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A Well-Oiled Machine
Ron Kuhlman Logging keeps production up and crews happy
By Barbara Coyner
Ron Kuhlman Logging is like a well-oiled machine, which Ron quickly credits to two things: a seasoned crew and reliable equipment.
For a company that has snagged its share of awards for quality work and production over the last 30 years, it’s all about efficiency. That’s why Forest Capital, now Hancock Forest Management, has constantly looked to Kuhlman for many of its forest management jobs.
Dick Dunn, one of Kuhlman’s truck drivers, has been with the company for 22 years. He stands in front of the 2001 Western Star with 600 HP. Kuhlman calls it the “Corvette of log trucks”.
Credit to the Crew
“The company has kept us on because of the crew,” Kuhlman emphasizes, noting that three members of his five-man crew have worked for him for over 20 years. “Everyone has to be at the top of their game to move nine million board feet a year,” he adds. Brother Norm, who’s been on the payroll from the beginning, seconds the notion. “Everybody works as a team. Everybody knows what to do and just does it.”
The current job for Hancock is a biggie, mostly pine and fir long logs, spread out over 300 plus acres just outside Blanchard, Idaho. Total take on the individual project is three and a half million board feet, making it one of the biggest jobs that the crew has taken on in one location. Kuhlman’s company, based in Coeur d’Alene, kicks it into gear at 3:00 a.m. when Norm starts up the loader to get the trucks rolling. “We start at daylight so we can miss the school buses and be first in line at the mill,” Kuhlman says. “Then the crew comes in at 5:00 a.m.” Kuhlman believes in an eight-hour workday to keep his crew fresh, and he adds in the extras in terms of good pay and benefits to keep his team together.
Corvette of Log Trucks
As Dick Dunn hauls out one of the first loads of the morning, Kuhlman gets to do a show-and-tell on how much he thinks of his crew as he points out his classy 2001 Western Star logging truck with its 600-horsepower Cat engine, spit-shined cab, and custom Western Star aluminum wheels and specialized paint.
“This is the Corvette of log trucks,” Kuhlman says proudly. “I custom ordered it just for him because he takes good care of it.”
Kuhlman says the 2010 Cat 320D with its 2010 7000 XT Log Max head is a good machine.
“It’s dependable and low maintenance.” He adds that the Log Max has a more powerful top saw motor that’s especially good on the bigger, more limby pines.
Dunn, who has been with Kuhlman for 22 years, shares hauling duties with a couple of other contract truckers, as the crew cranks out 1.3 million board feet a month. The sequencing of truck loads is one key factor in keeping production up, and Kuhlman says it’s a pressure game to keep 16 loads coming out of the woods each day. Bigger logs are hauled to Idaho Forest Group mills at Laclede and Chilco, while small-diameter logs head to Stimson at Plummer and Vaagen Brothers at Usk. Because the pace is brisk on this particular job, Kuhlman has been operating the second loader more frequently than usual just to keep up with demand.
On the job, Kuhlman’s crew brings all the logs into a central landing for sorting, a process Kuhlman calls hot logging. When it comes to equipment, the familiar yellow paint of Cat rules the day. But that is based just as much on dealer service as it is on equipment features.
“Service is a big thing,” Kuhlman points out. “The support from Western States is top notch. Having all your eggs in one basket is a good thing, and they bend over backwards to take care of us.”
The stable of equipment has changed since Kuhlman began his logging career. After earning a teaching degree in agricultural education and teaching a year in Forks, Wash., he found that his side job moonlighting as a logger dovetailed more with his farm boy upbringing in Worley, Idaho.
Keeping up with Equipment
By 1985, he had rounded up a crew and some equipment and began hand-falling and selective cutting for Crown Pacific. By 2002, however, he’d seen the light and found mechanized logging to be a real game changer. The efficiency and the economics ramped up as he purchased his first used equipment, choosing a 750 Log Max head mounted on a John Deere 690. The rest of his stable wore the Cat label.
“We started with Log Max, and once we learned it, we stayed with it and the interchangeable parts,” he says, as Ray Owens adds his two cents worth on the 2010 Cat 320D with its 2010 7000 XT Log Max head. “It’s a good machine, very dependable,” says Owens, explaining that all he has to do for maintenance is fuel and grease the machine and keep the chains sharpened.
The two agree that the ¾ pitch chain on the Log Max doesn’t go dull as quickly, and it has a more powerful top saw motor that’s especially good on the bigger, more limby pines. With the computerized processor keeping track of species and board feet, Owens merchandises on the landing, piling logs according to species and diameter. The efficiency on the landing is most important in keeping the sequencing up for the number of loads heading off to the mill.
On the left is Norm Kuhlman and on the right is his brother Ron Kuhlman.
In addition to the processor, Kuhlman depends on subcontractor, Toby Wall, who runs a 2004 Timbco feller buncher. Wall, who started out with a 1994 Timbco, clearly likes the improvement in power from his newer model and has no problem keeping ahead on the cut. Joining him in the cab is his dog Timber, who Wall boasts has been in logging for all of his six years of life.
Meanwhile out on the steep slopes, the old reliable 2009 527 high-track Cat swing-grapple skidder fetches the logs. Kuhlman says it is the right machine for the job because steep ground is common in the Northwest. He laments that, due to limited demand, 2009 was the last year the high-track was made. He plans to extend the life of the machine by rebuilding it as long as it is practical and until he makes a decision about a replacement in the future.
Foreman Gary Davis pilots the highly flexible 527 Cat, while Mike Shriner operates the older 1995 525 Cat swing-grapple. The 1995 model has logged over 15,000 hours and still performs well after several rebuilds. Again and again, Kuhlman cites the reliability of such machines to stand up to the job and weather the test of time. The same holds true for the 2000 320B Cat loader he occasionally operates and the 2012 320D Cat loader his brother operates.
Subcontractor Toby Wall and his dog Timber taking a break from operating the Timbco 445 feller buncher. Wall says he has no problem staying ahead on the cut with Timbco.
Key is Good Equipment & Maintenance
“We all learn as we go on these machines, and I have to credit the crew,” says Kuhlman of his steady advancement into mechanized equipment, which he cites as making a huge difference in his logging business. “We hand felled before we went mechanized in 2002. You get the proper equipment, and then you work your way up. We started with used equipment, and we’ve been fortunate to update with new equipment since then.”
Brother Norm Kuhlman, who has an educational background in heavy equipment and Computerized Numerical Controls (CNC), knows the ropes, inside and out, on Kuhlman’s stable of big iron. To him, it’s all about the right equipment and preventive maintenance. “You’ve got to have preventive maintenance,” he stresses. “You can’t have any down time.”
Brother Ron agrees. “We have very little down time because of our maintenance program, and we follow Cat’s maintenance program to a ‘T’. We don’t cut any corners, and that really helps.”
For Kuhlman, there’s a good mix of pleasure and work ethic on the job. He and his wife Linda enjoy their spring break trips to Arizona in their motor home, and the eight-hour workday keeps him and his crew recharged once they are back at work.
Clearly the seasoned crew, reliable equipment, and good reputation have all combined to keep the company productive. For Ron Kuhlman, it’s all about being a well-oiled machine, a necessity for staying alive in today’s competitive timber game.