Summer Camp

Pickle Logging creates summer haven for their tight-knit crew and families

By Kurt Glaeseman

Lance and Roni Pickle have created an oasis of comfortable home camping near Weaverville, Calif. for their hardworking Oregon logging crew. Their Serria Pacifc contract is for several consecutive summers, and Lance knows how hard it is for loggers to be separated from their families for long periods of time. The remedy was to have the families come to the woods, where they would set up a private camp and resume life as normal — comfortable rigs, well-maintained flowerbeds, portable washer and dryer — between the intense blue of Trinity Lake and the stark white of the snow-covered Alps. They call it Pickle Paradise. “This is the best crew I’ve ever been around,” Lance says. “We help each other. We interact all the time, whether it’s working on the landing or putting together a barbecue at night. We talk. Everyone has his own disposition and attitude, but everything comes together.”

Pickles take good care of their employees, like the operator of this 445-E Timbco feller-buncher.  

Trees to Transmissions
What may sound like an idyllic, park-like situation is contrasted by long, hard workdays on steep slopes under a broiling sun. The temperature often goes over a hundred degrees, fire danger is always present, and the water truck constantly battles dust. By the end of the season, the crew is ready to return to Oregon, where they may pick up a few small winter jobs but mostly work in the Pickle shop as mechanics.                                   

“They really get to know all the machinery,” says Lance. “They become more knowledgeable operators and, on the job, they can often spot problems before they get out of control.” In addition to routine maintenance of his own machinery, Pickle buys and repairs, or spruces up, used logging pieces and offers them for resale. It’s another way of keeping his crew on the payroll during what many loggers consider the down season.

Two-State Operation The son of a millwright and saw filer near John Day, Ore., Lance was working in the woods at age 16. After several lumber-related jobs, he moved to Riddle and began contract cutting. In 1993, he acquired his first feller buncher, a 435 Timbco, and he began adding machinery and taking on bigger jobs. Because he was willing to decipher both California and Oregon logging regulations, he could work on either side of the border, and the jobs came his way. “I’ve been at it long enough to understand the differences in the state regulations. It’s really not that big of a thing once you get it figured out.”                       

Currently he’s working on a big, combination thin and clear-cut for Sierra Pacific Industries. The terrain on the slopes of the Trinity Alps can be treacherous, and Pickle admits they’ve worked some tough areas. He relies on the specifics of the timber harvest plans and the California state regulations, and does whatever is necessary, addressing issues of watershed, erosion, deer, bear, habitat restoration, or whatever crops up. “You figure it out,” says Pickle, “and you just do it.”  

Many of Pickles’ employees work as mechanics in the winter. They really get to know the machinery like this Kobelco loader with Jewell grapples.  

The region produces a miscellaneous assortment of Douglas fir, white fir, sugar pine, yellow pine, cedar, oak, dogwood, and madrone. This requires a two-way sort — by species and by size. Both SPI and independent truckers haul the sorts to mills that are often many miles away. The large diameter Douglas fir and the yellow pine go to Arcata on the coast. Smaller Douglas fir, yellow pine, and sugar pine go to Anderson, south of Redding. The small white fir goes to Timber Products in Yreka, and the large white fir goes to Trinity River Lumber in Weaverville. The large cedar and large sugar pine go to Shasta Lake Sawmill, and the small cedar goes the longest distance—all the way to Oroville, south of Chico.                       

Pickle claims he has more machinery than his seven-man crew can operate at any one time, but he likes the potential flexibility. Although individual crew members tend to specialize somewhat, each can run any machine, so work can continue if there are mechanical glitches or if a crew member needs some time off.

Owner Lance Pickle (foreground) checks cutting progress with Timbco operator Dennis Payne.  Cross-Trained Crew

John Bright, operator of the 322 CAT with 3348 Pierce delimber, definitely prefers that piece over all the others. “It wasn’t difficult to learn,” he says. “I’ve been running delimbers since before computers were big, so I’ve learned the new stuff as the technology advanced. I’m out here to do a good job. I’ve been worried a time or two, like when a bunch of shale sloughed off from the edge of a landing, but the machine is generally stable and fun to run. I’m never bored.”                       

Bright’s dad, Tink, has recently come aboard the Pickle crew as a water truck operator. His 4000-gallon International Eagle can be seen loading up water at a snow-melt stream and then heading out to water the miles of logging roads. Tink’s role cannot be underplayed, says Lance: “It takes a lot of water to keep a road packed, and if you fall behind in California, you can be shut down.”                       

The crew cuts across generations. Jeremy Bungarner, the youngest member, is training for all the machinery, but he’s usually found falling trees — he’s a 372 Husky man — or piling brush and making trails with the D7G. And Charlie Everett maneuvers through the woods and around the landing with a 527 Cat track skidder and is in charge of some serious- water barring. A perfectionist, he wants a finished job to look good and in keeping with regulations of the timber harvesting plan, so he keeps the crew on their toes. Mike Nelson is part of the Old Guard. He’s the shovel operator, both on the 330 Cat and the 300 Kobelco with Jewell grapples. Lance points out Nelson’s expert “feel” for finding the balance point of the logs as he loads. The Kobelco with Jewell grapples is Nelson’s loader-of-choice for smaller logs, but the other (bigger) Cat is faster and more efficient with the bigger logs. “I’ve run this shovel since the day it was born,” laughs Nelson, “so I have a good idea what it can do.” He admits that his job is much easier when the processor does the sorting — as many as ten sorts for this particular job.                                   

Dave Toombs is the other 527 track skidder operator, and if John Bright is gone, Toombs jumps on the delimber. He logged in the Bend area before he joined Pickle, and his experience is valued. Toombs claims that the 527s could spoil a person: “They are the Cadillacs, stable and comfortable with good air-conditioning. They make it hard for us to go back to the older types.”

John Bright on the 322 CAT with 3348 Pierce delimber.  

Another long-term employee is Dennis Payne, who runs the 445-E Timbco feller buncher. He’s used to working on steep terrain—“Sure, it would be easier if it were level; we wouldn’t tear up the ground as much, and I wouldn’t have to be quite as careful about dropping a big pine over my head… but you know, that’s the way it is.”                                   

His Timbco is a 2003 model with a little less than 7000 hours on it, and the 28-inch cutting bar works well in trees of assorted size and kind. He can cut a large volume of smaller wood in a short time, but when he gets to a big fir, he has to go around and catch the corner and cut from three sides. He finds it easier to skin the bark a bit to get a better hold, and decrease the diameter of the trunk for easier handling.

Seeing the Big Picture Lance recognizes what makes his crew and logging operation so successful: “They know what they’re supposed to do and they just do it. It’s the crew that makes things run smooth.”                                                     

He does admit to having some pretty strong opinions though. “If you’ve got good people, you don’t yell and scream at them,” he says. “And you’ve got a responsibility to pay them enough so they can feed their families and live reasonably well. Without my crew, nothing would happen. I’m fortunate to have gathered a group willing to go the extra mile. I owe them a lot.”                                   

And Pickle Paradise is one of the ways he can say “thanks.”  

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