By Lindsay Mohlere
Don Risseeuw sits in his office amid walls covered with photographs of family and friends, equipment, and trucks. He takes a sip of coffee and reflects for a moment.
“Our biggest challenge is finding good dependable employees. Knowledgeable guys that want to work,” says Risseeuw, owner and operator of Windy Ridge Logging Inc., Risseeuw Trucking LLC, and D.L. Risseeuw Excavating.
“Our clients hire Windy Ridge because our performance and quality are top notch. I do what I say, and I expect a lot from my crew,” he says. “We’re just a small crew. We pay more per hour than any other logging outfit around here, and I expect more out of them.”
Risseeuw’s high expectations are evident on the landing where he is an active and vocal leader of the crew. He’s there every day, “just making sure everything gets done,” he says.
At times, he has been called finicky, but the handle doesn’t faze him. As far as Risseeuw is concerned, it’s part of the job where expectation meets production. Even the little things are important. “We don’t make messes,” he explains. “The landings are clean. There’s no garbage left around. The shop is clean. I don’t allow swearing on the CBs and radios. All I expect is that they do their job. If they do their job, we get along great.”
Risseeuw employs three truck drivers and eight on the logging crew. Along with a good family wage, Windy Ridge Logging also provides health insurance. A 401K program is being considered, but as Risseeuw notes, “Most guys want the cash in hand.”
Jan Risseeuw, Don’s wife, is also extremely active in the company. She characterizes herself as the “Everything Woman.”
“I do the books, move parts, and register the trucks. I do the yard maintenance. I’m the event coordinator and grandkid entertainer. Everything,” she laughs.
Never Say Never
Like many others in the logging industry, Risseeuw got his start in the business at an early age. However, the journey has not been easy.
In 1976, Don, created Risseeuw Brothers Logging with brothers Dave and Ken. Don worked with his brothers through 1981 when he sold out.
Risseeuw then formed his own company and ran a cutting crew until he broke his back in 1991, which forced him to quit the business.
It seemed bad luck piled on during that time. In 1992, when Risseeuw had been off work for over a year recuperating, their house burned down.
Risseeuw knew he wasn’t going back into cutting timber so he took a job with J.W. Fowler Construction to keep bread on the table. He soon discovered he was better suited as a sole proprietor than an employee. “I came home one night and told my wife, ‘You know something, I’ve worked for myself too long to work for anyone else. I think I’ll go into town and spend some money I don’t have.’” That was 1994 and the beginning of Donald L. Risseeuw Excavating and Construction.
“We did really, really well until about 2009 when the economy tanked and things slowed down,” Risseeuw says.
While most work dried up and the outlook was dismal, the Risseeuw’s livelihood was fairly protected.
“We were thankful we had nice, newer equipment and it was paid for,” Jan Risseeuw says. “What we did was buy a new piece of equipment and pay for it. Then buy another one and pay for that too. We didn’t have any payments.” Unfortunately, there was no work.
“We had a brand new Komatsu D39, all pretty and shiny, but not making us a dime,” Jan adds. “It was pretty expensive yard art.” They ended up selling the crawler with a little over 400 hours.
At that point, the company diversified to pick up the slack that the housing market crash had created. Risseeuw went into trucking with six log trucks. As Jan recalls, the move was worthwhile but did have a few downsides.
“We had a lot of work but not much profit. Log truck driving is a whole different ball game. Finding good, qualified drivers is a huge problem.”
Risseeuw’s brother Ken was still logging and had a contract that he couldn’t get to in a timely manner. When he asked Don if he’d like to log it, along with son Darren urging the move, Risseeuw’s entrepreneurial spirit kicked into high gear.
In 2011, he formed Windy Ridge Logging. “I didn’t think I’d ever go back into logging,” Risseeuw says. “But you should never say never. Eating crow doesn’t taste so good.”
A Straight up Equipment Policy
Like everything else, Don Risseeuw expects a lot out of his equipment. When he first jumped back into logging, he looked long and hard for good used equipment. “You gotta have good equipment,” Risseeuw says. “I looked all over for good used equipment. But it was all junk, run into the ground. I got enough to do let alone work on equipment. So we bought brand new.”
Windy Ridge’s first acquisition was a Madill 071 yarder, followed by a 290 Link-Belt and a 290 Link-Belt with a 623C Waratah processor. Risseeuw also has a TY40 Thunderbird yarder and a 235B Caterpillar in his stable along with a D39 Komatsu crawler, PC35 Komatsu excavator, TD International, D7F Cat, 120 Cat grader, a Cat skid steer, and a newly purchased 240 Komatsu.
Clearly, Risseeuw has a preference for Komatsu machines, which he feels are well built, good machines, but he emphasizes that the product support and customer service is the winning combination. “The customer support I get from Modern Machinery in Portland is outstanding. Great dealership. Phil Berard, the manager of the dealership, really takes care of us. It goes back to ’94-95 when we first started in excavating.”
Risseeuw is the main wrench of the company; however, he relies heavily on son Darren’s mechanical expertise and abilities. “Darren is my right-hand man,” Risseeuw says. “We really couldn’t make it without him.” Rounding out the family crew is youngest son Dustin who comes in when needed to do the specialty welding.
Risseeuw’s finicky nature is also evident in his preventative maintenance guidelines. “I expect the operators on the machines to take care of them, grease them everyday, sweep the insides out, no greasy gloves left inside the cab,” he says.
Windy Ridge also runs three log trucks that haul their own logs. The company fields a 1996 Freightliner with an E model Cat engine, a 2007 B model Kenworth with a Cummins engine, and a brand new 2016 Peterbilt with a 500 PACCAR engine with a new Van Raden trailer and bunk equipment.
Currently, Windy Ridge Logging is operating one side, clear cutting a 2.25 MMBF tract for Hampton Affiliates’ Willamina Lumber Mill in the northern Oregon Coast Range. The company regularly does clear-cut logging, CTL, thinning, and shovel and cable logging. Cutting is contracted out to Dunn Brothers of Tillamook.
Small Outfit, Big Rewards
Looking into the future, Risseeuw doesn’t see his company growing into something too big. “If we had a yarder side and a shovel side, I’d be happy,” he says, adding that his other companies have been small but very successful. “It’s what you have at the end of the year that matters.”
On the Cover
Photo taken by Lindsay Mohlere.
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