Holbrook Inc., Olympia, WashingtonDano Ward wipes down windshield of Ponsse Buffalo forwarder while awaiting log truck arrival.

It’s the Employees

Holbrook Inc., Olympia, Washington

By Andrea Watts

Step onto a Holbrook operation and you’ll see Jim “Big Jim” Filmore who started with the company as a chaser and is the go-to guy on tough logging sites. Then there’s Jon Gordon who began working in the log yards but is now operating log shovels, and Dale “Big Dale” Gustafson who keeps all of the logging and sorting yard equipment in good working order.

For Holbrook Inc., success has come from the sum of its employees who have kept the company harvesting and moving logs for more than 30 years.

Launching Holbrook

Jerry and Penny Holbrook started Holbrook Inc. in 1987, and the company was incorporated in 1989. A handful of the original employees such as Big Jim are still with the company, and a number of those who joined later as the company matured can also count their years in decades.

Shad Morey is Holbrook’s operations forester who oversees all the logging operations and handles the timber sale bidding. He joined the company soon after graduating from Centralia Community College nearly 30 years ago. “It just seems like yesterday I was the youngest,” he says.

Holbrook Inc., Olympia, WashingtonJon Gordon standing on a 568 Cat.

Shovel Logging

Shovel logging is Holbrook Inc.’s focus, and the work is primarily clearcutting, although they have taken on thinning jobs for the state. Morey says they expect to get into cable logging by the end of the year and are putting together a yoder setup.

Usually, they have three logging sides running at sites that are typically within a two to three-hour drive from their Olympia headquarters. Morey described their job sites as “scattered,” and this past spring (during this interview) was an excellent example of the scattered nature of their locations. Holbrook had active operations northwest in Quinault, south in Morton, and northeast in Electron, which is located in unincorporated Pierce County five miles south of Orting. Their clients include the well-known forestland owners in the region: Port Blakely, Olympic Resource Management Group, and Merrill & Ring.

Holbrook Inc., Olympia, Washington“Big Dale” Gustafson stands next to the company's maintenance truck.

The Company’s Niche

However, what sets Holbrook Inc. apart from other logging outfits is they also operate log sorting yards.

Since 2005, PLS International, a division of Port Blakely, has contracted with Holbrook Inc. to run their Olympia log yard. They also operate Merrill Ring’s log yard in Tacoma.

Morey estimates that their inventory rotates out within four to six weeks, and six million board feet fits on a ship. Joe Graham oversees the Olympia log yard and is one of the company’s original employees, or as he describes himself jokingly, “senior experienced guy here.”

With three active sides, keeping the logs moving is a recurring issue. On average, they will have nine to 12 trucks on the road. “We only have a couple of our own company log trucks, but we could use five times that,” Morey explains. “What we want and what we need are two different things.”

Holbrook Inc., Olympia, WashingtonSince 2005, PLS International, a division of Port Blakely, has contracted with Holbrook Inc. to run their Olympia log yard. Holbrook also operates Merrill Ring’s log yard in Tacoma.

Because they only have a couple truck drivers on staff, the majority of their hauling needs are contracted out. One of these contractors is Sharp Trucking with whom they have had a long relationship.

Jon “LJ” Ferch, who started as a chaser over 15 years ago, before moving into the role of operations manager, oversees the log yard operations as well as handling the log truck coordination. Finding enough log trucks has been an issue of late. He feels that pay is one of the factors contributing to a truck driver shortage. “Trucks need to make money,” he says, “and timberland companies and landowners are beginning to turn the corner on that issue.” Morey adds that a shortage of young people entering the profession is also a problem.

Thirty-five Strong

To run all their operations, they have nearly 35 employees: six are typically staffing the Olympia log yard with another 10 operating at the Tacoma log yard. Typically, there will be three operators running the machines at each job site out in the woods. On most of their logging sites, the trees can be cut with a feller buncher, but when that option is not possible, the falling is contracted out to Mountain Pacific Timber Cutting, which is owned by Craig Chambers.

