By Ryan Johnson
What started as a small shake operation for two men has flourished into a well-known, family-owned-and-operated cedar fencing mill. Wood products produced at the mill are used throughout North America for fencing projects.
Tod Reichert and his business partner, Lee Day, were two young men in the mid-1970s, cutting shake bolts and performing rigorous manual labor. Eventually, Reichert started a small shake mill and grew the company to six employees. In 1982, he added a Pendu saw to produce fence boards and log home material. Over the years, the log home products, including cedar shakes and shingles, were discontinued, and more saws were added to focus on cedar fencing, which is the company’s current primary focus. Thirty-six years after Reichert started the company, it has grown to more than 60 employees, including Reichert’s daughter, Kim, and her husband, Jamy Wallace.
“I’m working in the mill, and I’m the log buyer,” says Jamy Wallace. “Kim sells the products and focuses on the day-to-day operations. We have a really good crew. We care about our employees, and we value their input. We all work together as a team to produce a consistent top-quality product.”
While other mills in the area offer a variety of wood products, Reichert Shake and Fencing focuses on producing high-quality western red cedar fence boards. Employees at the mill cut the cedar logs into various lengths and widths — from 4 feet to 8 feet in length and 3 to 6 inches in width. “We cut a premium product, and we emphasize quality,” Wallace says. “We focus on our niche in the market — that’s our specialty — and we are known for our high quality and high grade.”
Log trucks deliver raw western red cedar logs from Oregon, Washington, and Canada. Most wood comes from small private loggers and landowners; however, the company also buys from large timber companies such as Hancock and Weyerhaeuser, or bids on sales from the Department of Natural Resources in Washington.
Cedar logs processed at the mill can vary in age from as little as 20–30-year-old cedars to as old as 80 to 100 years. “You get better money out of the cedar when it gets older because it scales better,” Wallace says. “If you wait that extra five or 10 years, you’ll get a lot better price out of them.” Scaling is determined by the log’s width. “Once a cedar gets to 9 inches, it will almost double its board footage in the log,” he says. “Then, once it goes to 14 inches, it will double again.”
The company has the capability to load the final product on flatbed trucks, vans, and car rails. The location is within five miles of the Interstate 5 corridor and major rail lines, and the company ships by Union Pacific or Burlington Northern railroads throughout the United States.
The mill measures success by the number of logs processed at the mill. Trucks deliver logs to the mill Monday through Friday, from 6:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and the mill runs until 5:00 p.m. During busy times, the mill is open Saturday, although they try to limit weekend work to allow employees to spend time with their families. “Some days we might only get five or six loads, and other days we might get 16 to 20,” Wallace says. “It depends on how good the weather is and how good our prices are.”
To keep up with the volume of cedar logs being delivered to the mill, the company depends on reliable and well-trained employees, as well as durable logging equipment. The company has three log loaders at the mill, and sometimes they need all three machines running to avoid holding up the log trucks that deliver the raw material. The mill racks up hours and hours on its log loaders. One model has more than 18,000 hours and is still performing at a high level.
There is an inherent risk with machines with too many hours, which is what led the company to investigate new equipment, shopping around and looking at different machines. “If you don’t upgrade and your machine starts breaking down, of course you lose time, and time is money,” Wallace says. Their search ended when the company purchased a new Doosan DX380LL-5 log loader.
Prior to purchasing the new model, the company spoke to logging companies in the area, including Buck’s Logging, which owns multiple Doosan log loaders. That conversation led to more information and a demonstration from sales specialist Jim Wark at Cascade Trader (the Doosan heavy construction equipment dealer in the area). “We were looking for a little bigger machine because in our yard, sometimes we will high-deck logs, especially up front or in the back because of space issues,” Wallace says. “We wanted a bigger machine that could stack logs higher and move them around better.”
When employees, such as veteran operator Eldon Graves, are high-decking, they are putting the logs up higher to take better advantage of the space at the mill. “Eldon has been with the company from the beginning; he’s our oldest operator, and he does an awesome job,” Wallace says. “If you don’t have a big yard or you need more room, high-decking comes in play. Last year we had more than 600 loads of logs in the yard, so we were jammed up pretty tight. We did a lot of high-decking.”
In addition to high-decking, Eldon and Matt Davis, a second operator, use log loaders to unload the log trucks and feed the deck with logs. When trucks deliver the logs, operators use the log loaders with grapple attachments to sort them for efficiency. “We take the logs off the truck and put the shortest ones to the right and the longest ones to the left,” Wallace explains. “Sometimes logging companies will put the short logs on the front and the back. So we must reach all the way up the log truck and grab the ones at the front without damaging the truck. The extra reach really helps to unload the trucks.”
The traditional practice of scaling the logs is done as soon as they are unloaded. “We measure the log’s width, and we use a handheld scale so we can take any deduction,” Wallace says. “After we’re done scaling the logs, we’ll put them on the deck where we’re going to run them through the mill or we stack them to be used later.”
Mill manager Russell Stegenga, an employee at Reichert Shake and Fencing for 10 years, oversees 60 employees who work in the company’s mill. According to Stegenga, a log loader will place logs up to 40 feet long, measuring up to 4 feet in diameter, on the rough deck. From there it follows a path where a McDonough 54-inch head saw at a 17-degree slant starts to process the log. Next, the log moves through 30-foot-long Baker bandsaws (10-head, 8-head, and 3-head) before it eventually reaches the trimmers and graders. From a timing standpoint, Stegenga says from start to finish, it takes roughly 30 minutes for each log to be processed.
Trying to get the most wood out of the log that the mill processes is the goal. Every time the company can get an extra board, it’s another couple dollars. The precision of the company’s log loaders boosts profits by helping Reichert get the best out of what’s in the yard.
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