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Survival Skills of the Small and Highly Productive
Bruce Burke Logging, Sweet Home, Ore.
Lindsay R. Mohlere
Aaron Burke, owner of Bruce Burke Logging LLC, has a rock solid philosophy on how to stay successful in an ever-changing industry. At 31 years old, Burke might be one of the youngest logging company owners in the Northwest, but he’s also an extremely motivated man on a mission.
Logging from Day One
Raised in a logging family, Burke has been on the job since day one. Burke Logging began in 1983 as a single-man outfit and developed through the years into a shovel logging and pre-pole operation based in Sweet Home, Ore. “My dad started out by himself with a chain saw, an old wore out 550 John Deere CAT and the ‘Orange Crummy’ — our 1969 custom-cab Ford pickup. I started in the crummy too. Sitting on my mom’s lap,” Burke chuckled.
After working for his dad during summer vacations, Burke joined the company fulltime right after he graduated from high school. “It was just my dad, me, and my half brother Ryan Holbrook. Ryan ran the limber, and I ran the shovel.”
Burke became a partner in the company in 2004, and he became the sole proprietor in 2013 after his dad passed away from a long illness. Now the burden of full-time command is firmly on his shoulders.
“We’re small but highly productive…and I want to stay that way,” Burke said. “We’ve got six guys working now, including our two log truck drivers. I don’t want to get any more than ten. It’s not in my plans to be a huge outfit. I want to stay with one side keeping our focus on shovel logging but have the diversity to pre-pole or run a yarder. I want to be able to talk to everybody that works for me every single day.”
What you want is often something entirely different than what actually happens. Burke understands this and has a firm grasp on a limited growth program that will guarantee his company’s future success. “A small, well-run outfit with modern equipment that’s profitable and takes care of its people — that’s what I want,” Burke said.
We’re Loggers, Not Mechanics
In tune with his business philosophy, most of Burke’s equipment is new. In the past, they switched out machines every five years, but with the advancement of machinery and technology, he feels retooling every forty-eight months will make it easier to keep on top of their production. “Less maintenance means less downtime and higher production. We don’t have a mechanic. If you’re running older iron, you need one around.”
Burke runs three newer log loaders that tackle their shovel logging and pre-pole duties. Their shovel logger is a 2013 CAT 568, operated by Brandon Olsen. “It’s really bumped up our shovel logging,” Burke says. “We got logs pre-decked everywhere.”
A 2014 CAT 325 is the loading shovel. “Mark Thedford operates the 325,” Burke says, adding, “He’s our top operator and my right-hand man. He’s the boss when I’m not around. Mark took over for me last year when my dad was sick and I couldn’t be on the job. He really helped us out. He took care of everything for me.”
Their third log loader is a 2012 Kolbelco 295. It’s operated by brother Jeremy Burke and sees double duty as the outfit’s backup loader. “The Kobelco is sort of our spare. It’s nice to have in case one of the other rigs goes down. We keep it busy as part of our pre-pole production,” he said.
Processing is done with a 2013 Linkbelt 290 equipped with a Waratah 623 dangle head, operated by Duane Settle.
An essential player in Burke’s pre-pole operation is a 2000 527 CAT Track Skidder. Burke said the price for poles now is at a premium justifying the extra cost to harvest. “There’s nothing fast about poles,” Burke explained. “It’s a slow, tedious process, not production logging. They have to be perfect. You can’t scar them up. If you scar them up, the poles will get rejected. You just got to know that coming in.”
After the trees are felled by hand and the corridors cut with a buncher, the CAT pulls the poles to the landing where the Kobelco lays them out. “I started running that CAT when I was a sophomore in high school,” Burke added. “My dad bought it brand new, and it’s still on the job today. It’s the oldest piece of iron we got.”
Burke’s newer equipment philosophy also extends to the trucking side of his operation. The company owns two 2009 long-nose Kenworth log trucks. They also contract out with seven other truckers. “Ryan transitioned from one of the log loaders to a truck three years ago. He liked hauling so much, he bought one of our older Peterbilt trucks. He’s now our number one gyppo,” Burke said.
Additionally, the company contracts two short loggers to haul pulpwood. “We just started cutting all our pulpwood to 20-foot lengths for utilization and to haul a little bit more to the mill. We’re not wasting as many merch logs, and it seems to be working out pretty good. Merch logs are better for us because we get paid on net scale,” Burke explained.
In the near future, Burke intends to add a yoder to his equipment line up instead of contracting yarder crews to handle the steeper terrain. “Adding a yoder or a log loader with a couple of drums will add to our versatility. Getting a piece of iron we can multi-task will help increase our efficiency and production. There’s only so much flat ground.”
You’re Crew is What Makes You
Burke’s vision also includes treating his employees as highly valuable assets for the long haul. “Anyone can buy equipment, but it’s your crew that makes you.”
“Our crews work 12 hours a day,” Burke said. “We went to forestry cabs a couple of years ago, and our new machines have air conditioning and heated seats. Comfortable, easy to operate, and highly productive equipment means a lot. Our guys are a little bit happier at the end of the day.”
Along with a competitive wage and a retirement program, Burke Logging also offers health insurance. “You’ve got to have health insurance. Sure it’s expensive, and it’s going to get even more expensive, but it’s something these guys need to have. No way am I going to tell my guys who are working so hard I can’t afford health insurance.”
In addition to the company’s employee benefit package, a safety program is in place provided by the Association of Oregon Loggers Inc. “We haven’t had a recordable accident in over ten years; so long ago I don’t remember. We’ve got a great safety record,” Burke said.
“If you got the best guys and pay them top wages, you can’t help but being successful…as long as you got the work.”
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