May June 2005
 

 

 

 

Thirty Years Later

What loggers we interviewed in the 70’s are doing today.

Bob Bruce

The timber industry has weathered a lot of changes over the last three decades. Thanks to tighter Federal policies, hardening public attitudes toward logging, and some unexpected turndowns in the timber market, many loggers have been through tough times. But there are plenty of smaller logging companies that have been able to adapt and adjust and are still at it, still making a living, and in many ways even stronger and smarter than they were before. We decided to check in on four such survivors companies that were profiled in the pages of TimberWest 30 years ago, and that are still going strong.

Above: 1975 Iversen Logging Crew - Ron Iversen lower center, white hat.

1986, Don Iversen, Juan Creek

Iversen Logging, Mendocino, Calif.
Ron Iversen started the company as a one-man operation. In the “old days” he would cut in the morning and skid in the afternoon. Now he considers himself semi-retired. “We have two sons, Don and John. We incorporated a few years back when the kids got out of school. So I was able to give them part of the business over the years. Now I own 6 percent and they own the rest, equal partners,” he says. Iversen still works mostly with small landowners, mixed in with the occasional larger job — just like he did 30 years ago. The business is bigger now than it was then, but not as large as it was ten or 15 years ago. “There’s still a lot of timber out there, but the rules are more stringent and the seasons are shorter,” he says. Because of the shorter seasons, they don’t do as much volume per year as they used to but during the season the daily volume and as a result their crew size is about double what it was 30 years ago. “The most I ever logged in the last 30 years in one year was 13,300,000 board feet,” he explained. “Back in the beginning, I was doing about 2 million board feet. We went up in the 1980s and early 90s there was a ten-year span when we logged an average of 10 million board feet a year. Now we log probably 4 million per year.” He also noted how costs of operation have soared in the last three decades. “We used to deliver 1000 board feet of logs to the mill for under $50, and now it’s like $250.” Ron uses a mix of John Deere and Caterpillar equipment. “We have a Cat Hi-drive D4 with a grapple on the back of it; a D6H, that’s a Hi-drive D6 bulldozer, with winch; a Cat 320 heel boom loader; a John Deere 644 front end loader with forks on it; two John Deere line skidders — a 640 and a 540; a John Deere 548 grapple skidder; a Cat 120 grader; a Thunderbird 6140 yarder, and a water truck.”

Christy yarder, 1992-2004. Eglet motorized carriage.

Landsburg Logging, Grass Valley, Calif.
Over the last 30 years, according to Sally Landsburg, she and her husband Ron have come full circle. “My husband and I started off doing forest service type projects,” she says. “We brought in Ron’s brother for awhile, then we added a few ground people. At one time we had maybe 15 employees. Then in the 1980s the industry took a hard hit and we started over again, just Ron and I.” In the beginning, they bought small sales for small companies. But when that approach became impractical owing to the amount of up-front cash required for most contracts, they switched to working for private landowners. “We like that better because we are working one on one and helping somebody accomplish something.”  Over the years, the Landsburgs have seen the industry tend more and more toward a tree-service like business, at least in their area. “There is so much urban interface, even though we are rural, everything is around houses. People move up here and they build their houses and they want to keep all their trees and then they find out boy, that wasn’t a good idea. Now they are trying to get these out in a manner that doesn’t tear up their yard, which is a lot more expensive and lot more risk.” The biggest challenge the Landsburgs have had to face is the ever-rising cost of worker’s comp insurance. “It just got too expensive, even with our good safety rating and getting a lower rate off the initial rate, we just can’t afford employees. It’s getting harder and harder to get people who will cover logging. Yet we have a really good track record, and that amazes me. Even for a small company, in order to keep our timber operators license we have to carry a $1 million minimum policy. Which is what you need to do, but it just gets so out of hand it’s not cost effective.” Ron is a big fan of John Deere equipment, and always has been. “He likes the hydraulics,” says Sally, “but we had a D7 Cat for a number of years that was very nice.” Their equipment roster includes two John Deere 644 rubber tired loaders; a John Deere 750 dozer; a John Deere 755 tracked loader with a hydraulic winch on the back (which makes it a sort of loader/skidder, says Sally); a John Deere 740 grapple skidder; and a 1982 Kenworth with an “almost-new Olympic self loader.”

