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Delimber six-pack

Major contractor Jerry DeBriae found the Denharco 4400 delimber so much of a good fit he now has six of them.

By Mark Morey

Some loggers satisfy themselves with one company to run. Jerry DeBriae, however, finds time to own and operate the largest independent logging conglomerate in southwestern Washington/northwestern Oregon, as well as a separate chipping and sorting business. A series of buyouts and partnerships over more than four decades has propelled DeBriae to the top of the timber market in the region, known for its long-standing connection to the woods. And he doesn't plan to stop anytime soon. "I could retire tomorrow if I wanted to," DeBriae says, driving to check out operations near his home base of Cathlamet, Washington, which sits on the Columbia River, just across from Oregon.

 "We just don't have any better sense, I guess." But the mergers that launched DeBriae to his current leadership position show that he has dedicated plenty of thought to the business. He entered the woods in 1959, fresh out of Cathlamet High School. DeBriae worked first for other loggers, then he and partner Jerry Olson took a log decking contract for then-industry heavyweight Crown Zellerbach. The pair later split up. In 1967, DeBriae Logging came on the scene and has continued to grow. Two buyouts in the late 1970s and early 1980s expanded the company's reach. In 1994, he and Sonny Lundberg created S & J Logging. Each partner still owns his company and focuses on certain contracts, but S & J handles the work outside those projects.

Since Lundberg prefers the shovel seat to the office chair, DeBriae serves as the corporate boss. Between all three businesses, DeBriae and Lundberg employ 125 people throughout their corner of Washington and Oregon. And running seven towers, 12 delimbers and 23 shovels, DeBriae is considered second only to the corporation-powered Weyerhaeuser in size for this area. "I like to stay within 100 miles of home if we can, but when you've got this much equipment, you get kind of spread out," DeBriae says. "Once you get this big, it just seems to balloon." 

That pack of machinery requires up to 90 log trucks during peak times to haul timber to mills and other distribution points. Lundberg takes on the duty of dispatching a steady fleet of 30 owned trucks and 40 hired rigs. DeBriae's son, Jerry DeBriae Jr, serves as woods foreman. DeBriae spends most of his time working at his Cathlamet office now, or driving between sides with the family's two black Labradors, Lucky and Missy, along for the trip. However, he still personally takes responsibility for building 15 to18 miles of road for all three companies in the summertime. His other business, J & M Chipping and Sorting, contracts with Georgia-Pacific to handle G-P's product at a yard across the highway from the main office. DeBriae's volume in diverse species, plus his closeness to Denharco's Woodland, Washington manufacturing facility, prompted the cut-to-length equipment company to recently seek permission to test a prototype delimber with DeBriae's operators. 

During the nine-month trial, Denharco put its early 4000 series delimber under actual working conditions and DeBriae's operators put them to the test. "That was our big objective. We wanted a machine that was rigorous enough to withstand this northwest wood," says Ralph Chapman, Denharco's former regional dealer account manager. Chapman believes the model's variable-diameter winch drive was one of the biggest improvements to result from the time with DeBriae. Combined with numerous other changes, the winch drive has increased the delimber's speed by up to 30 per cent and its pulling power by up to 50 per cent. "A guy's not spending so much time trying to pull a log out of a deck," Chapman says. Tracy Elliott, whom DeBriae describes as his crew's fastest delimber operator, backs up Chapman's claims. "I've been spoiled running it," Elliott says. "It's real nice." Besides the improvement in speed, Elliott says his new machine is also more accurate. Its improved on-board computer allows quick sort changes when they get a phone call from the mill. 

Denharco has designed a modular system to incorporate improvements over the life of the system. The delimber requires less maintenance than the chain-driven 3000 series, Elliott and DeBriae add, noting few overall problems with the equipment. "The 4000 series is probably going to be around for a while. We like to refer to it as a unit that was built by the loggers for the loggers," Chapman says. "That's been a great deal of its success. It has the features that people had been asking for." In the past year, DeBriae purchased six of the 4400s to bolster his delimber fleet. Except for one Pierce, all are Denharco mono-boom models, favoured for their ability to handle the size and weight of wood in their territory. DeBriae also counts nearly 40 pieces of Madill/ Thunderbird equipment, including towers. 

Two years ago, he purchased two Timbco 445 feller bunchers, calling them a good deal for their capacity and price. Although approximately 15 hand fallers still work for DeBriae-joined by long-time contractor Kilponnen Bros-to clear tower approaches and log the slopes, DeBraie's business reflects the timber industry's continuing evolution toward technology. "They'll build a robot to do this someday, but I don't know how much further they can really go," DeBriae says. "The only thing they can do is make it better and faster." So far, he hasn't taken one of the last steps toward full mechanization-the use of new electronic chokers. And he doesn't believe the Pacific Northwest will ever get rid of hand cutters. "It's just not feasible with the ground," he says. 

Safety-boosted by the increase in mechanization-ranks high as well at this operation. For several years, DeBriae's industrial insurance rate was one of the lowest in the state. DeBriae considers himself fortunate to have built his place in the market, but he quickly shares the credit. "I think the real success in this is good people." Many of DeBriae's employees are veterans with the company. Low-bed driver Don Seaberg, for example, has been with him since the Pentilla Logging Company acquisition in 1976. Others have left to "make their fortune" with such companies as Longview Fibre, but eventually they drift back. DeBriae hasn't spent much time pondering his business growth over the years. "It keeps me busy, but it's the only thing I know," says DeBriae. "We like what we're doing."

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