while improving the industry's environmental image.

It allows us to handle each tree individually and get the best deal for the landowner. Now we're able to capture markets not previously available, going down to four-inch tops - the hew wood we call it. With these machines, we are sorting on the landing and sending different species to different mills. The computer lets us load 129 different combinations, break down into three species, and select saw grade, pulp or low grade. That maximizes dollars returned per acre. Hew logs bring twice that of pulp for log value, and the landowner picks up money he never got in the past. At the end of each day, the computer gives us a tally by species, average dbh and production numbers. That gives us a good idea - within reason - on our prices." 

The heart of Reynolds Logging's operation is a Valmet system. He runs two Valmet 911 harvesters with Valmet 965 and 960 single-grip processing heads, backed up by two Valmet 860 forwarders and a Valmet 892 forwarder. A Timbco T430 with Southfork boom and Valmet 965 processing head, and a Valmet 500T with a Valmet 960 processing head, round out the cut-to-length stable. Reynolds' operators have nothing but praise for the machines. "The 911 is versatile and easy to use," says Reynolds' brother Jeff, who has operated the Valmet machines all along. "You can see out of it from all sides and it's quiet. I'd been on the 901, and this one is more stable. It can cover a lot more difficult terrain and go up steep slopes. 

The Hitachi 150 excavator is Reynolds' hands-down favorite for cleanup chores and reliability.  He say it's like the tried and true Timex watch - It just keeps running and running.

The maintenance is pretty easy and we try to keep up on it, because in our situation, we're the ones who fix it if it's not maintained. We like to catch things before they come apart." Jeff Connolly, Reynolds' foreman, collects a few hours here and there on the 911, but spends most of his time piloting the forwarder. (By the way, he represented the U.S. in the international forwarder operators' competition in Sweden earlier this summer.) Having logged most of his life, he's lived through the changes toward mechanization and says cut-to-length "has all the benefits of logging without all the labor. You can be outside without being so physical. It's a good way to go from the operator's standpoint." 

Connolly finds so many good points about the Valmet cab design that he could run a company commercial. As a logger that finds himself in the saddle all day, he's especially fussy about comfort and the lack of fanny fatigue. "These machines are operator friendly. They have comfortable chairs, low noise levels and controls built for comfort, plus the visibility is good. The guys that build these machines run them for a lot of years, so they know what it takes to be comfortable in the seat. The forwarder has good handling capabilities on slopes and it's really stable. I'd trust them before I'd trust a skidder, and I know skidders." 

According to Reynolds and his brother Brian, the Timbcos outfitted with Valmet booms and heads are straightforward machines. Brian, who's operated the 430 for four years, likes the power and handling in the woods. The ability to maneuver in tight spots is critical in thinning dense stands, making cut-to-length the only practical way to go. Reynolds backs up his cut-to-length with a Hitachi 150 excavator, which handles cleanup chores well. "I've owned other excavators, but I like the Hitachis best. They're like an old Timex watch. 

They just run and run, and they're cheap to operate, with very little down time. If the Japanese ever built a harvester, they might give other companies a run for their money." Talk about running for his money - that's what Reynolds seems to do best. He's the "go-fer guy" and sometimes a little wistful that he's not in the cab of one of his machines, but that's business. With some state sales and occasional federal timber available, Reynolds depends mostly on private landowners for his work. The Logger of the Year honors were all about his success with small woodlot owners and the generous free advertising that goes with a job well done. 

The 911 Valmet 965 Harvester with Maxi Control System

Yet the pressure of the ringing cell phone in the cab, the constant exchanges with mills and customers, and the headaches of occasional breakdowns, make business a tough game some days. "I went away from what I really enjoy," he says of his infrequent time actually logging. "I can operate all the machines, so I know this business from the ground up, and I know if equipment breaks down or production is down. But I can't pay anyone else to do what I do." Working with neighbors who want a few acres cut, or getting acquainted with newcomers to the area, Reynolds respects the landowners' requests and counts on doing the extras to snag repeat business. He hasn't been wrong so far. One of his choosiest customers is a local environmental activist trying to manage lands for wildlife, species restoration and visuals, as well as for monetary return. Turning traditional pulp logs into saw logs doesn't hurt the guy's feelings one bit, and Reynolds enjoys seeing landowners get paid for what used to be free. He also likes to use contracting jobs to better educate those not as familiar with the woods. 

Toting around a few "tree cookies," he performs a little show and tell, pointing out that some 80-yearold trees just aren't going to grow any more and should be cut. ("Keeping these trees in and expecting them to grow more is a little like telling Grandpa at 90 that he's got to get with the program," he quips.) One big challenge ahead for Reynolds is how to get rid of the cleanup mess without burning, which he suspects will be illegal in a few more years. He's hatching a plan to try something new, but won't get too specific until he sees if it works or not. With wife Cathy handling the books at home and a great crew in the woods, Reynolds focuses a lot on the landowner, and making connections with the mill to get the best value for his efforts. 

A big bonus is the reliable service he gets from his dealer - Totem Equipment in Spokane - which keeps machines up and running when his own crews can't handle repairs.  The god working relationship with Totem put both him and Connolly on the guest list to the early summer equipment demo in Sweden.  It's Reynolds' second trip, but he already knows he doesn't need further convincing on cut-to-length equipment.  "I can't see myself retiring at 65 still using a chainsaw," he says.  "I wanted to stay in this area and I thought this was the equipment to help me do that."

Barbara Coyner has covered forestry issues and the timber industry for magazines and newspapers for over 15 years.

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This page was last updated on Tuesday, September 28, 2004