By Barbara Coyner
When Steve Normington talks about that first excavator he purchased, you’d think he was talking about his first crush.
Normington knew that the Link-Belt 3400 had been sold to Hansen Logging out of Harvard, Idaho, but he wanted it. “It was back in 1996, and it only had 34 hours on it right off the lowboy,” he says, noting that he did indeed manage to buy the machine and eventually spent seven years working for Hansen as a contractor. “It has 21,000 hours on it now and has worked in four states: Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and Montana.” Although the 3400 is currently semi-retired, he credits it with showing him the full potential of an excavator.
A native of Potlatch, Idaho, Steve Normington grew up working for his dad, Dewey Normington, who operated Mountain Dew Logging. Steve and brother Bob were introduced to working in the woods before they hit their teens, and Steve cut his first timber at the age of 12 with a McCullock chainsaw. After working various stints as a millwright at the old Edwards Mill in Princeton, a mechanic for Potlatch Corporation at Bovill, and thirteen years for Latah Tree Service, he branched out into his own logging enterprise, giving it the name Steve’s Extreme Excavation. The company performs a combination of road-building and logging activities, with the excavator as the tool of choice in both instances.
Taking on Extreme Jobs
But why “extreme” in the company name? “We get all the jobs nobody wants to take on,” says Normington, who primarily works Potlatch Corporation jobs. “We get the dangerous stuff, the big slides, the jobs nobody wants. We go out and get ‘er done.”
Normington has a year-round gig going with Potlatch Corporation, based pretty much on how he logs—and that’s of course with an excavator. When he proposed his approach to Potlatch some years back, his whole goal was to keep his crew working through each season with no layoffs. Knowing the way Normington’s system works and appreciating the consistently high quality of the logs, Potlatch Corporation constantly keeps the 12-person crew busy through the normally slack winter and spring.
As for Normington’s system, it begins as crew member Jerry Ely cuts the 60-foot path and right-of-way with the Link-Belt 250 X3 excavator, while hand fallers take down the trees. As Normington pioneers the road, he hands off the tree lengths to Kyle Dixon, who is operating the Link-Belt 240 X2 excavator. Dixon decks the logs and cleans off the bank as he goes, with a dozer busy clearing off the road, making the 16-foot road width smoother.
Meanwhile Nick Fuller pilots the Link-Belt 330 X2 processor, delimbing and cleaning off the logs, cutting them to length, and grabbing the trees below. Steve’s brother Bob Normington is ready with the log loader, either the 2008 Link-Belt 240 LX, or the recently acquired 2011 Link-Belt 210 LX. The dozer lineup varies between a Komatsu D65, a Caterpillar D6, or a Komatsu D65 EX 17, with Steve Karr operating. Normington also has three log trucks and a lowboy to round out the equipment stable. He says it all works because of his seasoned crew.
Logging with an excavator is not the usual game around the Palouse-Clearwater region, but Normington defends his choice. “The machine road-builds, but it can also deliver high log quality because it doesn’t tear up the logs, and it’s all about log quality. That’s the number one thing for Potlatch Corporation.
“Logging with an excavator, you use that bucket and thumb, and you can feel how hard you are pressing the log,” Normington adds. “It takes a gentle touch not to tear up the logs. Using this system, I can get eight to ten log loads a day. While other road builders are laid off, we’re still working. I talked Potlatch into it so I could keep my guys working.”
The Link-Belt processor has the reach he needs and the ability to quickly pick up the whole tree length and slide it through the chute, making it perfect for his logging system. Because the 330 X2 is a heavier machine, it doesn’t bounce around.
Depending on Link-Belt for much of his equipment lineup is no accident, and Normington likes the reliability of the brand, as well as the service he gets from the dealer, Triad Equipment out of Spokane, Washington.
His crew does regular maintenance on all machines, but with computers onboard, remote repair is possible if necessary. Mostly, though, Normington is sold on the handling, durability, and smoothness of the Link-Belts.
Out on his jobs, Normington keeps an eye on safety and overall appearance, and because road-building is a mainstay, he makes the roads wider with more turnouts. He’s likely built roads for every other Potlatch logging contractor in the area, and wife Cindy, who keeps the company’s books, says he’s choosy about making the most of each job. Sometimes that means he will modify the road layout as first prescribed, looking at the grade, the soil composition, and wet spots.
“I like to make everything look good,” says Normington. “That’s why Potlatch likes me. They don’t have to come out and supervise.”
The 53-year-old logging contractor is especially proud of his culvert installations and says that one year he put in 6,000 feet of culverts, completing 11 installations in one day.
But the road-building and business expertise didn’t come overnight, and it’s that penchant for taking on the challenging jobs that got Normington his reputation. Some years back, a group of Northwest farmers was seeing land washed away in an area near sensitive streams and fisheries. Farmers, tribes, Bonneville Power, and other government entities developed a cost-share program, hiring Normington and his Link-Belt 3400 to go in and clean out 68 ponds and conduct other fishery mitigation work. Landowners developed a trust in his expertise as he and his excavator deftly placed rocks and root wads, created stream meanders, and designed fish weirs, all the while adhering to the complex fishery protection guidelines.
“Ninety percent of the time, I was in the water with my excavator, and it worked great. It was smooth with good power,” he says. “I just got the feel of it and got right in the middle of the creek—with permits, of course. That was 15 years ago. The work was easy enough on the machine, and we worked in rock pits and in streams. The farmers and ranchers liked the good clean job. It’s got my name on it, so I take pride in what I do and try to do it right the first time. I’ve been in excavators for 33 years, and it took practice to get to where I wanted to be.”
Practice means Normington and his crew have fine-tuned the art of road-building, as well as road obliteration. In the past, for example, he took on obliteration of seven miles of Forest Service roads in three weeks near Pierce, Idaho. Forest Service personnel liked what they saw, noting that the crew’s timely work saved the government a lot of money, meaning they could get even more road obliteration work done.
These days the extreme team stays almost strictly with Potlatch Corporation, building roads for a variety of company contractors as well as getting out their own logs—hauling into mills at St. Maries, Plummer, Lewiston, Grangeville, and Troy; the company sometimes also does work for private landowners.
Looking back over his time in the logging profession, Steve Normington carries a confidence based on years of hard work, hustle, and getting out there on the job with his crew. Surviving on five hours of sleep or less, and enduring back surgery in the past, he nevertheless puts tough standards on himself, assuming the same for his crew. And maybe that’s part of his “extreme” mantra. “Steve has big expectations for himself and his crew,” Cindy says. “He really wants people to like what he does.”
On the Cover
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