Far West Forest Products, Inc.
uses Wood-Mizer to find new venues
By Kurt Glaeseman
decreased access to national forests and increased environmental restrictions,
western loggers are forced to explore new venues. Jim Evans, of Sheridan,
California, has developed one that is both satisfying and profitable. The jewel
of his machinery is the highly portable Model LT 40 Super Wood-Mizer sawmill,
which Evans claims pays for itself over and over. Most of the work is done in
Evans’ yard, but because it is so portable, he can have the mill ready to roll
by pickup in 15 minutes. This gives Evans the option of working one of his own
distant projects or doing contract work for someone else. He charges a minimum
of $500 if he hauls the mill to someone else’s job, and there are plenty of
takers—usually from someone with a hobby or pet project, but often from a
landowner who wants his own home-grown timber milled into lumber and used on the
spot. “I am completely pleased with this operation,” says Evans. “One guy can
manage one of these and make a decent living.”
Daughter Jennifer takes
a turn on the crew along with sons Cody and Jason Evans.
No junk wood
Evans is widely known as a
source for milled California hardwoods, a resource he feels is vastly
under-appreciated. “When folks came west,” he claims, “there was such an
abundance of pine, fir and cedar that no one took the time to seriously
consider the local hardwoods. That’s not true anymore.” The public is getting
educated, and specialists have come to value the strength, variable color and
rich grain in species like the black locust, sycamore, western black walnut,
mulberry, and even Chinese elm. Evans can often get good material from tree
services that have to find a place to dump logs too big to run through the
chipper. “There is no such thing as junk wood—there’s a use for anything locally grown,” claims
Evans. He points to some native cottonwood: “Excellent for saddle wood, with its
high strength and low weight. There’s nothing I won’t mill.” The LT 40 can cut
to a one-inch board, so 2x4’s, 2x6’s and 4x4’s present no problem at all. A
demand has developed for an octagon cut, used for arbors and gazebos and
Faithful workhorse - the
John Deere 644D loader.
Evans starts with a 5-inch pole, squares it off, and he
has a good-looking piece of specialized dimension lumber, currently in high
demand. He has learned to utilize small wood thinned from Forest Service
contracts, wood that is often a mixture of soft and hardwoods. These range in dbh size from five to 18 inches and may include Ponderosa and Jeffrey pine;
white, red and Doug fir; tan, live and blue oak; ash and madrone. Evans first
tries for 6x4’s and 4x4’s, but when that isn’t possible he can still salvage
less profitable 2x4’s, all of which might go to mom-and-pop operations or a
hardware store or chicken ranches. Big wood is a special bonus, and Evans stays
alert for culls that were overlooked by previous logging operations: “I’ve never
been on a logging job yet that I haven’t found some monster log cull that has a
lot of possibilities. I find them buried down in leaf mold, and I bring them
home and mill them. I’ve gotten some 24-inch boards from black walnut and
cedar.” His mill can cut up to a 28-inch log, and if it is shorter than the
regular sawmill would want, he can still find a market.
Evans admits to a life-long
fascination with some of the under-utilized species, and the conversation
returns to some of his favorites: “Black oak is great for flooring, but you have
to work around bends and crinks. Black walnut is always desirable for furniture.
Willow has no strength but it is a pretty wood. Sycamore has beautiful wood, a
bit heavy, like oak, but I had an order for a full boxcar from Winch-ester—for
gunstock wood.” According to Evans, pioneers from the Midwest brought with them
three amazingly versatile trees—the mulberry, black locust and osage orange.
They were all good for durable fence posts but could also substitute for pistol
grips, gunstocks, bows, furniture and flooring. The sturdy black locust was
often used as wagon hubs and spokes. Because it has a unique natural oil, it
doesn’t dry out and shrink and cause problems with variable weather conditions.
