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Equipment = Productivity
Because Brian Miller Logging is made up of loggers, not mechanics, the company keeps up with current equipment, including the Pacific Northwest’s first LogMax 10000XT  

Brian Miller Logging is the first company in the Pacific Northwest to purchase the new LogMax 10000XT processing head. Miller says its ideal for the variety of jobs he takes on.

By Bob Bruce  

The first thing Brian Miller makes clear is that he is a logger. In other words, his job is to get his guys and his equipment out into the brush and process timber as safely and efficiently as possible.

Being a small operation, Brian does not have the time, the resources, or the interest to perform any sort of extensive maintenance on his heavy equipment.

As he points out, when he’s working a contract for Weyerhaeuser, he’s got deadlines and quotas, so he can’t afford to pull his guys off a side to become fillin grease monkeys, nor can he afford to have them standing around while a field mechanic drives down from Seattle and then has to wait for parts to arrive from a warehouse in Sandusky, Ohio.

Working Under Real World Conditions
Like a lot of successful loggers, Brian isn’t impressed so much by how many new bells and whistles a piece of equipment has on it, as much as he is concerned with whether it will make him more productive, will it operate reliably under real-world conditions, and if it does have a breakdown, can it be repaired relatively easily with readilyavailable parts.

That’s why Brian Miller Logging — a small, under the radar type of operation –— became the first company in the Pacific Northwest to own the new next-generation LogMax 10000XT processor head; not because it’s a monster piece of machinery that makes trees quake in fear, but because it’s flexible enough to handle the various types of jobs he runs into, it’s built to last, and he gets great local product support.

Seasoned Logger
Brian got started setting chokers back in 1979, working for his uncle at R&W Logging out of Sweethome. His uncle was killed in 1987, but Brian stayed with the company, tending hook mostly, until about 1989 when the mill shut down. After that, he kind of bounced around doing falling and tending hook in the Sweethome area until 1992.

“In 1992, the second growth went through the ceiling,” says Brian. “The market came up, and everybody that had two trees in their backyard was logging them. That’s when I went out on my own.”

He started with a JD 350 Cat, a ramp truck, and a chain saw, primarily working farmer patches and small private jobs in the Sweethome area. Business was good for about four years. He was working for Springfield Forest Products at the time and had just bought a new shovel. When things turned down again in 1996, he had to sell the shovel because he couldn’t afford to make payments on it while it was sitting around not making him any money.

Three weeks after he sold the shovel, he picked up another job, so he went out and bought another shovel to replace the one he’d just sold. “Willamette Industries needed a salvage logger, so I ended up doing thinning and blowdown salvage logging for them for about five years. I used a little D5 grapple Cat for those jobs because I could work around the tight stands – we’d also take all the garbage out, all the dead and dying or mistletoe trees, anything that was defective.”

Dealing with the Big Ups and Downs
And then, of course, Weyerhaeuser bought Willamette. “The business faltered for about six months,” he says. “I had everything parked in the yard. Eventually, we got work doing rights of ways and then got on full time with Weyerhaeuser about three years ago.” But even a long-term contract doesn’t always translate into steady work. “Last year, we were real busy outside, but then the market started falling, so I sold a shovel and a processor and just sort of kicked back.” Very soon, however, Brian is scheduled to begin a big job on more difficult terrain, so he will picking up a yarder.

Brian (on right) and Frank Updegrave stand in front of the CAT 322C. Owner Brian Miller prefers to hire operators, not mechanics, so he trades machines around the 7-8,000 miles.

Buying and Selling
If it sounds like he buys and sells a lot of equipment, that’s because he does.

 “It’s constant change,” he says. “You have to go with it or quit. With that shovel and processor we sold, it was because we pretty much wore it out. We got the use out of it and then things changed.”

 Brian adds, “I run the machines until a certain point that I feel you can’t afford to run them anymore. We can get some severe breakdowns — you get around 7-8,000 hours on them, and then I try to trade them in. It means my payment load is heavy, but my guys are driving so far from home — about 90 miles each way — five days a week, and we’re not here to be mechanics. We need to be able to just come to work and do the job.”

Currently Brian has an ‘06 Kobelco 290 shovel loader with a forestry cab, OSHA compliant; an ’06 Cat 322C with forestry cab; an ’08 Kobelco 295 with the LogMax 10000XT processor head; a JD 648 G3 skidder; a D5XL grapple Cat; and an ’01 Kenworth log truck.

Tossing the Dice
“It’s a gamble,” he says. “This is nothing different than going to Las Vegas. Basically you’re sticking your neck out there, a million dollars in the hole, but it’s never going to change — it’s always been this way. My grandpa started out in 1937. I’ve got pictures of him in his log truck. My other grandpa ran a road crew — he built the coast highway and Santiam Pass. My grandpa told me he’d bought brand new trucks and then sat for six months with no work in the ‘50s. It goes in cycles.”

Tough and Flexible
One of the reasons he chose the Kobelco/LogMax solution is that he figures it’s tough enough and versatile enough to help keep him working even if the industry happens to go through another one of its inevitable bumps or downturns.

“The 295 is a completely different machine. It’s got an Italian motor with improved cooling and is very fuel efficient, which is important. My other 290 is a Jewell package, while the 295 is a Pierce.”

The processor is Brian’s third LogMax. “The 10000XT will handle up to about a 34-inch log and that would be pretty much anything we would cut. It’s a prototype head, and so far it is working very well. We’re in this rough garbage; noble fir, mistletoe hemlock — you run into huge gnarls — and this head will just pull them through and clean them up.”

Because Brian and his crew simply don’t have the time to be repairing equipment in the field, the reliability of the processor is particularly important.

“This is our only processor, and when it’s your main machine it needs to be reliable. The last one I bought had a new head and a used carrier — I ran it for about two and a half years and the carrier failed. We can’t afford that.”