Holbrook Inc., Olympia, WashingtonLink-Belt 5040 at one of Holbrook's three active sides.

“They take care of us,” Morey says. “There have been times when I have wondered if we can get it cut, but Craig and his team always do an outstanding job.”

Out in the woods is where many of the longtime employees can be found. Big Jim Filmore started as a chaser for Jerry back in the beginning and is now one of the company’s top operators able to log the tough job sites. “I learned how to be a better shovel operator because of him,” says Ferch.

“Holbrook’s been good to me,” Filmore says, and as a testament to the company culture, two of his sons work at the Tacoma log yard.

Man and Machine

These days Filmore is running a Linkbelt 5040, a machine he likes and which Ferch describes as a “good solid machine.” Out on the job site with Filmore is Jay Erickson who runs a Linkbelt 4640. “I love it,” Erickson says. “New is always nice.”

Rounding out the trio is George Lovell, one of the newer employees — he has only worked with the company for three years. Having heard that Holbrook sounded like a good place to work, Lovell says, “I called them out of the blue, and they said, ‘Come to work.’”

Lovell runs the Cat 325, a machine that Ferch likes not only because it runs well but also because “hands down, Cat has the best service.” The driver hauling off the logs in their Kenworth logging truck is Larry Green, one of Holbrook’s drivers — his tenure is closing in on 20 years. “I’ve been treated very well during this time with the company. We have a good crew,” he says.

Out on the site up north near Electron, Tony Harrison runs the Doosan DX300 processor with a Waratah 623C head. September will mark his sixth anniversary with the company, which he says, “Seems just like yesterday.”

Holbrook Inc., Olympia, WashingtonHolbrook's Caterpillar 3250 loading up.

Paired with Harrison is Jon Gordon who runs a Cat 568LL. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything else,” he says of the Cat, adding, “It’s the best all around, I’d say.” Gordon has been with the company for 12 years. He started in the log yards running the stackers and then went out into the woods.

The guy who keeps the machines running (except for the trucks, he’s quick to clarify), is Big Dale Gustafson. “He pretty much keeps everything in good working order,” Ferch says. Gustafson has nearly a decade with the company and says that his favorite part of the job is being out in the woods. Of the problems that crop up, he estimates he is able to fix 98 percent of them.

Ready for What’s Ahead

Over the past few years, Jerry and Penny’s son Rich has transitioned into taking over the company. Holbrook is well positioned to continue for more decades to come, in part because of their employees.

“A lot of people come here because we are good to work for,” says Ferch. “The owners really care about their employees, and they’ve gone above and beyond a typical employer.”

TimberWest November/December 2013
September/October 2018

On the Cover
Photo taken by Andrea Watts of a Holbrook Inc. operation near Electron, Washington.

Finding Success in Challenging Times
In 2007, as the country entered the recession, Seth Campbell was fixing his eyes on a future for himself, his family and his crew.

From the Bottom Up
Chris Martin, owner of Martin Timber Harvesting, has taken the bull by the horns and set a standard of excellence.

It’s the Employees
For Holbrook Inc., success has come from the sum of its employees who have kept the company harvesting and moving logs for more than 30 years.

New Study Points to Ways Loggers Can Minimize Knee, Back and Shoulder Injuries
New manual with best practices focusses on preventable injuries in the logging industry.

2018 CBI & Ecotec Factory Forum
The three-day event was an opportunity for the company’s U.S. and international customers to see live machine demonstrations.

Firebreak Column
New technology coming to the fireline.

Pacific Logging Congress review
The 8th PLC Live In-Woods show held in September in Corvallis, Oregon, provided a chance to educate and for industry professionals to show off.

Tech Review — Bar, Chain and Sprocket
A look at options on the market today.

Guest Column
Time to create and tell our story.

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