May June, 2003





Growing in a Down Time

Joe Zender and Sons’ success is built on attention to detail, a great attitude and the right machinery for the job

By Diane Mettler

With timber prices down and the economy sluggish, it’s rare to hear about a logging outfit that’s experiencing growing pains. But Joe Zender and Sons of Deming, Wash., added its third side for Longview Fibre this past September. The Zender family has been logging since the early 1900’s. “We’ve been in it forever,” says Dean Zender, part owner and one of the two sons of Joe Zender and Sons. “I’m the fourth generation. And my son and my brother Doug’s son, make the fifth.” At one point two large Zender families were four companies strong. But over time some have retired, others have left the business, and today only Joe Zender and Sons and Zender Brothers & Wilburn Logging Corp. remain.

Taking On More For Longview Fibre
The growing pains started in 2001 while Joe Zender and Sons were logging for Crown Pacific. In August of that year Larry Mitchem, manager of the Longview Fibre Skagit Tree Farm, called and asked if the Zenders would be interested in taking a look at their tree farm. “I said no, we were as busy as we wanted to be,” says Dean. “But then after a few months of phone calls I went and spent a day hiking and driving around the 32,000-acre tree farm with Larry. In late 2001, we started a shovel side for Longview and three months later we signed a contract for a tower unit.”

The Zenders went back and finished up the unit for Crown and then with the encouragement from Larry, Joe Zender and Sons decided to go to work full-time for Longview. A year later they started up a second tower side. “The Longview Fibre tree farm has some of the best quality trees in the area, and Larry has his phone constantly ringing off the hook,” says Dean. “He usually has about 12 jobs permitted ahead, outside what we’re doing. He’s always well prepared so we can do what it takes to meet the market. It’s incredible what this one guy does.” So what was it about the Zender operation that made Larry so persistent? It was a combination of attitude, equipment and attention to detail.

Doug with the Risley-Cobra processor head mounted on the 892 John Deere

No Room For Hollering
Good attitude is a big part of Joe Zender and Sons’ philosophy. Ask long-time operator Jeff Apple what sets this company apart from the others, and he’ll tell you it’s the bosses. “They are the best ones I’ve worked for. They don’t ever yell at you. They are always in a good mood, it seems like,” says Jeff. “It’s stressful enough, the work that we do all day, and then you’ve got some guy riding you yelling at you.” “I try to keep an attitude like my grandpa’s,” says Dean. “When we first started in the woods, if you were a screamer you were down the road. So if a guy comes around that is a screamer or has a bad attitude, he’s usually weeded out real quick. We just don’t put up with it. My brother and I — we’ve never had an argument. Never. But Dean and Doug aren’t super human. Things happen on the job and it’s then that the brothers have to “walk the talk.” “Sometimes it’s hard not to say something. It’s just human nature that you do get upset,” says Dean. “I’ve learned not to just jump into it right then. Maybe talk about it a few hours later.”

Right Tool For the Right Job
Attitude is only one element of a superior company. To do a top-notch job for Longview also requires the right equipment and the Zender’s crew of 20 operates a variety of machinery at each site. On the small tower side, the company pulls about eight loads a day. The team handles the operation easily with its 071 Madill and 3400 Link-Belt log loader, as well as a 3400 Link-Belt with a Waratah 622 head. Doug Zender operates the big tower, where he and his people also pull out about eight loads a day using a TY90 Madill. The Zenders use their own 3400 Link-Belt log loader and then contract out their process work. About 12 loads a day come off the mechanical side.

Jeff operates the processor — with a Risley Cobra 24” control processor head mounted on an 892 John Deere excavator. He works along side Eugene Smathers on a 270 John Deere log loader. Zenders sub-contract out some of the work. Roger Wesson of Wesson Timber Services, brings in his feller-buncher and Bob Halverson is there with his D5H Grapple Cat. Jeff says he enjoys working the 892 Deere. “It’s bigger and more powerful and we can still cut down to 1.5 inches. I’ve run Link-Belts too and like them, but it really comes down to a matter of preference.” “It’s good to have the bigger machine sometimes,” says Dean. “You can grab something and do what you want with it, instead of trying to fight with it. And you’ve got to have good equipment. You don’t want something that’s going to miss a day here or a day there.”

The company owns three trucks of its own and the rest have to be scheduled, which is handled by Dean. “Sometimes there are 18 trucks on the jobs. That’s a lot of phoning at night,” he says. “It’s hard because some days you’ll rotate the trucks to get the most loads. And sometimes they’ll be on some other job in the morning, be on this job and then another job. So if you don’t coordinate them right you’ll have too many trucks on one job and not enough on another.”

Dean by the 270 John Deere Log Loader

Overseeing the operation
Larry is very particular about the harvesting that takes place on his tree farm. And Zenders attention to detail and focus on supervision has solidified the relationship between the two companies. “Larry definitely knows what he wants,” says Dean. “He feels strongly about having one of the owners on the job checking in a couple of times a day, to make sure things are being done right.” This quality control position has fallen on Dean, who rides to each site in the morning and afternoon with his dog Annie, a Chesapeake Bay retriever. Dean not only checks up on the sites, he also makes notes of things like soft spots in roads, and reports them to Larry.

A Few Good Men
Dean says he can see the value in his visits to the sites and extra supervision, especially now that he has a new crew who need direction. Some of the men have only been working in the woods four or five months. Just getting the crew together has been one of the company’s biggest challenges. Deans says that finding individuals who like the work and their job, and weren’t in it just for the money, was harder than expected. The Zenders started assembling the crew for the last side in 2002, and only now feel that the team has come together. “Everybody shows up and we’ve got a dependable crew who know what they’re doing and are concerned about what is going on out there,” says Dean. “But it took time. Today’s generation wants to play with computers. They all want to know when they’re going to get on a piece of equipment. The labor is hard, but on both towers we run motorized carriages. So the young guys just don’t know how easy they got it out there.”

In There For the Long Haul
But the Zenders are used to challenges — if it’s not a assembling crew, it’s constantly focusing on cutting costs and running a leaner, tighter operation. Challenges, they realize, are the one constant of the industry. “I’ve got a note pinned up that says, ‘Why do I do what I do?’” says Dean. “Some days you wonder, wouldn’t it be nice to just be an employee and go home at night and not be on the phone or deal with paperwork and other things. It’s a lot more work compared to what it used to be. But I really like doing what I’m doing.” And judging by the fact that Joe Zender and Sons is Longview Fibre’s Skagit Tree Farm’s sole contractor, it shows.

Pictured left is Larry Michen, Manager of the Longview Fibre Skagit Tree Farm and on the right is Eugene Smathers, operator of the 270 John Deere Log Loader.


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