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Bower Logging relies on flexibility to handle changes in the industry

By Jeff Mullins

Jim Bower asserts that, though obstacles exist, the future looks bright for the logging industry. “I’ve been doing this for 45 years and seen a lot of changes,” he says. “But as long as trees still grow and people need wood products, there will be plenty of work for loggers who are flexible, versatile, and plan ahead.”

Jim Bower on high track DH4 Grapple cat pulling turns; Monty Bower processing logs with Kobelco 300 shovel and CTR processor.


Going With the Flow

Most agree that a half century of dramatic changes in harvesting timber has been difficult for some operations and devastating for others. Pressures from environmental groups, legislation, public perception, labor shortages, and changing technology present formidable challenges to logging operators who want to just keep logging.

But Jim takes the changes in stride: “Although the goal of merchandising wood has not changed, the acceptable means and methods of getting the fiber from the stump to the mill is a moving target. Flexibility is essential to continuous profitably in getting the job done.” Since the early ‘60s he has observed cycles in acceptable equipment and harvesting practices. “There was a push for wide track machines, and then wheeled skidders were the craze,” he says. “But compaction concerns have us back to track mounted shovels doing much of the logging.”

While skeptical about the value of some of the imposed constraints, he contends that complying with requirements is not optional, and that being willing to change with the tide is essential to remaining competitive for the long run. For Bower, this has meant not only changing equipment, but also shifting overall operating methods from buying timber, sales, to contracting, and back to primarily buying timber again. “I love logging but I am not married to one methodology or equipment type,” he says. “I see myself as providing a service and I do what it takes to do that profitably.”

Eric Bower on 220 Kobelco, Wally Apple on Skagit BU84 tower, pulling turns with Boman Carriage, Jim Sisson and Chuck Phaff processing under tower, Dale Graham directing operation.


Versatility Opens More Doors

Jim partners with his two sons, Monty and Eric, to produce 8 to 12 MMBF of fiber annually on two sides and with seven employees. Although they have a preference for thinning with their Madill 071 tower and Eagle carriage, they clear cut with a Skagit BU84 slack line as well. They are also equipped to run shovel sides, ground operations, and even draft horses. Jim states that being able to efficiently harvest stems, in as many ways possible, keeps his company competitive and on the job. “I’ve logged in every way but with helicopters and balloons.”

Jim got his first draft horses as a teenager to pull in four-foot pulp wood after school and during the summer as he worked at his father’s side. He says, “When thinning with horses was popular, I stayed very busy. People paid more for horse logging because some think it is more environmentally sensitive.” He admits his small John Deere 350 dozer with a blade and logging arch produces the same results but lacks the sentiment.


On Site

When TimberWest visited, Bower was harvesting 55 acres near Spencer Creek, south of Quilcene, Wash., operating ground and tower sides. Perched high on a rock bluff, the 90 foot Skagit tower pulled turns with a Boman carriage. On the landing Eric Bower secured stems with a Kobelco 210 shovel and positioned them at the base of the tower for processing by two chasers.

“A fire destroyed our processor and we are anticipating our new Log Max processor on a Kobelco 250 high walker to be on site. The trees were felled for full-length processing on the landing, so we are processing by hand until the new machine is delivered,” explains Jim. He estimates the processor increases production three fold.

Logs are sorted on the landing into as many as 17 different decks to optimize potential value and proceeds. And the Kobelco 210, equipped with a single drum, adds more versatility for “tower logging.”

Bower on the job using a Skagit BU84 tower, Boman Carriage, Kobelco 210 shovel.


Making Good Use of Machinery

Jim points out that the second growth patch of timber has few adequate stumps or trees for anchoring either on the landing or tail holds. On the landing, 24 foot long “dead man” logs are buried six or more feet deep and serve as anchors and Bower’s Kobelco 220 shovel serves as a mobile tail hold after being carefully aligned and “digging in” the shovel’s heel.

On the gentler slopes, Jim pulls turns with a D4H grapple cat to within the reach of his son Monty on a Kobelco 300 shovel, used in conjunction with a diesel powered CTR stationary processor equipped with a bucking saw, topping saw, measuring rack, and delimbing knives. The CTR was brought out of “moth balls” while awaiting the new dangle head, and Jim says that it is faster than hand processing and is “bullet proof.” Since it is radio controlled by the shovel operator, there is no additional L & I insurance needed for another operator. “We have put out 12 loads a day with the CTR when a second shovel loaded trucks,” he says.

Both Monty and Eric own 2005 Kenworth trucks and hire drivers to haul logs to the mills, alleviating dependence on contract trucking.

For increased versatility, their Kobelco 250 can swap out the processor for a grapple and the 220 shovel can support either grapple or excavator buckets used for burying “dead man” logs or road building, for which a D6C Cat is also used.


Planning for Success

Jim is always looking ahead, trying to anticipate what needs to be done to stay competitive. “I evaluate our daily activities, our equipment mix, and our methods of doing business,” he says. Jim also tries to plan for a whole year, such as anticipating a “crunch time,” where he might have to delay capital expenses. Over the years, he has seen many operators close down because gross income wasn’t balanced against operating expenses.

With a tendency toward being conservative, Jim chooses to be innovative rather than always buying the newest equipment. He is not shy about learning from others and sometimes visits their operations.

Bower chooses equipment that has proved reliable and has good support, and regular planned maintenance minimizes down time. “Having four shovels from the same manufacturer simplifies stocking filters, hoses, and spare parts,” he says. And he also researches and plans where to send logs to get the best prices.


A Bright Future

In the near future, Jim anticipates turning over the leadership of Bower Logging to his two sons, but he expects to keep logging until the day he dies. He says that he looks forward to their longevity in logging among many successful operators who willingly flex with the times, employ a versatile mix of equipment, and practice innovative planning.



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This page was last updated on Wednesday, April 25, 2007