Dave Williams demonstrates how to grow a logging company through export freezes, spotted owls and conservation crises.
By Carmen Edwards
His Grandfather owned and operated a railroad logging company in Tillamook, Ore. His Dad received a forestry degree from WSC and a Professional Land Surveyor's license. As a young boy growing up in Hoquiam, Dave accompanied his father on many surveying and timber cruising trips pulling chain and running compass, all of which deepened his appreciation of the land and forest.
But the path to his chosen profession took a few detours after high school graduation. He attended Willamette University in Salem, Ore., for a year before joining the U.S. Marine Corps. On the night before he was scheduled to go to Vietnam in 1968, his orders got changed and he instead played football for the Marines for two years out of Camp Pendleton, Calif. After he got out of the military, he returned to Hoquiam. He took a job on a log boom for Elmore Boom Co. in Port Angels, Wash. That was followed by full immersion in the timber industry as a logger working for Rayonier. Dave says of that time, "I kind of went through the ranks of logging with them. I set chokers, pulled rigging, ran skidder, ran log stackers in sorting yards and ran cable shovels."
Dave worked for quite a few different loggers after that and then went to work for his Dad's log exporting company. Although he had wanted to go back to school and study oceanography, the pull of the woods was stronger. "I was a kid, 21 years old, working in the woods making almost $2000 a month. That was a lot of money then. I was having a ball and college went by the wayside. I liked what I was doing. I liked working outside. And Rayonier had given me the opportunity to do all these different jobs." So how did Dave make the transition from working for a logging company to starting his own company in 1972? Dave explains, "By doing all the little jobs I did for Rayonier, I thought, 'You know, if I can do this for Rayonier, why can't I do it for myself?' I went out and bought a D7 Cat and a Model 41 Northwest Line Machine and I went out salvage logging. I did that for three years with a couple of guys working with me.
"In 1975, I kept bugging the contract supervisor at Rayonier about hiring me to log for them with a tower. I think he got tired of me calling, 'cause he finally hired me. He said, 'Do you have a tower?' and I said, 'No, but I'll go out and get one.' I went out and bought a yarder and a hydraulic shovel." Dave's business grew steadily, and then the bubble burst. "I was logging for Rayonier in 1980, and the big crunch came in the export market," explains Dave. "I didn't turn a wheel from February, 1980 to February, 1981. I did odd jobs, but it was really slow." Dave hung in there and recovered. During the next few years his business grew and he found himself working multiple logging sites and employing about 60 loggers. Everything was going well until 1989. "Then the spotted owl crunch hit," says Dave. "I put a lot of equipment into an auction and took a real bath on a lot of it. I made enough to pay off debts and stay in business.
But when the spotted owl listing came about, it tied up so much wood around here, all of sudden there was a lack of timber available and things got real tight." Although he'd sold his newest equipment, Dave retained enough to keep contracting and recover from the spotted owl challenges. He's philosophical about that period. "You do what you have to do," says Dave. "You adapt. You cut back. You spend more hours working yourself. I worked seven days a week for five, six year to get ahead - ten to twelve hours a day and a lot of weekends by myself. Then I cut back to six days a week, then five days a week. But when something like '89 happens, you're back to six days a week to recoup your losses. You can think everything's peaches and cream, then a bubble pops somewhere. You just have to do what's necessary to survive in the logging business."
And survive he has, for almost thirty years, through times that have toppled less determined business owners. Today Dave runs a company honed down to a handful of carefully selected employees who've been with him from five to seventeen years. His crew includes Butch Robinett, truck boss; Ron Jones, shovel operator; Eric Freeman and Rodney Cox on Timberjack 1270 processors; Brad Spradlin on a Timberjack 1210 for warder; Dan Hatch, mechanic and six other truck drivers. Dave's company specializes in commercial thinning, as well as log hauling. He has six mule train short loggers and one long logger. He business is centered in Washington State, where he's worked with Weyerhaeuser, Rayonier, Simpson, Professional Forestry Service, the Campbell Group and Green Crow.