Murphy Company, Sutherlin, Ore.
John Murphy is from the third generation of this family-owned business — started in 1909 by John’s grandfather — and there are already some members of the fourth generation working in the business. Although they started as a lumber company, they have over the years transformed themselves first into a logging and log merchandising operation, then to a veneer manufacturing company, and then within the last 20 years to a plywood manufacturer. In the beginning, the company was based in Eugene and logged public timber from the Willamette and Siuslaw National Forests in Douglas and Lane Counties in order to supply their veneer mill. All that changed in the late 1980s. “Due to the environmental persuasions out there the trees were no longer available. The Siuslaw went to a zero cut, and Lane County went to almost a zero cut. We had not purchased ahead our own land in those regions, so we really had slim pickings for the private timber and were basically forced to shut down — we had to cut the workforce down from 600 to roughly 200,” says Murphy.

Murphy Company's Kenworth logging trucks average 5,300-bf per load.  The young Iron Bird radio carriage can be seen to the right of the Washington 208 yarder (converted to a 208E) in the background

Through all the years and changing conditions, the common thread to Murphy Company’s story has been the merchandising of veneer. “We used to ship dry veneer out to the hardwood industry in the south when we were peeling only. Then we became a lay-up facility in Springfield. We leased our first plywood plant in 1981, but a fire in 1984 wiped the landlord out – it was his mill and he took his fire insurance proceeds and ran – and we ended up coming with our management team down to our plywood concern in Sutherlin which we evolved into from a couple other plants, and made the decision to try and operate that on open market veneer.” That was in 1985, and the company has been there ever since. “We actually got back into the peeling business in 2002,” he says. Today, Murphy Company feels they have found their niche. “We take a lot of low grade veneers that more specialty mills such as the hardwood mills and LVL mills won’t take and we use it to make sub flooring. We’ve been strong in underlayments — we’ve tried to get away from sheathing that competes directly with OSB. Today we’re in a very weak market again and it’s almost a fear that even though the structural panel market has grown by 2 percent in the first quarter, most of that is OSB and it makes you wonder if you’re going to be able to stay with it. But we are. We’re a low cost producer without debt.” One hundred years of company history is a lot to summarize, but Murphy boils it down to: “We are loggers who have come out of the woods. We were loggers and log merchandisers that went to the veneer manufacturing. When International Paper and Champion left, who was going to buy our veneer, who was going to support our investment in those places? So we ended up going into plywood, and that has brought us to open market veneer supply without our own trees. Adversity has brought the challenge of existence, no question. I think adversity has caused us to roll our sleeves up and go back to work,” he says.

Hennes Logging Inc.Gates, Ore.
Clare Henness started Henness Logging back in 1968. In 1970, he started doing contract work for Frank Logging Company out of Mill City, Ore. Clare’s son Gary runs the operation now, but even at age 76, Clare is only semi-retired and still shows up to work in the shop or transport spare parts and equipment to the job site. Also still going strong is their working relationship with Frank Logging – “They are our only customer,” says Gary; “we are very fortunate to be logging for them.” Like most family-run logging operations, current boss Gary started out working for his father during high school and college summer breaks. When he graduated from college, he came back to the business full time.

Hennes Logging Inc. out on the job today.

The company had a small crew then of around four, and their primary activity was doing thinning on Frank Logging land. They used a couple of small Cats with chokers for a long time, until they acquired their first of two 653 feller bunchers. “In those days we were doing a lot of first-time thinning,” saysHenness, “but now 30 years later we’ve gotten into a cycle of bigger wood. It got to where the feller buncher was sitting most of the time, and it was an expensive piece of equipment. I could see the need for another log loader to shovel logs with, so I got rid of it.” These days, Henness has 14 employees, three times as much work to do as before, and no real end in sight.  “We’ve got a lot of work to do this year and I’m just hoping we can get it all done,” he says. “We’ve been busy for the past couple of years. We haven’t had any downtime to speak of. We just finished a job up here behind the mill that we had salvaged and thinned years ago, for example. We ended up clearcutting it - now we’re in an age class where a lot of their wood needs to be harvested and start over, so that’s why we’re getting more production, for one thing.” Having gotten rid of his feller bunchers, Henness now has six hand cutters on the ground. In the equipment yard he’s got a John Deere 330 log loader with double drums; a Hitachi 270 log loader; a John Deere 2554 log loader; a Kobelco 235SR short radius log loader; a Cat 517 swinging grapple; three John Deere 650s, and three Kenworth log trucks. In general, Henness is feeling pretty optimistic about the future.

 He will turn 50 this year, and he noted that Frank Logging is already mapping out harvesting plans for the next 25 years. “We probably log half on Frank’s land and then the rest BLM or state sales all over. When all this country around Mill City was logged by Hammond years ago and they moved out, I remember my grandfather saying ‘Well, there’s no more trees.’ But Frank Logging is really good at managing their land. They’re also going to have a need to start thinning again. With what they fill in, I think they are in a sustained yield mode for the same amount of wood.”  

TW

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This page was last updated on Thursday, August 11, 2005