March April, 2003





Evolution of a Logger

Richard Van Damme Moves from the Woods into Acme Manufacturing

By Morley Young

Richard Van Damme first went into the woods when he was a boy. One of his early jobs was to help his father cut shake bolts out of the devastation of the Tillamook burn. "You could get up on top of those mountains in those days, and see Forest Grove to the east, and Tillamook Basin to the west," he recalls. "You look at it today, and all you can see are trees. Good-sized ones, too."  After he graduated from high school, Richard followed in his father’s footsteps with a job in the woods. He started out by setting chokers for Barton Logging. "It was the first time I’d ever seen a tower in my life," he says.

Career in the Woods
After Richard married Judy Bryant in 1969, he took some time off from logging. But it turned out that Richard had an affliction fairly common among loggers. He calls it “sawdust in the veins”. The woods kept calling him; after two years of trying to ignore the call, he could resist no longer. The years sped by, and Richard became a contract logger. For a while he was in a partnership with his brother. When that partnership ended, he came to Lane County and struck out on his own. Eventually his sons Tim and Wayne joined him in the woods. He says he has always specialized in the more difficult jobs: long reaches, things that the other contract loggers either didn’t want to do, or couldn’t do as well. Despite the challenges this type of logging presented, Richard is proud to claim no serious injuries on any of his crews.

Robbie Gray spot welding the shell of a new Acme carriage.

Shift to Machinery
"If you’re going to compete, you’ve got to stay ahead of technology," he says. In an effort to get improved carriages, Richard and his sons began cooperating with Jim Carlisle, who was developing a new carriage. From then on, Richard says, things just seemed to fall in place. "I wanted to retire from logging, and one day Jim says ‘Why don’t you buy this carriage company from me, and I’ll retire instead?’" When Richard told his sons about his retirement plans, they wanted to go into business for themselves — working in the woods. Richard had a better idea and he made them an offer they couldn’t refuse. He’d finance them to buy Acme Manufacturing on the condition that they run it. He’d be happy just being the gofer. "I’d had enough time running things, taking all the responsibility," he says. "I was getting burned out." A family of loggers and a logging equipment manufacturer was a marriage made in heaven. They knew what they’d like to see in a carriage, and they set out to make the improvements. That was seven years ago, and they haven’t stopped since. Today they have 10 different models, ranging in size from 700 pounds to 3,100 pounds. They also handle various rigging attachments of their own design, and they’re the Oregon representatives for the radio controlled choker bell, which is manufactured by Johnson Industries of Richmond, B.C.

The Jonson radio controlled choker bell.

Improving on the Choker Bell
The choker bell is one of those inventions truly ahead of its time. The concept was great — when it worked; it took a man off a dangerous job on the landing and increased production. With the radio controlled choker bell, the yarder operator has a panel of numbered buttons in his cab. Each button corresponds to a numbered choker bell. When he’s ready to release the logs, he simply pushes a button. He can cold deck logs as high as he wants, without worrying about the chaser scrambling around in the tricky footing of the deck. A dangerous job, one that usually wears out a man’s knees by the time he’s in his early forties, was eliminated. There was just one problem: The bells broke down constantly, they had to have a technician handy to repair them, and they were big and clumsy. Richard, his sons, and Tim Wozich (cover story, TimberWest, December 2001) never gave up, though. Tim could see their potential, not only in safety, but also in a new style of production. When electronics became miniaturized enough to get the choker bells down to a more manageable size, and lithium batteries made their debut on the civilian market, the radio controlled bell was finally feasible. The new electronics are sturdier now, and breakdowns are a rarity. Tim now runs two landings to a side, with a processor and a loader alternating between the yarders. The processor does a good part of the chaser’s job, and the new choker bells do the rest. Now that there’s no chaser to get in the way and get hurt, the yarder operator’s life is a lot less stressful, production is higher and insurance costs are lower. Richard says that as loggers see the benefits of the new style of logging, the new bells are steadily catching on. When safety and increased production go hand in hand, it’s a natural. Dick Renoud, logger and Acme Manufacturing customer says he’s happy to see some real loggers in the logging equipment business. "You can talk to these people," he says. "Those blacksmiths, they can’t build anything unless they’ve got a blueprint right there in front of them. These fellas know what you’re talking about. They’ve been there."

Left to right:Wayne, Richard, and Tim Van Damme

Future Equipment
Richard anticipates a great increase in the new style of logging in the near future. There will be more small trees taken from thinning operations, and this will mean a need for lighter equipment. Acme is busily developing a compact, 700-pound carriage to meet the needs of this style of logging. Like all of its carriages, Acme’s new lightweight version is hydraulically driven and powered by a Lamborghini diesel engine. Richard says that more and more carriage manufacturers are switching over to the hydraulic motor. According to him, there’s less wear and tear and it’s lighter and more dependable. "No machine is perfect," he says, "but we think ours is just about the best on the market, and we’re always thinking of ways to make them better." In the meantime, Richard is happy in his job as the company gofer. He not only gets to go out in the woods and visit with his old friends, but sometimes he gets on a plane, flies across the country, and meets some new people. "I’m having a ball," he says. Nice work if you can get it.


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This page was last updated on Tuesday, September 28, 2004