Lindsay R. Mohlere
If the definition of innovation is “the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, unarticulated needs, or existing market needs,” then Craig Chilton of Chilton Logging Inc. fills the bill.
Raised in a logging family, Craig started out in the woods right out of high school, working for his dad and uncle at their logging company. Soon after that, Craig met his wife Robin while attending classes at Clark College in Vancouver, Washington. “I worked for my dad and uncle for 14 years,” Craig says. “We basically logged our own timber; had about 1,000 acres. We also logged for some private owners, farmer patches really.”
Real Estate and Logging
In their early twenties, the couple bought their first piece of property. “We weren’t making much money then, and Robin was a stay-at-home mom. We lived in a doublewide, but we went out and borrowed 10,000 dollars and bought our first piece of property. Our goal was to buy one piece of property a year,” he said.
Craig’s land acquisition plan was an inventive, yet simple program. He and Robin would find a property, buy it, log it, and then list it. By the time Craig was in his mid-thirties, he was ready to concentrate on real estate only.
“I gave my notice to my dad and uncle that I was going to move on. At that point, my dad was 60 and my uncle was 64. They decided to retire, so I bought the business,” Craig said. “I told Robin, if we get into logging, we’ll do both logging and real estate, but I’ll only have one side. Period.”
The company is now split into three separate corporations. Chilton Logging Inc. has grown from its seven original employees to more than 80 and now runs five ground and three tower sides. Headquartered in Woodland, Washington, the company logs from Olympia south to Molalla, Oregon, and from the coast to the Columbia River Gorge.
Chilton Inc. is a land management company that oversees 1,200 acres of its own forestry land managed as future harvest ground and 15,000 acres of land owned by Pacific Corp. The company also manages smaller, private parcels. Chilton Custom Homes Inc. offers high-quality construction and design of new homes.
Major Growth During Troubled Times
After he took over the logging business in 1996, Craig started looking for work, going to state timber sales and knocking on doors.
“RSG gave us our first real job. Probably, just to keep me from bugging them,” Craig says with a slight laugh. “We had an SJ4, and we were yarding big wood across a canyon. We were really out of our league … It’s a wonder we didn’t tip the yarder over or break things in half. We took it easy and got that job done. We did a good job. It was our start.”
Over the next ten years, Craig continued to look for work, and the company experienced positive growth. “We started growing little by little. Land was doing well,” he said.
Then 2007 rolled in. Fuel cost doubled, home building ceased, banks imploded, and the national economy tanked.
Like many other logging outfits, Chilton began losing money, something they had not experienced before. “We had not really seen any bad times. It had all been good. We’d bid jobs and work as hard as you could work, and we still were losing money like no tomorrow,” he says.
Throughout the downturn, Chilton forged ahead, picking up every job that came their way, just to keep cash flowing. Craig says, “The interesting thing that happened—and it wasn’t by design—we grew. Losing money, but growing. It didn’t make sense. We grew about a third.”
During that time, the company went from 50 employees to about 80. “We had good men. Good used equipment. We had the throttle down, and we still tried to keep our quality really high. Just like when we were a bunch of family guys. Quality was number one,” Craig says.
A Practical Equipment Philosophy
As the economy started to turn around, Chilton’s fortunes also changed. According to the company’s vice president, Josh Chilton, the company began to aggressively upgrade its logging equipment.
“We’re not locked into any particular brand,” he says. “We do prefer to go Caterpillar, but we try to look for the next best thing. We try to demo everything before we buy it. We have eight CAT shovels.”
Josh emphasized that at least 50 percent of the decision to purchase a machine depends on what the operator thinks. “We let the operators make the decision,” Josh says. “They’re in it ten hours a day, and if they don’t like it, it’s not going to happen.”
As with most large logging outfits, Chilton fields a variety of iron. The equipment stable includes, along with others, a Tigercat LX830C, a 527 Caterpillar, a 568 Cat with a Southstar QS635 head, eight log loaders, of which two are Doosan 225s, five processors, a TimberPro feller buncher, and three Thunderbird yarders as well as a Waratah HTH625C harvesting head.
In the past three years, Chilton has also grown its road building operation, going from just a couple of excavators used to take care of their own spurs, to five excavators, four dozers, a grader, a roller, three highway dumps, and two off-highway dumps.
Additionally, the company runs 12 Kenworth log trucks, with two new 880s and more than 20 other contracted trucks. “We run an average of 350 loads per week,” Josh says.
Always on the hunt to find the right iron that works best for their operation, Chilton has purchased the first ClimbMAX steep slope harvester. The ClimbMAX is a single-cable tethered machine equipped with a felling head and a winch. It is capable of felling trees on slopes of up to 45 degrees and will significantly improve safety and productivity.
Because Chilton does a lot of downhill tower logging, the ClimbMAX single-cable system looked best.
“We get into a lot of places that don’t have roads on top,” Josh says. “We think we can eliminate some of our downhill tower logging because we’ll be able to cut it and log it down the hill. We can make a haywire layout and get the rope to the top of the hill, and then you can cut and downhill shovel log … that’s the big bonus of the ClimbMAX.”
Josh adds they’re going to take a 6355 Thunderbird and set it up for grapples. With the ClimbMAX, they’ll be able to cut and put the stems in piles to utilize the grapples.
“It’s a big change,” he says. “We think it’s going to make our tower ground more productive. It will eliminate the downhill tower work.”
Setting the Bar Higher
With several contracts working, new equipment, and the expansion of its road building capabilities, Chilton admits that their biggest struggle is finding the right employee.
In the past, working in the woods was a premier job paying top wages. Now, many other industries have surpassed the benefits of the logging life and have made it difficult for loggers to even compete for qualified people.
Chilton Logging Inc. has taken the steps to set the bar higher so their crews do not have to sacrifice to come to work in the woods. Currently Chilton offers a good family wage, a matching 401K to four percent, paid holidays, one week paid vacation after one year of employment, one half medical and 100 percent L&I. (Washington workers comp is usually split between employee and company.)
“We’re not perfect,” Craig says. “We try hard every day to do the best we can for this industry. We know the problem in the industry is people. This industry has worked hard to make it safer, and we continue to work at that. The bottom line is we need to take care of our people.”
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