Kurt Erickson, owner of Erickson Logging, came into the profession with barn boots on.
“I came from a dairy farming family,” Erickson says, “and then I started cutting firewood. I was just cutting cordwood and thought, ‘This is kind of stupid. I need to do something a little easier.’ And then from that, I migrated into logging.”
Operating out of Gig Harbor, Washington, Erickson Logging Inc. has been contract logging for primarily private landowners for 30 years, and Erickson has never looked back.
Growing Over the Decades
Since the company’s inception in 1988, with a firewood processor and three trucks, Erickson has aggressively grown his business into one of Washington State’s largest privately owned logging companies. Now, he has enough mechanized equipment to run three ground-based logging sites and regularly processes 1 to 2 million board feet a month.
“The first thing I had was a skidder — Garrett 22s — and kind of grew from those. Then I went to a CTR processor and one shovel. Then somewhere around the mid-to-late 90s and 2000, we started accumulating quite a bit more equipment as demand grew.”
Today, Erickson owns two Doosan 300s — one with a 624 Waratah processor and the other a loader. He also has a Doosan 225 with a 620 Waratah processor, a 370 Hitachi with 624C processor, two Tigercat 830Cs with 5702 heads, a Tigercat 855C leveler with falling head, two Link-Belt log loaders (a 290 and a 240,) and four John Deere skidders — a 748 John Deere and three 648s.
“We try all the different brands,” says Erickson. “Price is a factor, but I let my operators pick which one they want. We tried Caterpillar, Link-Belt, and Hitachi before we bought the Tigercat. Operator Tim Holsten decided he liked that one the best, so that’s what we went with.”
Once the trees are down, Erickson brings in his six Kenworth trucks — all are able to convert from short loggers to long loggers — to get the wood to the local mills. “And all six trucks are set up with Whitlog gear.”
Creating His Own Competition
“Really good operators are hard to find,” says Erickson. Often he does his own training, including training his own son Kade. The 21-year-old is a fast learner, and Erickson expects him to eventually venture off and start his own logging company.
“I trained him since he was a little kid. We spent a lot of time teaching him how to run skidder, processor, and shovel. I put him in the processors primarily just to get him to where he understood log quality. That’s one really important aspect of logging,” says Erickson. “I’ve tried to work with him a lot on appraising, and he’s gotten pretty good with that. He definitely will probably be competing against me at some point, and that’s fine.”
In addition to his son Kade, Erickson leans heavily on his talented crew of 16, many who have been with him for years.
At the Site
The day TimberWest was in the woods with Erickson, his operation was even-aged harvesting a piece for a private landowner. Erickson planned to send the cedar, maple, alder, fir and pulp to different mills, but it didn’t stop here.
If he can work it out for his customers, Erickson will contract to have the cedar boughs cut and sold for holiday wreath making. On the day of TimberWest’s visit there was a skeleton crew cutting boughs, but at the peak seasonal times, up to 150 people can be out there cutting.
“It’s just a nice little additional bonus for the landowner because, you know, there is only a certain time of year you cut cedar boughs,” says Erickson.
Erickson also has road-building equipment, allowing him to build his own roads to the sites without contracting out. He owns dozers, road graders, rollers, dump trucks and an excavator.
In addition, Erickson is reclaiming an old coal site created back when Plum Creek excavated coal. He decided to start reclaiming the coal pits and the big open-pocketed seams created back in the late 1940s through the 1960s, when coal was drudged for energy. He’s putting the land back to its original contours, using the dirt acquired from the City of Seattle’s various construction sites. He caps it with two to three feet of topsoil and plants seedlings for future timber growth.
“It’s really a tree farm,” he says.
Erickson feels it’s pretty easy to get work in this current high-priced log market — the highest it has been in nearly 21 years. But one must still be careful because log markets are fickle.
“The market tends to go up somewhat slowly,” he says, “but when it comes down, it comes down rather quickly.” For example, he notes that cedar is currently at a peak of $1,500.00 a thousand. “For years, it was at $700, which can indicate a possible a correction on the horizon.”
“It’s like the stock market,” Erickson adds, “It’s commodities. So, what’s always been [considered] a damaging effect is just market swing. If you’re any good at all, it’s not too difficult to stay busy, especially in [the summer] months.”
Erickson feels that an even bigger challenge for the industry is the need to compete against union wages and the better hours the unions offer, especially with the truck drivers.
“Our hours are horrible. A lot of these guys get up at one in the morning to go to work. With construction, you get up at four, you’re home by three and you made $30 to $60 and hour. I’ve lost two drivers to the union this year.”
The downside to union jobs though Erickson says is that they slowdown in the winter, whereas his outfit and other logging operations run all year long.
“You can’t keep employees if you don’t keep them busy,” Erickson says. “I work hard on keeping everybody working. Typically, we don’t have much turnover.”
In the end, what is the key to Erickson’s success? Although he won’t divulge the details, the key, in his opinion, has been his marketing. He will also take the smaller jobs, down to five acres. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that Erickson has maintained his good reputation for 30 years.
On the Cover
Photo taken by Andrea Watts of the Buck’s Logging operation.
Preparing for the Future and Adapting to the Times
With over 40 years in Southwest Washington, there aren’t many hills this family hasn’t logged.
Going Strong for Three Decades
Kurk Erickson came into the profession with his barn boots on.
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