By Lindsay R. Mohlere
With more than 40 years under his belt working in eastern Oregon’s pine and conifer forests, Elwayne Henderson knows that surviving means being able to adapt to the ever-changing business and environmental landscape.
Logging Runs in the Family
Elwayne’s company, Henderson Logging Inc. out of Wallowa, Oregon, was originally started by his father in 1952 and has evolved into one of the largest diversified logging operations in eastern Oregon.
“My dad logged until 1960. He then went to work for the Bate Company as a logging superintendent for three years and back again into logging after that,” Henderson says, noting that he had two brothers who were also involved in the business.
“I’ve got an older brother, Steve, who was in the partnership until 1976. He had an opportunity to go to Idaho and work for Potlatch, and he left the company. Another brother was in the corporation until 2010. He ran the bulk fuel side and the farm side. I handled the logging side. Then in 2010, my wife and I became the sole owners of the corporation.”
According to Henderson, the challenges have changed since the early days of his operation. In the beginning, the biggest obstacle he faced was the lack of capital.
“Back then, loaning institutions looked down their nose a long ways at contract loggers. But those situations resolve themselves over time if you work at it,” he says.
Now the main challenge is finding a timber supply at the price one can afford. “There’s a lot of cheap jobs out there, but you need the accounting behind you, so you know where your dollars are going and where they’re coming from,” he adds.
In the mid-90s, a slowdown in the timber business and several mill closures in eastern Oregon presented another opportunity for Henderson Logging to show its agility.
The company diversified in 1996, adding a road construction side, and began rebuilding most of Boise Cascade’s roads. The road building operations continued through the sales of land to Forest Capital and also included some Forest Service road contracts.
In 2000, the company took on a sewer system job for the city of Wallowa. “When you come to the edge of a cliff and jump off, you better hope you can swim before reaching the bottom,” Henderson says with a slight chuckle when asked how a logging company gets into the sewer business. “We did road construction along with our logging. Doing sewer jobs and water jobs fit in with what we were doing because we had the equipment and personnel who had the expertise to do those types of jobs.”
Henderson indicated that his biggest joy in running his own business has been the self-satisfaction of doing a good job. “When you see log trucks running down the road, you think … yeah, that all worked. If you don’t see any trucks for a while, you get nervous.”
The Crew Keeps the Ship Running
Henderson emphasized that having a “real good crew” makes a huge difference in maintaining a successful operation. “The crew is the oil that keeps the ship running,” Henderson says, adding that being really good with people is a huge asset. “My dad was really good with people. One thing I learned from him was how to handle people. I learned that if you pat people on the back it’s a whole lot easier than kicking them in the hind end. It’s a whole lot easier to lead than to drag.”
Mike Lowe, logging side rod and Henderson’s son-in-law, also believes in the importance of fielding a good, hard-working crew. “The crew is everything,” Lowe says. “Our crew does an amazing job. When they understand the whole picture of the job, they really start taking care of you. The better they do for us, the better we do for them.”
Currently, Henderson Logging Inc. employs more than 25 people and operates a ground based logging side, a road building side, a construction company, and a farming side. Most of the crew is cross-trained to run equipment on the various sides the company operates. “All our guys are good enough operators to jump from one machine to another,” Lowe says.
The logging side equipment roster features a Komatsu (Valmet) 445 equipped with a Quadco hot saw and a LX 830 Tigercat running a Tigercat hot saw. Waratah 623 processors are paired with a Link-Belt 240x2 and a John Deere 2954. Log loading duties are handled with a Link-Belt 210x2 and a CAT 322c. The company also fields two John Deere skidders, an 848 and a 748, along with a 2010 CAT 527 skidder.
“The back end service is very important to us,” Henderson says. “We’ve had very good luck with Triad Machinery and Rowand Machinery out of Pasco.”
In addition to running two of their own log trucks and two lowboy trucks, the company also utilizes the services of 15 independent log truck drivers. The trucks usually haul two loads a day.
Because of the climate in eastern Oregon, Henderson Logging normally shuts down from the end of February to May.
“Our guys will lay-off for about a month, and then we bring them back on board,” Lowe says. “We’ve got so much iron, we run all our equipment through the shop. We fix what needs to be fixed and do it all in-house. It saves us a bunch but it also keeps guys working. The mechanic and myself help them do what they need to get done.”
More than 90 percent of the timber harvested by Henderson comes from Hancock Forest Management land. The company also logs some Forest Service and private contracts. Annual output is around 27 MMBF.
Passing the Torch
Another step in the continuing evolution of Henderson Logging has been set in motion with the understanding that Lowe will one day take the reins of the company.
Having grown up in the logging business, Lowe has a keen understanding of what lies ahead.
“The biggest challenge is the uncertainty,” Lowe says. “In this business, you’ve got to keep growing, keep punching or you get left behind. You got to be on top of the curve. It’s a matter of wanting to be a logger and change with the times.”
Lowe said he is encouraged that the company is bringing in younger people to work in the woods, noting that he has two equipment operators who are “very good at what they do” and are under 30. The older, more experienced crew will help show the younger members how to get the job done. “It gives me hope for the future,” he said.
Lowe believes that to be successful you have to have a positive attitude. “To me, loggers have always had that engineering spirit that says if it can’t get done this way, let’s try something different and come up with a solution to the problem rather than throw our hands in the air.”
Lowe is quick to admit he has learned several important lessons from Henderson about running the business. “One of the things I’ve learned is you have to own at least 65 percent at all times. You can’t be over-financed or one little hiccup will sink you.”
He also recognizes that just because he’s taking over an ongoing business, it doesn’t mean he can sit back and relax.
“One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from Elwayne is that if you’re the guy owning and running a business, you’re not the guy going on vacation and sitting around enjoying life. You’ve got to be there doing it. Everyone’s got to pack their own weight.”
On the Cover
Photo of this Link-Belt was taken by Lindsay R. Mohlere at the Henderson logging operation, based in Wallowa, Oregon.
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