By Lindsay R. Mohlere
When Rocky Britt, owner and operator of R & C Logging LLC of Pendleton, Oregon, decided he wanted to own a logging operation, he had a number of hurdles in his path.
Growing up, Britt had uncles and cousins who worked in the logging industry, and he joined them in the woods when he was 16. Upon graduating from high school in 1980, Britt went to work for his dad building roads.
“My dad built logging roads. We built roads for eight years, and then my dad sold out about the time the Forest Service quit building roads,” Britt says.
At that point, Britt signed on with a cutting contractor, but he still harbored the desire to run his own logging operation. “Every Spring, I’d go down to the Louisiana Pacific mill in Pilot Rock and talk to the guys there. I told them I wanted a logging job, but I didn’t have any equipment. I told them if I got a contract I’d get the equipment,” he says.
Hard Work Pays Off
After four years of falling timber, Britt’s tenacity finally paid off. “The mill had a bug kill that killed a bunch of timber in an area that had already been logged. None of the other loggers wanted to go back in where they had already been, so the guys at the mill came and talked to me. So I started salvage logging. I have been in business for 27 years,” Britt says.
Fielding a one-side operation in 1989—operating an SA8 International skidder and a rented 966 front-end loader—Britt immediately ran up against the economic turbulence of the timber industry. Fortunately, his relationship with Louisiana Pacific (LP) helped weather the unpredictable twists and turns of doing business in the woods.
“When we first started out, we worked for LP. They had about 200,000 acres of their own ground, so whenever the market was down, we logged on their ground,” Britt says. The relationship continued through the sale of the Pilot Rock mill to Kinzua and then, finally, to Boise Cascade.
Although R & C Logging currently logs quite a bit of private timber, Britt says, “Boise keeps us busy.”
Climate and Geographic Challenges
The geographic character and climate of eastern Washington and Oregon present several unique challenges to those working in the woods.
Most operations like R & C Logging shut down for three months during the early spring. “We usually work nine months a year,” Britt says, explaining that he normally shuts down around the end of February until June. “It’s too wet in the spring, so we don’t get started until a little bit later.”
However, the shutdown doesn’t mean that the work stops. “We don’t take much time off,” says Britt. “Maybe a couple of weeks, then it’s back to the shop. We take everything apart and clean it. Repair it. And then we put it all back together.”
In addition to the challenge of working only nine months of the year, loggers on the eastside of the Cascades seldom get to work close to home.
Britt says that the present side they’re working on is only 50 miles from their home base in Pendleton. That’s not normally the case. “We work within 100 air miles from home. Most of the time, we’re camped out through the week,” he says.
A recent project for the Oregon State Fish and Game department found the crew more than 80 miles from home, camped at a public campground near one of several sites set up to feed elk during the winter. “We do specialized work,” Britt says. “The sale was only 300 acres, and we logged quite a ways around the hill. I think it was a buffer between Fish and Game ground and the Forest Service land.”
R & C’s equipment roster works well for Britt. It includes a 2011 Timbco buncher, a 2012 John Deere 2154 log loader, a 2013 John Deere 2454 with a Waratah 623C processor, a 2005 CAT skidder and a 1989 CAT D5H dozer.
The company does its own hauling using a 1990 Kenworth and a 1994 Western Star, along with other contracted haulers. The Western Star doubles as the lowboy rig when needed.
Finding the Right Crew
Currently, R & C runs one side and employs a crew of four — one employee has been with him for over 20 years, while the remainder have been on board for just a couple of years. Britt says his present crew is one of the best, but he admits turnover can be a real hassle. Like many other logging companies, big and small, finding someone to fill an opening is a tough prospect at best.
“There’s a shortage of people in the logging business,” Britt says. “Used to be, there was always someone just starting out. You’d have someone on the landing bumping knots, and if they were any good, they’d get a chance at running a skidder or a CAT and work their way up. Now days, everything is specialized, we don’t have that kind of work.”
Because the equipment is so expensive, Britt explains, finding the right operator is highly important. “You don’t just hire anybody to run it. Training somebody is expensive. You really got to have somebody coming up. You need those younger guys.”
The Rewards of a Job Well Done
In today’s world, accepting the everyday challenges of working in the woods is no easy task. Logging is a tough business, but the accompanying rewards of the experience and doing a good job make the difference.
According to Britt, the biggest challenge is keeping up with the cost of manpower, machinery, and supplies and having something left at the end of the year.
“I’ve always enjoyed the work. Getting to see at the end of the day what you’ve done. Seeing how many loads you’ve shipped to the mill. I enjoy seeing a piece of ground we thinned and come back a few years later and see how it’s grown up and how it’s healed up.
On the Cover
Photo of this Link-Belt was taken by Lindsay R. Mohlere at the Henderson logging operation, based in Wallowa, Oregon.
Multi-Tasking Makes the Difference
Henderson Logging, continually adapting to an ever-changing industry
Small is Big Again
Two small mills that specialize in sustainability and provide opportunities for the next generation
Steep Slope Logging Conference
Show guide of the 2017 Steep Slope Logging Conference held in Kelso, Washington, April 19-21
Rocky Britt takes on the many challenges of building a successful logging operation
Keeping it in the Family
R&R King Logging looks ahead to a bright future with a great succession plan
Gearing up for the season
2017 OLC Pictorial Review
Highlights of the 79th Annual Oregon Logging Conference