Nov Dec, 2002






Harmon Logging Finds a Profitable Niche

By Kurt Glaeseman

When Dave Harmon says his operation is a small one, he means it. He has no yarder. His entire crew can fit into one pickup and clerical work is done out of his house. But Harmon Logging comfortably picks up small sales that no one else wants. Harmon recalls a particular job that was only five acres. “If I’m willing to do the paperwork,” says Harmon, “the extra effort often pays off in advertising. Someone else sees what we’ve done and they come to us. When we get a 600-acre job, it starts to average out.”

Harmon Logging is based in Keno, Ore., about 15 miles west of Klamath Falls. The area contains a number of private landowners with sustainable yield programs, so thinning and target harvesting can be almost continuous. Harmon’s certified for both Oregon and California work, and he doesn’t mind moving his operation across the state line.

That’s ideal for a logger with a good reputation, and Harmon finds himself doing a lot of repeat work for the same owners. Harmon’s equipment is carefully chosen for small jobs that require specific service and a degree of mobility. The CTR, or “poor man’s delimber,” as Harmon calls it, works well in conjunction with a 1996 Prentice 410DX shovel, on rubber rather than tracks. The fellerbuncher is a Timberjack 2618. Both are fed by a 1976 D6C10K CAT skidder and a D6D grapple CAT.

Dave Harmon loading logs with the Prentice shovel.

Harmon and right hand man Andy Stever share a division of labor: Harmon usually runs the CTR and Prentice shovel and Stever operates the Timberjack feller-buncher, with the two trading off on the grapple CAT and skidder. With a two- or three-man crew, it’s wise that each knows how to handle all the moving cogs...right down to the Stihl D44 Magnum chainsaws. Fifteen years ago Harmon got his toehold in niche logging. He backed out of a firewood cutting operation to do some salvage logging after a fire in the Lake of the Woods region. From there he started taking small jobs, working carefully to harvest plan specs, and guaranteeing himself steady work.

Now a good percentage of his work is with repeat customers — private landowners who have graduated harvest schedules. A typical job for Harmon is like his recent one for Whiskey Creek Timber, about forty miles east of Klamath Falls. Jim Dahm and Bob Megger, both foresters, own and manage 3,500 acres of timber in the Whiskey Creek drainage.

Their goal is an uneven age forest of Ponderosa pine with natural regeneration. Harmon worked on a 160-acre tract with different-aged trees ranging from seedlings to 150-year-old stock. The plan was to thin trees to even out this distribution. With too many trees per acre, harvesting is definitely beneficial for several reasons. It can even out the age distribution, so that in seven to ten years the owners can harvest again.

Unloading at Columbia Plywood in Klamath Falls: A-frame reaches over load, slides come under the logs, and the whole load is picked up, swung out gently, and lowered into the Klamath River.

Also, Ponderosa pines regenerate better if this kind of soil has been disturbed — a double-edged sword, since some of the new growth follows the skid trails. “Dave has been working for us over 10 years,” says Dahm. “He knows what we want as far as slash, skid trails, and overall care. You see very little scarring on the ‘leave’ trees, and he’s bought equipment to do the job that we want done. You might say he’s geared for small logs.” Indeed the bulk of the sale is 12- inch and smaller logs, so a load may have more than 80 sticks.

The Timberline stroke delimber in action.

That translates as 30 to 40 minutes in loading time, and of course the scaler has to be able to see every piece. When the load leaves, Harmon joins Stever in skidding logs in and slash out. The slash is spread on trails so that minerals and needle debris go back into the soil and smaller limbs return to help hold soil moisture. Currently there isn’t much of a market for the chip poles; sawmills seem to be producing enough “clean” chips and don’t need the rougher stuff from a job like this. But Harmon decks them, gambling that a market will open. Of the good stuff, the 12-inch and smaller logs go to Columbia Plywood in Klamath Falls, 43 miles away.

Dave Harmon, Knot-Bumper Extraordinaire

Bigger logs go to Fremont Sawmill in Lakeview, 76 miles away. Harmon remembers when loggers felt they couldn’t make any money if they had to haul logs 50 miles or more. “Now sometimes we think we are lucky if we only have to go 100 miles.” Harmon’s next job is across the line in California, on a private ranch near Montague and Little Shasta where the terrain is more rugged. On the narrow road in, lava shards lurk in four to five inches of powdery, abrasive dust.

Jim Dahm, Professional Forester and Part Owner of the Wiskey Creek tract.

Andy Stever, sawyer, CAT skinner and general operator.

Uphill approach must be slow to prevent rubber tires from being chewed to shreds. Most of the trees are Ponderosa pine, with a few Douglas fir and cedar thrown in. Parts of this tract have never been logged, so some of the big pine is over-ripe, showing some stump rot. Suddenly Harmon is into some BIG trees. His access to this job is another example of Harmon’s good reputation. Don Osterhowit, a Registered Professional Forester, has always liked Harmon’s work and encouraged him to bid the job.

The D6D Grapple CAT Skidder

The specs were clear —take down high-risk and overripe trees and leave the healthy stuff. This Non-Industrial Timber Management Plan calls for the retention of a minimum of eight 18-inchers per acre. Such a plan, meant to be renewable, could mold the forest for many years. Some of the big pine logs have to be skidded down and across a lava flow, and occasionally the terrain requires that logs be skidded uphill, a procedure that Harmon and Stever dislike — but at times there is no other choice. “It’s real hard on a machine,” says Stever, “and I’m always amazed to find out just how much pull that CAT’s got.”

The CATs get their workout both skidding and road building, and again Harmon demonstrates the need for versatility. Operators have to understand the fundamentals of making a roadbed as well as the safety requirements of skidding and processing on steep ground. Harmon jumps off the grapple CAT and does some log bumping on big wood, then gets in the Prentice shovel, runs some smaller logs through the CTR, and decks them in preparation for the arrival of the log truck. This time there will be a three-way sort. The big pine goes north to Boise Cascade in Medford, Ore.

The small pine goes south to Weed, Calif., and the fir goes west to Yreka, Calif. As always, Harmon has to be careful with the crew’s impact on riparian drainage and with strict adherence to the requirements of the harvest plan. Again, Harmon’s choice of equipment comes into play: “I’m really happy with the CTR. It breaks down very little, but it does limit volume production. It can’t produce as much as a stroke delimber, but then again you can get by with a smaller landing.”

Is Harmon optimistic about his role as niche logger? His track record is good — his bottom line has been black in 13 of the last 15 years. But he is very much aware that the cards can fall in a pretty unpredictable manner. A small operation could be vulnerable to the vagaries of machinery and legislation and the market and weather. A skillful player can use these same vagaries to his advantage. Fifteen years ago Harmon was willing to take a serious gamble...and it looks like he’s still on a winning streak.


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