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Steve Henderson Logging stays ahead of the curve by striving for excellence

By Barbara Coyner

Ask logging contractors the secrets to their success, and many will brag about high-tech equipment. North Idaho logger Steve Henderson would rather brag up his crew.

Keeping a Crew
“You can have the best jobs and the best machines, but if you don’t have good people, the rest doesn’t mean much,” Henderson says. “People are the key to our operation. Sure, I’ve got my name on the company, but it’s the combination of people that makes it work. There’s nobody on the payroll that’s not important.”

Cat operator, Marvin Burnette, takes top honors in Henderson’s employee hall of fame, and the two have worked together for decades. “He can still out-skid any kid out there, and he’s been doing it since he was 18. He’s the epitome of what our standard is, an example of what our younger guys can look up to. He makes everyone around him a better person. He’s got a great sense of humor, he loves his job, and he’s one of the first ones out there and often the last one to leave, even at 71.”

Owner Steve Henderson says people are key to his operation. Cat operator, Marvin Burnette, is one of Henderson’s top employees: “He’s the epitome of what our standard is, an example of what our younger guys can look up to.”

Longevity with the company is common among Henderson’s 65-member crew, which boasts a mix of age groups. Foremen, Dan Smith and Wendell Brown, run a tight ship, a necessity when the outfit is Potlatch Corporation’s largest contractor in the area, cutting over 70 million board feet for the wood products giant last year.

Henderson also lets his line machine crews have a say in new hires. “All of the yarder crews do their own hiring because it’s a team effort,” he explains. “They’re paid on a production basis, so if they get a slacker that slows things down, it affects everyone’s paycheck.”
Starting in the Classroom

Although the Wallowa, Ore., native got into logging in his teens, he opted for an agricultural and forestry degree from Oregon State University then taught high school ag classes for a year. When he saw there was more money to be made in logging, he headed back to the woods, starting his own company in 1972.

Henderson never completely got the teaching bug out of his system and still likes to apply it in his business today. He especially enjoys building confidence in the new hires. “You have to keep that attitude up and build people one at a time. It’s all about relationships. I enjoyed teaching, and I still teach every day, just in a different classroom.”

Equipment Makes a Difference
Harvesting more than 116 million board feet of timber last year, Henderson knows that flexible equipment choices contribute to his success. “We want to be one-stop shopping basically. If you do a lot of high volume, you need those high tech machines to make it work,” he says. Asked about his equipment lineup, Henderson rattles off a host of names and models. Madill has clearly made an impression. His owns, among others, a 3800 processor, a 3800 shovel-skidder, a 2850C processor, two T2250 feller bunchers, and an 1800 processor, with another 1800 processor owned by his son, David, who sub-contracts to him.

Henderson operates a number Madills, including a 3800 processor, a 3800 shovel skidder, a 2850C processor, two T2250 feller bunchers, and an 1800 processor.

The T2250 feller bunchers and the 3800 shovel-skidder have especially improved the company’s productivity, according to Henderson. With a complete machine shop, he says his staff can handle just about any service work on the machines.

Henderson’s son, David, bought his Madill 1800 processor in 2005, but says it seems like a toy next to his Dad’s 2850C. David adds though that when he bought his processor, the company was working in strictly smaller diameter logs, making the 1800 a good fit then. The larger logs need more power, yet on the other hand, David points out that the 1800 is more agile around steep slopes.

Choosing a Head
“I use a Waratah 624 head, and the machine is wide enough to hold onto the side of the hill with the short boom,” says David. “I’ve got over 9000 hours on it and not much down time compared to other combos we’ve used, plus it’s easy to work on. I’ve lost maybe five days overall, and this thing isn’t nickel and diming me like some of the others did.”

A powerful Waratah 624 C head joined Henderson’s equipment lineup late in 2007, making the company one of only four U.S. outfits to be using the new model. Henderson had seen the 624 C in New Zealand and thought it would team up well with his Madill 2850. Processor operator, Jesse Hunt, drew the lucky straw for limbering up the new head and likes it better than the others he’s used during the decade he’s worked for Henderson.

“This head has the ability to grab a lot bigger wood and feed and process it with no problem,” says Hunt. “That’s really important because we’re into larger logs. The 624 C makes us more productive because it’s faster. It has the ability to handle larger trees, but also the speed of the smaller head [the Waratah 622] to process them faster. It’s the best of both worlds.”

Hunt especially likes the improvements in the new 624 C TimberRite computer program, which is an upgrade to the LogRite system used on the older heads. “The computer finds the minimum diameter a lot faster,” Hunt says.

Henderson Logging purchased the Waratah 624 C head in late 2007 — making the company one of only four U.S. outfits to be using the new model. Processor operator, Jesse Hunt, likes the way it handles larger wood.

Staying Agile
For Steve Henderson, flexibility is the mantra. While sometimes that means buying the latest and greatest in new equipment, it can also mean tinkering with the tried and true. To that end, Henderson improvised two Cat excavators to join his lineup of six yarders. A small retrofitted Cat 315 has been taking on smaller, less maneuverable areas for over ten years.

“We put it all together, and it worked — and it worked really well,” Henderson says. “It’s a real niche machine, because it’s smaller and can go on narrower roads. It takes only two people to run it, and it’s really good for salvage work. It’s got the thumb and bucket so it can take out barriers and water bars, and even build roads when necessary. The machine itself becomes the counterweight so there’s no anchoring needed.”

A Cat 235 excavator has been similarly used for the last decade, and the advantage of not being guyed down keeps the small yarders more flexible. Henderson says the smaller Cat can handle up to 1200-pound logs, which is, of course, no match for his bigger Link-Belt and Thunderbird yarders with capacities of up to 40,000 pounds. But it’s that flexibility issue again. Using Maki carriages, the small Cat has a 600-foot reach, and the bigger Cat has a 1200-foot reach. The two machines are just perfect for mid-slope logging where they can sit on a bench and tackle the middle ground between Cat logging and long-line logging.

New Zealand
As Henderson arranges jobs and lines up crews and equipment, he puts in his share of cab time, giving him hours to work on strategy. He also travels whenever he can, and that’s led him to purchase a couple of tree plantations in New Zealand. He admits the New Zealand enterprise has much to do with retirement, and he likes the climate too.

Last year, Henderson toured sites in Argentina and Chile, as well, coming home with new perspectives on how things are done in other parts of the world. He believes the wood products industry has to think outside the box and employ good marketing strategies to sell a common product. Using the analogies of Starbucks and bottled water, he makes the point that his granddad would never have paid for bottled water when he could get it free. It’s all in the marketing angle, he stresses, adding that he has to continually adapt and think outside the box to keep the company at its best advantage.

In business for over 35 years and just turning 60 this year, Steve Henderson is always ready to work on his game plan. “I always enjoyed athletics in school, and we treat logging like it’s a big athletic event,” he sums up. “We want to be the best we can be.”