January February 2005




All the Right Moves

Jack Clayton

When Paul Wampler began logging for Pelican Bay Lumber Company near Klamath Falls, Ore. in 1915, he had no idea he was laying the foundation for a future that would include establishing one of the Pacific Northwest’s longestlived, and most respected, harvesting companies. Paul’s personal ethic regarding the business of harvesting lives on today as Paul and Robert Wampler, Inc. — the company he founded in partnership with his son Bob in 1952. And Paul’s son, grandsons and great grandson continue to harvest the forests of central and eastern Oregon for clients large and small.

After over 50 years, Wampler success can be credited to crews, equipment, good leadership and a strong sense of ethics.

Strong Principles
Bob remembers his father as a man who loved the woods and believed in treading gently on the land. He says they established a company philosophy, “Do things well and do what’s right.” In 2005 Mike Wampler, Bob’s son and part of the third generation of Wamplers to manage the firm, remembers the same lessons taught to him by his own dad who, he says, in the middle 1970s demonstrated his seriousness about the company ethic in walking away from the firm’s biggest customers in order to do the right thing. “In those days, some of the major timber owners began to clear cut here in Klamath Falls and my dad didn’t believe in that,” says Mike. “He struck out on his own, finding whatever work he could to keep the company going.” That independence paid off, leading the company into mechanized harvest at a time when the technology was just coming to the fore in the North American forest. Today, 30-plus years of experience in mechanized harvesting has put Paul and Robert Wampler Inc. at the cutting edge of the “new” forest products industry as the firm harvests to improve forest health, reduce the potential for catastrophic fire and disease, and recover material from the harvests that would have been, in decades past, discarded as waste.

Mike and Bob Wampler are two generations of a four-generation company business. More and more their jobs center around treating fire prone forests.

Horses to High Tech
Paul Wampler, who logged with horses through the ‘20s and ‘30s, would be astonished at the equipment his family operates today on its three sides. While the mix may vary, Timbco 425 harvesters are the core machines on each side with John Deere or Link-Belt platforms configured for Pierce Deliminators or as loaders processing logs delivered to the landings by Cat skidders. A combination of six, company owned and operated, Kenworth trucks and a variety of private haulers transport products from forest to market. A core crew of 28 are kept working as the firm goes about its business. Mike and his brother Scott generally work in the woods, managing the operation and operating machinery. A third brother, Joe, acts as the chief mechanic. Mike’s son, Josh, is also in the woods, usually running a delimber. And Robert, who claims to be semi-retired, is there every day. “He’s there lending a hand when needed or providing valuable advice when it comes to equipment or the operation of the firm,” says Mike with a laugh.

Working with Timbco
It’s no accident that Timbco 425s are a core element of Wampler’s machinery mix. According to Mike, the company purchased its first Timbco in 1991 in reaction to Forest Service and private landowner desires that selective harvests and thinnings be accomplished using boom machines designed to minimize ground compaction. The Timbcos worked out so well for Wampler that, Mike says, “We’ve bought four of them since we put the first one to work.” While other machines are capable of providing some of the same attributes the Timbco units bring to the table, Mike says the Timbco 425s his firm runs today provide the whole package, combining the quickness, capacity, and control that, in the hands of an experienced operator, “allows for the production rates we have to have while still providing the fine control needed to assure damage to residual trees is kept to a minimum.”

Keeping that damage to a minimum is, he points out, absolutely critical: “The quality of the job we do today determines the health of the forest and the value of the trees harvested decades from now. By doing a great job today we’re preserving and improving the forest of the future for generations to come.” Because the company does thinnings and environmentally sensitive selective harvests, most of the stems taken out of the woods are small. Despite that, the company still manages to harvest 12 to 15 million board feet of logs as well as thousands of tons of fiber destined to be chipped or ground for use in cogeneration plants each year. Managing an environmentally sensitive operation for profitability is a challenge, one made possible by the quality of the people his firm employs. Pointing to men like Larry Mortenson, operator of one of Wampler Inc.’s Timbcos, as an example of the best the industry has to offer, Mike says, “Without guys like this, we simply couldn’t stay in business.” Keeping the experienced crews and maintaining the state-of–the-art equipment mix necessary to achieve a quality harvest requires finding ways to operate year-round, to be sensitive to environmental necessities and to keep production rates as high as possible. The reduced ground compaction, reach, and speed provide by the Timbcos are an important year-round part of that effort.

Operator Larry Mortenson next to the Risley Rotosaw V1923B cutting head.

Despite the small wood from thinnings, the company harvets 12 to 15 million board feet annually, in addition to thousands of tons of fiber.

Avoiding Fire
The special challenge in the interior forests of the West, forests like those Wampler contracts to treat, is fire. “Avoiding the potential for fire is a very high priority for us as well as for the landowners who employ us,” Mike says. “One of the ways we’ve found to address that issue is to purchase and use Risley’s Rotosaw intermittent saw heads.” Intermittent harvesting heads — the saws that rotate only when triggered by an operator — have been around for years. In areas of the country with high ambient temperatures and, thus, dry and volatile fuel loads in the forests, they provide for significant advantages over hot saws — saw heads in which the cutting blade is always turning at cutting speeds.

The problem that arises with some hot saws is that they are not only hot in the sense of always being up to cutting speed, they are also “hot” because, as they run, bits and pieces of wood can be superheated, emitted, and fall to the forest floor with the potential to start a fire. Hot saws are also prone to producing sparks as rocks and other debris are nicked while the blade is swung low to the ground from one stem to another. In Oregon, as in some other states, hot saws are not allowed in the woods during much of the fire season unless an observer is employed to follow along behind the saw, putting out small fires. Beyond that, some landowners will not allow them at all during the fire season.

On the other hand, hot saws in a production environment can hold the advantage of speed. Because the saw is always rotating they’ve traditionally provided greater production rates than intermittents have been able to yield. According to Mike, Risley has narrowed much of that traditional gap with its Rotosaw V1923B cutting head: “They’ve improved the hydraulics to the point where the Rotosaw, run by someone like Larry Mortensen, can be nearly as fast as the hot saws we also run.” That means the company can maintain good levels of production with the new saw head; run a smaller crew than would be otherwise necessary; cut in some timber where the landowner won’t allow a hot saw; and experience less wear and tear on the carrier’s hydraulic system. “We think we’re even seeing savings in fuel consumption as the result of the reduced blade run time,” says Mike, adding that the Risley unit provides a valuable option in the woods, improving his ability to manage for profitable operation by allowing him to select the best saw for the job as he plans a harvest. If 50-plus years of operation has taught the company anything, it’s that things are always changing in the logging industry and companies have to be willing to adjust as new approaches are required to solve old problems.

Some things, though, never change. Paul and Robert Wampler Inc., in 2005, still retains its founding ethic. Doing things well and doing what’s right are still words to live by.


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This page was last updated on Wednesday, March 23, 2005