Evans’ biggest order for black locust was designated for decks and flooring on
ocean-bound ships. Evans’ operation is very much fam-ily-oriented. Sheridan is
about 45 minutes northeast of Sacramento, in the foothills yet close to a
metropolitan center. Demand for specialty wood and a need for skilled
contractors keep Jim and his contractor-licensed sons Cody and Jason more than
busy. The Evans Brothers Construction Company is currently doing a small housing
development, and they have a booming firewood sideline; in fact, Jim helped
design and build the first cello wrap for firewood in 1981. “You know the
California economy,” laughs Jim. “We’ve got to stay busy to pay the rent. In
California it takes $11.15 to make $10!” Although Evans claims the sawmill
speaks for itself, his skillful use and helpful explanations sold several mills,
and Wood-Mizer offered him a dealership. Jim and at least one other family
member set up the mill for demonstrations at public events, like the Sierra
Pacific Logging Show in Anderson, where interest was very high.
Jim Evans with a big
Chinese elm log.
He’s had the
much bigger Model LT 300 on display in his yard, and Glen Heiner, Wood-Mizer
sales rep from Portland, helps set up demo runs. The 300 system wows the
audience. It is equipped with a large cutting head and a fast hydraulic package.
It is fully automated, computerized, and joystick controlled. It can handle a
19’ 6” long log with a 36” diameter. For the opening cut a laser shines a line
and locks that reference. It cuts off a slab of bark, which is fed by conveyor
to a transfer deck. The operator sits up high, with a good view of the system
and of what is being cut. Three people can handle the entire operation.
Evans admits he has come a long
way from his early days when he helped his dad in the woods south of Eureka. By
age 14 he was working in a sawmill, but his family moved around a lot, and jobs
were catch-as-catch-can. After high school he married, and started cutting
firewood and hauling cedar logs down for fence posts. Several accidents kept him
temporarily on the brink of survival. Son Jason was nailed by a rattlesnake as
they worked on a project. Jim himself spent 24 days in the hospital when a load
of burls collapsed on him and sheared off his left hand. Attached only by a
ligament, the hand was sewn back on and the arm immobilized in a cast. Evans
knew he had to get back to work to pay the bills, so he cut the cast at the
elbow and tied the hand to a chainsaw with a piece of inner tube. Today he still
has somewhat modified use of the hand. He credits the vibration of the chainsaw
for helping with blood circulation and general healing. The Evans’ family
fortune took an upswing, and Jim began acquiring the machinery that makes his
business viable today.
Jim Evans is completely
sold on his smaller LT-40.
In addition to the Wood-Mizer LT 40, he has picked up
necessaries like a Caterpillar D9, pickups, a Kenworth and a Mack, a 644 D John
Deere log loader, a 1450 Case skidder, and a 540B John Deere line skidder with over 30 thousand hours.
He likes to keep his off-site work within an hour-and-a-half radius of Sheridan
so that he can spend his nights at home. Always innovative, Evans enjoys
figuring out solutions to problems. When the Army Corps of Engineers despaired
at the cost of design and construction of a 110-foot bridge on the Alioto Ranch,
Evans did a little figuring. Using a Cat D9, local sugar pine, and about a
hundred dollars’ worth of spikes and waste wood, Jim and his sons had the bridge
built in six days. “Waste nothing, and figure things out first,” advises Evans.
With gasoline prices up, it is often more cost-effective to move the portable
mill to the source, rather than truck the logs back to Sheridan. This eliminates
the hauling of less valuable bark and slash, some wear and tear on the big
trucks, and a glut at the home yard. “At the price of fuel,” says Cody, “this is
a big savings.” Awareness of details like this keep the Evans family going
strong. “It’s a strange business,” muses Evans. “Most of my logs I get for free.
Someone needs to get rid of them, and I get paid to take them out. I can use
other people’s junk wood and short logs. And I see some beautiful and unusual
lumber.” Strange business? Maybe.
But insight and innovation, appreciation and
determination, and an awful lot of hard work all have contributed to the success
of Evans’ Far West Forest Products, Inc.
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