"In commercial thinning, we normally select the trees that should be removed - the damaged trees, the smaller trees, the ones that are defective," notes Dave. "We try to always leave the biggest trees and the nicest trees in a stand, although there are cases where there's damaged or deformed larger trees that do need to be removed. If there's a tall and straight smaller tree next to a large defective tree, the larger tree in this case will be removed. "We've got to do this without causing damage to the residual trees, which takes time to learn. You've got to have a conscientious group that's willing to take the time to do a good job. We're running at two to four percent residual damage and that's a very low percentage. We give up production for quality.
That's the name of the game in thinning - working together to do the lowest amount of damage and the highest quality of work you can do." Part of doing high quality work is using the right equipment and Dave recently acquired a Timbco 445D with a LogMax 750 processing head to work some of the steeper ground. Dave knew other people who owned Timbcos and was impressed by the machines. "In the steeper ground, it really makes a difference," says Dave. "You can keep yourself level no matter what the tracks are doing. I've had it on about a 55 to 60 percent slope and the machine was very stable - the most stable machine I've ever been on."
The features Dave likes most are the machine's balance and smoothness. He says, "Balance means so much in the variable ground we work in. With the LogMax 750 head on the machine and with the eight foot squirt boom configuration I had put on, I was a little skeptical of what it would be like with almost 30 feet of reach, and a processing head that weighs about 3,330 pounds over the side of the machine. But the machine is so well balanced it can handle it. I don't tip at all. It does everything I want it to do." He had some advice for others contemplating buying the machine, "As long as you have a maintenance program and take care of the machine, I think the machine's going to do a hell of a good job for you for a lot of years. A lot of them are going out with the hotsaws on them.
That's a little different application. The machine maybe takes a little more abuse than with the processing head on it. With a processing head, we've got to go around fairly slow and we aren't picking the tree completely up like the hotsaws do. In a thinning application, I think the Timbco will last a little longer." Dave predicts that in the small wood of the future, machines like the Timbco will be a routine part of staying competitive. He notes, "We've got to handle so many more pieces to get a load of logs. So, we've got to be more efficient all the time in how we handle the wood." Dave's proud of the high standards in forestry practices his company employees and the results that are produced. "With the thinning we're doing now in this younger age class of wood, the result in the growth and the enhancement of the forest has been tremendous," says Dave.
"The animals like it, the birds like it - we even make snags for woodpeckers." "And we're protecting these creeks like you wouldn't believe for the fish," adds Dave. "We don't cut close to the creeks or rivers. We hit no water with a tree." Dave takes a keen interest in educating the public about the timber industry and is a past chairman of the Olympic Logging Conference, and on the Board of the Pacific Logging Congress (PLC). Dave is a member of the Washington Contract Loggers Association and completed the accredited loggers training. He has recently participated in educational tours with Weyerhaeuser for teachers, school counselors, community leaders, and many others.
"A lot of teachers and counselors were amazed at what they saw," says Dave. "They had no idea what was going on (in the timber industry). Through the media and misinformation, they thought the timber industry was dead, dying, done and there was no future in it. "That's just not true. There is a future in it and I think it's a good future. A lot of it is in running equipment like the cut to length systems, the processors and forwarders." Dave thinks educating teachers is important because young people haven't been coming into the industry and the older people are retiring. "We need younger people in the industry, we're really hurting for a workforce," says Dave.
"There is always going to be a need for wood and lumber." Dave's been in the industry for almost thirty years and looking back wards and ahead, he sees a good future for those in timber, but a changing future. "(In the future), I think we're going to be continually logging smaller wood and having a shorter period of an overall crop," says Dave. "We're going to be having a crop that we harvest every 30 to 40 to 50 years. "I do believe there's a good future in the industry. Myself and the companies around here, - including small landowners and timber owners - have learned so much about what it takes to grow tress. We're growing trees faster through fertilization, precommercial thinning, commercial thinning, and then the final harvest anywhere from ten to fifteen years after. So we aren't going to run out of trees." Encouraging words from a logger who's experienced the humps and bumps and is still cutting trees.
Carmen Edwards is a feature and business writer who specializes, among other things, in the forest products industry. She bring years of experience working at Weyerhaeuser Company to her writing for TIMBER/WEST.
This page was last updated on Monday, November 10, 2003