By Barbara Coyner
Any logging contractor will tell you that the term well-oiled machine applies to more than equipment. The crew, management, and the entire business have to function like a well-oiled machine to stay successful in today’s competitive timber industry.
In the case of Joe and Mark Mahon, the well-oiled machine includes a pair of brothers who can complement each other in terms of operating a long-established outfit. The Tom Mahon name has been around Council, Idaho, for years, and the two brothers work together to see that the company their parents started stays in the game.
“The neat thing is that we work well together,” says Joe. “We each have our own expertise.”
In talking to the Mahon brothers, it’s clear Joe, 48, and Mark, 45, have developed separate responsibilities through the years, yet each can finish the other’s sentences as they talk about equipment purchases, hiring new crew members, and making critical management decisions. Take something as routine as hiring compatible crew members and assigning them to certain pieces of equipment. “That’s a constant battle, matching personalities,” Joe says in assessing personnel and pairing work skills to equipment. Mark finishes Joe’s observation with the glib comment, “It’s a dance.”
Indeed, it is a dance for Joe and Mark, as well. Mark notes, “I’m the politician, and I go to D.C. to lobby for the industry. I go to the conferences, and in 2013, I was the youngest president of Intermountain Logging Conference. If ever they need someone on a board for industry, I’ll be on it.”
As Mark stays abreast of politics, Joe delves into the equipment and technology side of the business. “I like equipment, and it’s probably the engineer in me to be the equipment junkie,” he admits. These days Joe pilots a TimberPro 745C around the woods when he’s not helping his wife, Kim, with office and computer duties or serving as the technology guru. It’s easy to get Joe talking about his buncher, which features a Quadco 2900 head. “The TimberPro is a better buncher for our application,” he says. “It’s got a stable, comfortable cab, and it tilts so much further.”
Mark, meanwhile, takes on the duties of the woods boss, laying out roads and overseeing the entire logging operation. Mahon’s operation works mostly state and federal sales, seeing more Forest Service stewardship contracts these days.
“We get excited at 10,000 board feet per acre, but over on the coast, that’s nothing,” Mark says, adding that most logs feed the nearby Evergreen mill at Tamarack, with some going two hours north to the IFG mill in Grangeville. A new mill debuting with a HewSaw at Emmett will also be hungry for logs as it gets up to speed.
Getting logs for the mill remains a team effort, and both Joe and Mark talk about their company’s techniques for doing forestry work. Tong-throwing is the less-than-usual harvesting method they often use, and it’s considered something of an art form in the logging world.
Joe explains the advantage of tong-throwing.
“The topography dictates the tools you have to have,” he says, noting that the company got its first tong-throwing jammer in 1994. “Our ground has ridges and draws at different angles, and it’s kind of scrambled up. It’s difficult for a yarder, but lends itself to a jammer. It really is tough skyline ground and oftentimes there are no trees to rig where you need them. It is not unusual to use machinery as guylines or tailholds. We’ve had units where we were guyed back to four machines with a D-8 for a tailhold. The jammer is just more flexible.”
As the company got into tong-throwing, it was fortunate to get an experienced thrower in 1995 from another company that was quitting the logging game. “You don’t just go out and hire them,” Mark says of tong-throwers and their acquired skills. “You have to make them, and you invest a ton of money in them.”
The tong-throwing machinery is currently being upgraded with a 538 Cat log loader fitted with a winch by Jewell Equipment in Portland. Such equipment purchases are considered each year as the company assesses its needs. The Cat loader was added last year, and a new Cat 525D skidder will assist in skidding duties starting this spring.
Transitioning to a Logging Career
“Young smart business people are encouraged that if you don’t buy back into your business, you are just giving your money to the government,” Mark sums up regarding their equipment purchase strategy. Joe and Mark consult with their dad, Tom, who has gradually divested of the family logging business over the last few years, as he and his wife Judy slowly transition into retirement. The turnover has been done in stages and these days, the Mahon sons run the show, with dad working in the shop and serving as a counselor to Joe and Mark.
Initially, Joe and Mark didn’t automatically sign on to the logging life. Joe opted to seek a mechanical engineering degree at the University of Idaho, and Mark started in athletic training at Boise State University, later transferring to the University of Idaho to earn a degree in forestry. Yet Mark had stayed around his dad and logging, “learning how to work and how to cuss,” as he watched his dad struggle to endure the tough challenges of running a logging business, especially when the Boise Cascade mill went down in town. Joe also drifted back to logging after college, because he “wanted to enjoy seeing results and getting things done.”
Changing up some of the old ways of doing things, the family team adapted skyline logging to include intermediate supports, which was not commonly done in central Idaho. The approach was clearly more labor intensive with the rigging of the support tree and the burdensome tasks of getting things in place. Yet the technique had a strategy and provided a niche for the Mahon operations.
“It’s more costly. There’s a lot more footwork, and you have to have a plan,” says Mark of the technique that has since given way to more mechanization except where topography dictates it. “It was another tool to get work, and it eliminated a lot of ground disturbance. It requires a more technical approach versus big horsepower and ‘the rip and tear method.’ It takes time to rig it, but when you combine it with the desire to log with a lighter footprint and a tenacious work ethic, it provides good results.” Clearly the university training in forestry plays a part in Mahon’s approach to land management.
Line logging, tong-throwing, and now more mechanized equipment, have all been part of the ongoing evolution of Tom Mahon Logging.
Currently there is more emphasis on mechanized ground equipment and production, as Mark and Joe hustle for contracts. Joe’s 19-year-old son shows an aptitude for logging, while Mark’s oldest son currently exhibits his work ethic on the University of Idaho football field. Will there be a next generation of Mahon loggers? That remains to be seen. But for the time being, Joe and Mark Mahon are showing that passing on the family business has worked out well, in no small part due to two brothers willing and able to work together.
“We’ve learned to respect each other’s boundaries,” Joe says. “We’re not trying to do the same things, although we overlap on some things. We just try to support each other and do what’s right for the company.”
Pacific Logging Congress Official Show Guide
Information on the 8th Live In-Woods Show
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Brothers Team Up
Joe and Mark Mahon, are a well-oiled machine, complementing each as they operated a long-established outfit.
Oregon Mass Timber Summit Review
Review of the one-day summit held at Eastern Oregon University in La Grande, Oregon.
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Time for Another Look at Biochar?
Guest columnist, Jack Petree, looks at new research regarding biochar.