DOING ONE THING RIGHT
LBA Contract Cutting, Inc. focuses on felling timber — 500,000 board feet a day
By Jeff Mullins
As Brian Arriola breaks the crest of the ridge, he points and says, “Darrin Huntley is doing a great job down there,” referring to the operator of the Tigercat 870 feller buncher, a yellow speck perhaps two miles away.
In the foreground, downed trees lie in symmetrical rows where grouped stems accent the landscape like lines in a parking lot. Beyond the yellow speck, trees stand straight and tall. A small patch of standing timber juts from the center of the clearcut where perhaps a small streamtrickles, or the ground is especially soft.
A Focus on Felling
While many today trumpet the necessity of diversification for success in logging operations, LBA Contract Cutting, Inc, of Coquille, Ore. is demonstrating that doing one thing very well can also put a company on good footing. For Brian Arriola and Bill Looney — partners who founded LBA in 1999 with the purchase of a used bar sawequipped Timbco 455 feller buncher — that one thing is felling timber.
Today, LBA’s four feller bunchers, augmented by sub-contracted hand fellers, lay down, on average, about a half million board feet a day. They contract timber falling only for clear-cut operations, and almost exclusively for large commercial timber companies, such as Weyerhaeuser, Green Diamond, and Plum Creek. Brian says, “We are willing to work for smaller outfits, but right now this is where our work is.”
Optimal Machinery for Production
Since its inception, LBA has owned seven feller bunchers including Timbcos, Madills and Tigercats. Brian says that the choice between the essentially equal machines has been determined primarily by price, adding that service is also important. Today, LBA fields two 870 Tigercats, a Madill 2200, and a new Madill T2250B. Except for their first feller buncher, all of their machines have been equipped with hot saws because of their ability to produce greater volume.
In 2004, to optimize production, they purchased a Kenworth truck, which is available for hauling logs, but more importantly, used to lowboy the company’s feller bunchers. “To adequately service our customers requires that we move a lot,” Brian explains, “so it is essential that we have a truck available to take our machines where they are needed, when they are needed. Before we had our own
lowboy, we would sometimes have idle machines that could have been working.”
Tigercat 870 with Tigercat hot saw - operator Darrin Huntley worked 20 years in grocery store and has become a skilled operator for LBA. He has been running the buncher feller for three years.
Splitting Up the Responsibilities
Each partner contributes to make LBA successful. Brian’s strength is the mechanical end, including the feller buncher. Bill, however, is most experienced with hand falling operations. Initially, the responsibilities in the company were divided along these lines of expertise, but now both Brian and Bill equally share responsibility for the overall operation ofthe company as hands-on owners.
Today LBA services a territory from Cottage Grove, Ore., to Eureka, Calif. Each partner spends about 50 percent of his time negotiating contracts and managing the company, and the other 50 percent “laying down the wood.” Wherever possible, the falling is done by feller bunchers since they are more efficient, and companies like “bunched” trees that make for more efficient yarding.
Whenever a feller buncher cannot be used, LBA subcontracts Bill Looney’s GEA Cutters to fall the stems by hand. GEA typically runs a four-man crew, but will hire more fallers as needed to keep up with demands. “Farming out the hand falling simplifies our operation, allowing LBA to focus on one thing and do that one thing very well,” says Brian.
By design, LBA only employs three operators for four machines. This keeps both partners in tune with their operation as they each spend time in the seat of a feller buncher. Each will also hand fell behind the feller bunchers — picking up the corners, oversize stems, or areas left standing due to ground impact issues. Typically the feller bunchers can handle trees up to 24 inches in diameter, “although,” Brian says, “a skilled operator can fall even larger trees with multiple cuts.”
Keeping Good Employees
A company atmosphere of family-like relationships has enabled them to attract skilled and reliable employees. “We areonly as good as the guys surrounding us. And we have good guys,” says Brian. Bill adds, “Everyone who works for us is our friend. They were either a friend when they started or soon became one. The key is a good working relationship.”
Brian explains that LBA faces some unique challenges when it comes to hiring. “Since we specialize in falling with hot saw-equipped feller bunchers, it’s very difficult to hire operators with experience because there just are not many of them out there.” Yet he has obtained good results by hiring conscientious employees with a good work ethic, who either have experience in, or an aptitude for, equipment operation.” We bring them on green and train them.” A brief “try out” period usually separates “the keepers” from those not suited to the job.
Darrin Huntley, who now runs an 870 Tigercat, worked 20 years in a grocery store, and began as a greaser and fire watch for LBA.
Bill admits, “I first thought Brian was crazy for putting him in a half million dollar machine. But when given a chance, he showed he had what it takes to become the superb operator he is today.”
Jeremy Woodley previously ran equipment for road construction and recently began operating a feller buncher. AndKeith “Hurricane” Herman ran shovel for Brian’s dad at Green Mountain Chipping for 17 years before LBA hired him. Now he is putting out 30 or more loads a day with LBA’s Madill 2250 feller buncher.
Brian says, “I don’t worry about our operators slabbing trees, leaving tall stumps, or messing up the lead. Companies continue to hire us because of the quality our employees consistently produce without needing constant oversight.”
Jeremy Woodley operates a Tigercat 870 with a Tigercat hot saw head.
Keith (Hurricane) Herman operates a new Madill T2250B feller buncher with a Madill 24-7 365 head with a hot saw with a 25 inch cutting capacity. Keith worked 17 years for Brian Arriola’s father Green Mountain Chipping before going to work for Brian at LBA Contract cutting.
Measuring a Company
The mutual respect and trust that exists between LBA and its employees may not be directly measurable in dollars and cents, but there is no doubt it is a major contributor to the company’s high productivity and success.
The bird’s eye view of LBA’s operation may reveal carefully placed rows of bunched trees ready for the landing. But a detailed look explains that it did not happen by accident. In a time when many assert that survival depends on diversity, Bill Looney and Brian Arriola would say that their success depends on good employees doing one thing very well.
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