In 1989, Logging and Milling Associates, based out of Delta Junction, Alaska, started their business skidding with draft horses. Since then, their operation has grown extensively, and they now utilize some top equipment to better harvest the timber. Logging and Milling Associates began as contract loggers back in the early 80’s. The company was purchased by partners Tom Nerbonne, Jon Squires, and Brad Cox in 1989. They bought their mill in 1992, but say they didn’t get “serious” about the milling end until 1996. They now run the mill year round, maintaining a completely self-sufficient operation.
In 1999, the company started building custom log homes and still sells custom cabin kits, creating yet another successful niche in their business. The owners are always trying to find new ways to diversify, and it is this willingness that helps keep their operation growing.
The company’s mill is situated roughly 90 miles away from the logging site, and Brad and Jason are able to haul five to six loads per week, with just the two of them doing most of the work. They normally haul 16 foot logs, with firewood taken out separately. Everything is sold within the state of Alaska, making them an important player in Alaska commerce and keeping money circulating inside the state.
Effective Use of Horsepower
According to Brad, this feller buncher is their most important piece of equipment. “It makes the biggest impact on the work load,” he says. It mechanically reads and cuts to length, and it can take a whole skidder load and put it in one bundle. With its ability to cut 100 trees per hour, it speeds things up, and makes things safer for workers. Brad says there seemed to be a decline in the feller buncher’s popularity for a period, but it’s experiencing a new rise.
Meeting Challenges Head On
Jason says that equipment breakdowns can be a big problem, because you can’t easily pick up parts for repair, or have someone fix a piece of equipment. A machine breakdown can easily mean an entire day of work lost. It is important to know how to do one’s own repairs, in order to keep the operation running smoothly.
He is quick to say that the upsides in Alaska are numerous as well, including the lack of bureaucracy and the fact that the wood source is fairly inexpensive.
Another exciting event for the company was a grant awarded to them in 2005 by the Alaska Forest Service. This grant was a cost-share program in which the Forest Service contributed up to 40 percent of improvements and upgrades to kiln drying facilities. Kiln dried lumber is an important product, and having these kilns gives Alaska mills the opportunity to compete in markets they might not otherwise stand a chance in.
Companies were also required to have invested in a kiln and planer operation before they could apply. Recipients were chosen based on their project’s impact on dried lumber product, as well as the creation of jobs and overall value added to the industry. Cox states that the grant has helped their business immensely, giving them the opportunity for continued growth. The ability of Logging and Milling Associates to seek out new opportunities, as well as their desire to diversify, has brought them success in the industry, and the future appears to bode well. The days of draft horses might be long gone, but their dedication and work ethic are timeless.