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Making a Name

Fixed arch grapple skidders quickly move the tree lengths to landings where a log loader stacks them within reach of stroke boom processors.

Parke Logging Inc. has stepped up to the challeneges of logging in Western Montana for over 25 years.

By Jeff Mullins

Charlie Parke’s first venture into the timber industry may have been viewed by some as stepping “out of the frying pan and into the fire” when he bought a used logging truck in the late 1970’s to supplement income from the family ranch in Western Montana. For the same reasons, his brother, William, also began felling timber. In 1979 their initial success led them to form Parke Brothers Logging.
By the early 1990’s, Parke Brothers the employee ranks swelled to about 40 people.

The company made some changes — Charlie and his sons took over the logging business, while William pursued other business holdings —and Parke Logging Inc. was born.

Parke Logging has been part of the Montana logging scene since 1970. Today the company harvests 12 MMPF a year.

A Manageable Size
In 1995, as now, finding and retaining skilled and responsible help proved a daunting challenge. Parke Logging began to systematically phase out the line machines to become exclusively a mechanized logging operation.

Today Parke Logging’s stream lined crew sends 12 MMBF of fiber to mills each year. Charlie’s son, Adam, oversees Parke’s three mechanical sides and his son, Grant, drives truck and helps keep an eye on log hauling by the company’s 6 Kenworth trucks and contracted trucks. The company considers its employees to be the best at what they do.

“They want to do a good job, we trust them to do a good job, and they do a good job,” Charlie says. “Their showing initiative, discipline, and dedication in today’s market makes the difference between being successful in logging and having to do something else.”

Although employee issues never completely vanish, Parke has eliminated most of the problems by providing exceptional employee incentives including good pay, health insurance and matching contributions to retirement accounts. At the same time, Parke places his men at the controls of highly productive machinery and expects them to be productive – and they are.

Parke Logging pays attention to details and carefully tracks the production and performance of each employee and of each machine they operate. Charlie says this scrutiny benefits the company in several ways. The company now knows:

  • which machines have the highest production to cost ratio. When it comes time to swap out equipment, it is easy to decide what to buy.
  • when the operator and the machine make a good match. “We move men around to help them be most productive not only because it’s good for business but it helps with their sense of job satisfaction and accomplishment,” says Charlie.
  • the cost for each employee and machine enabling them to be competitive and taking much of the guess work out of bidding. “We cannot afford to run these machines at half or two-thirds capacity,” says Charlie. “If the man/machine can’t produce, we idle it and sub the work out.”

Charlie Parke adds humorously, “I build the roads because all the other employees are too valuable and productive to push dirt around.”

On the left is company owner, Charlie Parke and on the right is his son, Adam.

Clipping and Shipping
Adam Parke ramrods the mechanized harvesting and, when he is not running the office, can be found felling timber with one of Parke’s two Timbco 445 feller bunchers equipped with 22” Quadco hot saws. Adam or Charlie will occasionally dust off a Stihl 066 to fell oversize stems but it seldom happens these days. More often, feller bunchers will be seen packing numerous stems in the grab arms as operators cut one after another and, only when the grapple is full, laying them down.

A significant portion of Parke’s harvests involve removal of smaller woods for fuels reduction, stand enhancement, wildlife habitat improvement and salvage associated with insect or fire damage. Parke’s “clippers” are particularly suited to quickly removing large volumes of the small wood with minimal soil disturbance and without damaging dominate and co-dominate “leave trees.” Other Timbcos are contracted as needed to meet harvest demands.

Fixed arch grapple skidders swish tree lengths to landings where a log loader stacks them within easy reach of stroke boom processors. Parke yards with Caterpillar 525 and 535 skidders and John Deer 648 and 748 rubber tired machines. A D6 is used to skid the very steep ground, greater than 60 percent slope.

Reducing Processing Bottlenecks
Vigilant assessment of operations has revealed stem processing bottlenecks in Parke’s production. Although they employ quality production equipment like telescoping Denharco slide booms mounted on Daewoo and Caterpillar carriages, the machines cannot keep up with the multitude of small stems.

To reduce the slow down, a log loader is used to pre-sort stems prior to processing. As the skidders drop drags at the landing, the loader stacks stems into the various sorts, reducing stroker handling. The increased productivity more than offsets the expense of running the loader.

A 2054 John Deere with a Waratah processor was recently added to Parke’s line up to enable stem processing in the woods to meet the specifications of forest service fuels reduction contracts. Operations manager Allen Bryant says the combo is exceeding their expectations. “It generally produces twice as much wood as either of our slide boom delimbers,” he says.

In 2001, when Pyramid Mountain Lumber Mill in Seeley Lake, Mont., was on shaky ground, Charlie Parke purchased a partnership in the mill. The purchase was mutual beneficial — the mill continued to operate and Parke continues to sell to Pyramid.

Threatened Mill Closure Leads to Mill Ownership
With any mills are gone and others are going, Parke Looging has done its part to prevent the vanishing infrastructure. In 2001 Pyramid Mountain Lumber Mill in Seeley Lake, Mont., was on shaky ground when some of the operating partners wanted out. Charlie Parke purchased a partnership in the mill that has allowed it to continue to operate.

Pyramid Mountain Lumber provides jobs for 150 employees and produces 60 MMBF of lumber annually. Flexibility to produce boards, studs, paneling and timbers allows altering output to match market demands thereby increasing profits. Recent modernization and installation of optimizing equipment has made the mill even more competitive.

Parke Logging sells the majority of logs it produces to Pyramid Mountain and the relationship has proven to be mutually beneficial. The benefit also cascades to other area loggers and the community as a whole.

To avoid potential conflict of interest, Adam Parke negotiates the contracts with the mill and largely oversees the details of fulfilling those contracts.

Keeping Good Employees in Down Time
Although Parke usually stays busy, harvests are suspended during spring “break-up,” to prevent excessive soil disturbance. In recent years “break up” has spanned as long as two months but Charlie strives to keep his crew busy during down times by securing contracts where weather is less of a factor, sometimes as far as 400 miles away. Employees assist with equipment maintenance, ranch work and mill ownership provides one more place to put them to work for a while.

Everyone knows logging is hard work and dangerous work. Likewise, running a small business is hard work and statistics prove most don’t survive.

Thus, being a logging contractor is doubly hard demanding something special from a man to keep going and “to keep it going,” especially when the wave after wave of challenges come. Charlie Parke is the kind of man that has not only survived the challenges but succeeded through them.