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Mike Pihl Logging Inc. has to be flexible to handle the variety of jobs for private landowners

By Jeff Mullins

When Mike Pihl accepted a contract to clear a power line easement for Portland General Electric (PGE), he was fully aware that his Vernonia, Ore. company’s reputation for “doing things right” would be put to the test. Mike eagerly embraced the task of clearing a strip of land, only 125 feet wide and over 20 miles long, confident that his crews and equipment would not only satisfy PGE, but the fifty private land owners as well.

Sam Stone operates a Kobelco SK200 equipped with a Waratah HTH 622 single grip dangle head delimber, which quickly manufactures small stems removed to clear the power line access.

Exclusively serving private landowners, Mike Pihl Logging Inc. employs 35 people and operates a diverse range of equipment to harvest over 30 million board feet each year.

“When working with private landowners, each job is unique. It’s our goal to match the most competent operators and the very best equipment available today with each job to produce the best results,” Mike explains.

To meet diverse customer demands, Mike runs as many as five sides utilizing: a Timbco 455D feller-buncher; a Denharco 3500 stroke boom delimber mounted on a Kobelco 220; a Waratah HTH 622 single grip dangle delimber on a Kobelco 200 platform; and six other Kobelcos including a 120 shovel, a 150 trackhoe with a six-way blade, one 210 loader, two 250 loaders, and one 290 loader. Rounding out his ensemble is a Madill 3800 shovel, a Cat 527 with an angle cut blade, a Clark 667 fixed grapple skidder, and a Madill 071 yarder with an Acme sky car, for efficiently tackling any job. In addition, Mike runs seven Kenworth log trucks and one Ford dump truck.

Juggling the Jobs

Mike Pihl, holding daughter Jayda, standing with wife Lisa and daughter Lindsay in front of one of his log trucks.

Pihl Logging operates some equipment two shifts and Mike frequently works weekends to meet his customers’ schedules. He subcontracts services of another Timbco 455D from Mark Wilcox, and contracts a self-loading log truck and a 26” Mobark portable chipper, when needed.

Mike Pihl Logging grew from a humble beginning in 1978, when Mike began felling trees, setting chokers, and running equipment near his Banks, Ore., home. Before long, he found himself laboring long and hard in the woods near Sitka Alaska for Jerry Larrabee and Pat Soderberg.

“During that time, I saved every penny,” says Mike. “My boss even had to ask me to cash my checks so he could balance his books.”

Upon returning to Vernonia in 1982, Mike’s savings purchased a Skagit SJ5 yarder and he partnered with his twin brother Matt, as Pihl Brothers Logging for the next two years. After a partner change and equipment upgrades, Mike eventually incorporated as Mike Pihl Logging in 1986. Today Mike Pihl Logging owns and manages as many as 17 small parcels, totaling over 250 acres. Mike is also a partner in C & P Investments Inc., a land development company.

Creating a Happy Clientele

Bill Simmons uses a Clark 667 Grapple skidder to yard logs to a central location for processing.

The power line easement project showcases the breadth of capabilities that Mike Pihl is able to offer private landowners, and testifies to the care and sensitivity upon which his solid reputation is built.

Tucker Williamson, Pihl’s forester, oversaw the easement job. “To clear the easement we are working on property that some owners released reluctantly, at best. We start off with a strike against us and have to earn the favor of the land owner.” Mike adds, “Each property is different and Tucker selects the men and equipment that not only get the job done, but also will leave the property the best way possible for the land owner. We may not be able to make the people totally happy, but we certainly strive to make them happy with how their land is treated.”

Where possible, the Timbco feller-buncher is used because, as operator Mike Thompson says, “This machine gives positive control of every stem. We work within 65 feet of an existing 230 KV line and we cannot have any doubt about where trees over 100 feet tall will go. Also, since no trees can be left as buffers for streams under a power line, with the feller-buncher we can reach into the riparian zone, snatch the tree and place it away from the stream without disturbing the ground near the stream.”

Mike chuckles adding, “I like running the Timbco because it allows one fat man to do a whole lot of work very fast without breaking a sweat.”

Tucker adds, “This is not just logging, sometimes it is more a brush clearing job. In some areas, the feller-buncher functions more like a giant “weed-eater” and efficiently ‘whacks the pucker-brush.’”

“Bunched”, full-length trees are yarded to a central location by either the Clark 667 grapple skidder or the 527 Cat where they are stacked. When required by the terrain, stems are forwarded with one of the Kobelco shovels. Trees with diameters between 3 and 24 inches are de-limbed and cut to length by the Waratah HTH 622 and stacked for transport by one of Pihl’s trucks. Nothing goes to waste. Slash is piled to
be burned.

Taking Care of the Drivers

Mike Thompson on a Timbco 455D feller-buncher. It has a Timbco head with a 33” bar capable of handling upto 28” logs easily.

It may seem like a little thing, and it does cost more, but to help “keep people happy”, Mike Pihl pays his truck drivers by the hour, rather than by the load or percentage. Mike reasons, “I tell the drivers to take their time, be courteous on the road, and by all means, when going by a home on a dusty road, slow down. Such attention to detail may go unnoticed, but one can be sure that neglecting it would create more than a dust storm, and that would be bad for business.”

Everyone, including Mike’s wife Lisa and his adult daughter Lindsay, who both work in the Pihl Logging office agree that Mike is a people pleaser. Lisa says not only does Mike do things right, but he really loves what he does. Mike concedes this but adds, “We have been doing this for 20 years. We plan to be doing it in another twenty years and we are going to do it right. In a small community like Vernonia, reputation is very important.”

Marketing Proactively

A mini “logging museum” is on display outside of the Pihl Logging office including this wheeled yarder.

Although his reputation precedes him, and approximately 80 percent of the company’s annual business comes unsolicited, Mike also actively pursues work for his company. He explains, “I do a lot of studying and research. I know the land around here, who owns it, and its history. I knock on doors of prospective customers and I write letters to absentee land owners.” Mike’s efforts pay off with securing as much as 20 percent of the company’s business, and sometimes result in acquisition of property for the company.

Mike summarizes the PGE power line easement job saying, “That job in some ways is unique, but in other ways, it is just typical of what we do every day. The best equipment is selected for each project and highly skilled operators and employees do whatever is needed. The easement job was merely 50 jobs linked together in a single chain. The caution used around the existing high voltage line, is the same care used each day, and on every job, by my guys.”


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This page was last updated on Tuesday, April 17, 2007