By Barbara Coyner
In 2007, the historic slide into a deep financial collapse was gathering speed. By 2008, the country was spinning from housing foreclosures, with the standstill of new home construction hitting the timber industry hard. Yet Blanchard, Idaho, logging contractor Seth Campbell was fixing his eyes on a future for himself, his wife Crystal, their son Conlen — and his crew.
“We started this company in the worst of times in 2007,” says the 40-year-old Campbell. “A lot of people told me I was nuts. But I am not a crazy gambler. It was a calculated risk. I had some good guys, and we all wanted to show that we could do this. You have to have the right people or it won’t work.”
Matching Man and Iron
Developing a timeline of his logging ventures, Campbell expresses some surprise at how well things have worked out. Just recently he took delivery of a new cut-to-length duo, a 2018 John Deere 859MH harvester with a 415X Waratah head and a John Deere 1510G forwarder.
The new harvester will be run by Charley Lock, an 11-year veteran of Campbell’s operation, while ten-year crew member Tony Griesemer will run the new forwarder.
“I’m a Deere guy,” Campbell admits, adding that he likes the Waratah head because it’s tough, well-built, and holds up with very little down time. “I got into the cut-to-length approach after a couple of my guys retired. Since cut-to-length requires two guys instead of four, and there’s also been a rebound in log demand, this seemed the way to go. Cut-to-length is more expensive than tractor logging. But I talked to Charley, one of our crew bosses, and he was ready to try something new, so he helped with the decision.”
Campbell rounds out his current team with two-year veteran crew member Mike Peterson running a 2015 648H Deere swing grapple skidder; nine-year crew member Dave Yeoman operating a 2017 Deere 2154D log loader; five-year veteran Dillon Roth running a 2016 Deere 2154D processor with a 622C Waratah head; and newcomer Jared Larion piloting a 2017 Deere 848L dual arch skidder.
Clearly there’s a lot of newer iron in Campbell’s tool kit, and it’s almost all green. Part-timer and two-year employee Gary Davis operates a 2009 527 Cat high-track skidder, with another Cat 527 in reserve.
Crew Is Vital
Naming the crew is as important to Campbell as naming the equipment. He also includes his brother-in-law and previous long-time crew member Zay Bereiter, now a subcontractor, who runs his own brand new 2017 TimberPro 745C. Seth’s brother Shane of Shane Campbell Trucking hauls for the company. And it’s noteworthy that Seth’s 70-year-old dad Nelson also subcontracts as a hand-faller part-time.
“Since 2008, it’s been a long road,” says Campbell of his company’s progress. “But demand for us is good and log prices are up, both good bargaining chips. The mills are recognizing what loggers are worth to the industry. We’ve also got to pay our guys what they are worth.”
Roots in Logging
Seth got into logging via his dad, a former Marine who owned 70 forested acres in Elk, Washington, but eventually moved the family to Idaho. Between serving on a Forest Service hot shot crew and managing his tree farm with a small Cat, Nelson Campbell also embellished his forest management credentials doing road and bridge construction for Joe Henry.
“It was an awesome way to grow up,” Seth says of the variety of work locations. “We camped out and did a lot of fishing.” Seth started working for his dad right after high school, doing contracts for Sonny Poirier, and later buying his own log truck to add to his income by making evening hauls.
In time, Campbell bought his first processor, admitting, “It was a really cheap stroke delimber cobbled together. But I did a lot of work with it. I can’t even remember the brand, but I sold it after a couple of years.” Next came a Clark 667 skidder, which he found pretty cheap, then his first dangle-head Linkbelt “mule,” which gave him more flexibility.
These days he has had enough experience with equipment to know his preferences better. Take the differences between the stroke-delimber and the dangle-head. “A stroker always has ahold of the piece you just made, while a dangle head has ahold of the piece you are about to make. Strokers have their place, but I like the dangle-head approach better.”
Credit Where It’s Due
Campbell remembers the big step in forming his own company, and he gives lots of credit to his wife Crystal, the high school sweetheart he went on to marry in 1999. “I wouldn’t be doing any of this without her,” he says. “She does the books, pays the bills, and keeps things together. She’s a busy girl. Right out of the gate, she’s been a great business partner. She has book smarts and is super organized.”
Indeed, she is super organized, also overseeing a second business the couple bought in 2012. Called Pacific Pad Print, Crystal manages a crew of four, printing on a variety of products including medical parts such as defibrillator lids, inscribing all the product information on the parts. “Crystal even skidded for me in the past,” Seth says of his wife’s varied support roles. Three of Crystal’s brothers have also previously worked for him, illustrating some strong and long-standing ties to Crystal’s whole family.
Things Look Bright Ahead
Happily, the work contracts have been excellent for Campbell and his crew, and from 2006 until just recently, the big jobs were often for Forest Capital (later changed to Hancock). One crew was dedicated to that work, while a second crew did smaller jobs for a variety of clients, both industrial and private.
In the fall of 2014, Inland Empire Paper Company offered a big chunk of business, as well, allowing Campbell to keep running two crews. He also continues to work for Sonny Poirier and has other steady work with Elmer Brothers. With the right equipment for his lean and loyal crew, he enjoys a steadiness to the business these days. That allows him to work private landowners into the equation when he has time. He acknowledges that the demands can be different for the variety of clients he serves, but he says listening to their objectives is his business strategy.
“There are lots of ways to manage a forest,” he says of the various approaches he follows, depending on the job.
Looking back over his timeline of business ups and downs, Campbell realizes he’s always been blessed to have plenty of work. He’s thankful for the great work ethic his mom, Karen, and his dad taught him growing up. And the importance of doing things right. “There’s only one way to do things, and that’s the right way,” says Campbell.
Seeing the number of guys who have stuck with him through the good and not so good years shows just how important a good loyal crew is. And watching them adapt to those nice new green machines, then hustle to keep production numbers up, shows that it’s more than iron that counts in today’s logging scene.
“This industry demands that you be efficient and waste very little time,” Campbell sums up of his trade. “My crew says I wear rose-colored glasses, and they give me a lot of grief about them. But you need an optimistic attitude in this business.
On the Cover
Photo taken by Andrea Watts of a Holbrook Inc. operation near Electron, Washington.
Finding Success in Challenging Times
In 2007, as the country entered the recession, Seth Campbell was fixing his eyes on a future for himself, his family and his crew.
From the Bottom Up
Chris Martin, owner of Martin Timber Harvesting, has taken the bull by the horns and set a standard of excellence.
It’s the Employees
For Holbrook Inc., success has come from the sum of its employees who have kept the company harvesting and moving logs for more than 30 years.
New Study Points to Ways Loggers Can Minimize Knee, Back and Shoulder Injuries
New manual with best practices focusses on preventable injuries in the logging industry.
2018 CBI & Ecotec Factory Forum
The three-day event was an opportunity for the company’s U.S. and international customers to see live machine demonstrations.
New technology coming to the fireline.
Pacific Logging Congress review
The 8th PLC Live In-Woods show held in September in Corvallis, Oregon, provided a chance to educate and for industry professionals to show off.
Tech Review — Bar, Chain and Sprocket
A look at options on the market today.
Time to create and tell our story.