Taking it to the Skies

Croman Corporation uses helicopters to offer full-service timber harvesting and more

By Jeff Mullins

Logging with helicopters is an intriguing novelty for some, but for Bud Kaufman, co-founder and co-owner of Croman Corporation, one of the largest helicopter logging company in the U.S., the machines are simply a means to efficiently transport logs from the forest floor to the mill. a Although Croman’s 12 helicopters are the “highly visible” piece of its operations, the company prefers to be seen as a full-service logging contractor that happens to use helicopters. With over 100 years of combined logging experience, Croman’s two owners, Bud Kaufman and Dwain Cross, offer customers everything they need to harvest valuable timber in inaccessible areas.

Decades of Experience
Croman’s roots date back to 1954, when Bud and Dwain began harvesting timber, equipped only with chainsaws. The two men first logged with horses, then with small tractors, and then with larger tractors. They continued to keep up with harvesting practices, rigging wooden spar poles, operating steel towers, e
mploying mechanized feller-bunchers, and eventually flying helicopters.                                   

From 1974 until about 2000 the company employed as many as 500 people, as they bought and harvested up to 120 MMBF of timber annually, primarily from federal lands. In the early 1980’s, they purchased a sawmill near Ashland, Ore. and built a second mill near Boise, Idaho, which allowed them to add value to the timber they harvested, by marketing it as lumber rather than logs.

Evolving to Stay in Business
When timber from federal lands became unavailable, Bud and Dwain saw the writing on the wall, liquidated their ground logging and sawmilling operations, and shifted focus to contract helicopter logging. “All around us, ground logging operations were going bankrupt, and we saw more opportunity for the helicopters than for anything else,” says Bud.                                   

Today, the Medford, Oregon-based company not only logs with helicopters, but also offers its services to other business sectors. Their 150 employees harvest timber in the 11 western states and Canada, with yields averaging about 100 MMBF annually, which also constitutes about 50 percent of their helicopters’ flying time. Croman also uses the helicopters to fulfill contracts for firefighting, construction, and military training support in Hawaii.

Workhorses in the Sky
Eight twin engine Sikorsky S-61’s with 10,000-pound lifting capacities are Croman’s work horses for logging, fire fighting, and construction. Each is able to transport up to 100 mbf of logs a day to landing sites as far as a mile away. A Lama 315B is also used in fighting fires, and three other machines — two Bell 206BIII Jet Rangers and a Hiller 12E Soloy — support operations by flying crews and equipment in and out of remote sites. Rounding out the fleet, two Sikorsky S61s are under contract in Hawaii to retrieve missiles and torpedoes fired in military training operations at the Barking Sands Missile Range.                                   

For logging operations, falling crews fly into units to fall, limb, top, and buck trees into final log length. Processing in the woods increases productivity as each turn the Sikorsky makes packs no unnecessary weight, allowing landing crews to focus on the merchantable logs. With log preparation complete, ground crews quickly attach chokers to the S61’s lowered hook, constructing a “full capacity turn” weighing between 8,000 and 10,000 pounds.                                   

Logs dropped at landings are loaded onto trucks, and those splashed into bays or inlets are built into log booms for transport to their final destination.                                   

Each harvesting site and helicopter is supported by a dozen fallers, another dozen men who work on the ground under the helicopters, five flight crew members, as well as truck drivers, and/ or boom boat operators. Float camps are towed near harvest blocks to house up to 45 crew members during harvest operations. Flight and maintenance crews work two weeks on and two off, while ground and falling crews work three weeks on and one week off.                                   

The company works year-round, but usually has all its aircraft flying in the summer during peak harvest and fire seasons. Like all sectors of the logging industry, it faces slowdowns in the winter months. And like other logging operations, they are focused on keeping their costs down. They are able to reduce operating expenses by employing their own maintenance staff, who are qualified to maintain and completely overhaul their aircraft. Also, stocking a large inventory of parts to ensure timely repairs, results in less down time and lower repair costs.                                   

Bud estimates helicopter logging is twice as expensive as conventional harvesting methods, but it can be highly profitable for the timber owner when treacherous terrain or other accessibility prohibits ground harvesting. As with all harvesting methods, many factors, such as species value, stem size, and trucking distance must be evaluated before one can accurately determine the cost-effectiveness of helicopter logging.                                   

Using grapples, flying in ground equipment, and thinning operations, including the practice of harvesting standing stems, are considered to be too expensive by Croman and, in most cases, unnecessary. “Why change what we are doing if it is working well for us and our customers?” says Bud.                                   

Among the company’s greatest assets are Bud and Dwain’s industry experience, familiarity with logging operations, and the breadth and depth of their knowledge. “Some companies fly helicopters and also log. We log and use helicopters,” says Bud. “There is a lot more to logging than just flying wood.” Bud also believes their ability to make quick decisions, rather than waiting for board approval, is an advantage.                                   

As Bud looks to the future, he anticipates Croman’s continued success will be built upon the same foundation that currently supports their business — offering efficient stump-to-the-mill service for their customers.

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