By Andrea Watts
Although Ken Wilson, owner of Ken’s Kutting, is approaching a significant milestone in his logging career — next year will mark 45 years spent out in the woods — he isn’t slowing down. Instead, he is prioritizing what’s important in life.
You won’t find Ken or Danny Wilson, his cousin and work partner, working long days because, as Ken is quick to quip, “We’re old and got families.”
Keen on Cut-to-Length
An early advocate of cut-to-length, Ken’s focus for the past 25 years has been thinning, where the emphasis is on quality not production. But to stay busy during the downturn, they did take on jobs that included clearcutting for Port Blakely. Once the markets recovered though, “Danny and I said we were ready to get back to thinning,” Ken explains.
His reason for preferring thinning is that it requires finesse instead of being a bull in the woods. Thinning is also good for wildlife, he says, adding, “I’m weeding Mother Nature.” And more important for Ken, whose mind is always working, it’s not mundane, and it’s different every day.
Fortunately, Ken and Danny’s current employer Port Blakely has plenty of thinning work to keep the cousins busy for the next five years, so Ken doesn’t worry about figuring out the next job anytime soon. “We do the job they want done, and they keep us busy,” he says.
While they’re happy to take jobs to keep busy, they prefer work that’s within two hours of their home base in Oakville, Washington, so the cousins can spend more time with family and less time driving. These days Ken and Danny are found in the Morton area or “God’s country,” as he describes it, working on Port Blakely forestland. “We go wherever they tell us to point the low boy,” he says.
Getting the Wood Out
For the past eight years, John Borte, owner of Toledo-based Lone Oak Trucking, has worked alongside the Wilson pair out on the jobsites. “He’s the driving force of this outfit,” Ken says. In this case, he’s speaking literally because John handles all their hauling.
When asked how much volume the trio averages in a week, Ken demurs answering the question. “Mother Nature and terrain can affect our production so I shoot for the maximum of what we can accomplish,” he says. “I hate talking production when I’d rather talk quality.”
On the Morton job, John hauls the saw logs to Hampton Mill and the pulp logs to Olympic Fiber. Although Ken isn’t involved in the log sales, that’s handled by Port Blakely’s staff, he says that “prices are as good as they’ve been in 15 years.”
Switching to a ScorpionKing
Ken’s recent investment, a Ponsse ScorpionKing, has proven itself capable of handling their thinning needs and meeting their high-quality standards. He hadn’t intended switching manufacturers, he says, but the forwarder he liked has been discontinued.
That Ponsse only manufactures cut-to-length equipment is another point in their favor in Ken’s opinion, and he appreciates being able to talk to a company representative for troubleshooting and assistance.
Although he’s quick to add the caveat, “They’re expensive toys,” Ken doesn’t regret his decision since these Ponsse pieces are his last set. “My wife [Vicki] said, ‘Isn’t it cool that your last machine will be your favorite.’”
When it comes to efficient thinning, the ScorpionKing with a C50 boom and H6 harvester head easily keeps pace with Ken’s flow of conversation that ranges from why he’s an advocate for cut-to-length and what he enjoys about the challenge of taking on thinning jobs. “My pride is what I leave behind,” he says.
The Ponsse H6 harvester head is the fifth processor he has purchased during his logging career. Ken purchased his equipment from the Ponsse distributor in Coburg, Oregon, and admits he was an easy sale, but he doesn’t regret the purchase. “It’s hands down the best processor I’ve had.”
Danny, who Ken credits as being the voice of reason of the team, operates the new Ponsse Elephant forwarder that was purchased in April 2017. He admits that he is still getting used to the new machine since every piece of machinery has its quirks. “Ken told me, ‘Get everything you want since it might be the last one you get,’” Danny says. Rounding out their equipment portfolio is a Doosan DX225LL purchased last year.
What also keeps the “geriatric crew” (as Ken calls the trio) working well together is their comradery and sense of humor out in the woods. “We like to have fun out here,” he says. And he’s not afraid of making a joke at his own expense — case in point, “I’m not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but I flicker.”
Everyone has nicknames: Ken is Boss Hog, Danny is Pedro Log Hog, and John is Wood Hog. Even Vicki, whom Ken has been married to for over 40 years, has a nickname—The Boss. When asked how it is working with his cousin, Danny says in jest, “Trying.” Although Danny comes across as stoic, Ken is quick to say that he is a character too.
Mindful that he is working on the last set of logging equipment he will purchase, Ken is thinking ahead to the future. His son Rob has joined him out on the jobsite, and Ken proudly boasts that his daughter Rachel is one of the smoothest operators on the shovel.
Even his grandkids are being exposed to the logging business; there’s enough room in the back of the ScorpionKing for them to sit and accompany Grandpa while he’s thinning.
“Nothing would make me prouder than for them to take over,” Ken says.
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