Lindsay R. Mohlere
In December 2012, Gary Worthen, Jason Smith, Jim Lyons, and Dick Clarkson purchased Smith and Wirth Logging in Coos Bay, Oregon. Smith and Wirth was a highly respected and successful company that had been in the logging business for many years. Soon after the purchase, which included the equipment and ten employees, the company became Denali Logging Co. LLC.
“We started with ten guys, one yarder, and one shovel side that ran three months a year, and in five years we’ve got five sides and 32 guys. We’ve done very good,” says Dick Clarkson, Denali managing partner, who credits the work ethic and core values to the company’s success.
“Denali is the Native American word for “Great One,” he adds. “I liked it because, with Gary and the other eight guys, they were the best of the best. The crew are the great ones. They’re a dying breed. They don’t make them like the bunch I got. You can’t train them. That value of work and commitment, loyalty, it’s not out there anymore. Those nine guys, 40 to 60 years old, they know how to work. They want the company to succeed. That’s why they’re the great ones, and that’s why I chose the name Denali.”
Southwest Oregon 2017 Operator of the Year
Earlier last year, ODF announced that Denali Logging had won the Oregon Southwest Operator of the Year award for its diligent planning and harvest. ODF noted that Denali protected streams, stream buffers, and fish habitat. According to Denali partner Worthen, the logging crews went out of their way to accommodate the neighbors.
“It was two sales,” Worthen says, “One on the Benson Ranch of Lake Side, and then one up the North Fork of the Coquille. One was a downhill, high-fire danger, nasty logging side. The other one had a lot of obstacles, including power lines. There were a lot of wetland areas, and trying to find tail holds and operate was difficult.”
Clarkson explains that the Denali crews made sure the road was free of debris and litter by hand-clearing it every morning. It was an important gesture not lost on a resident of the area who appreciated having a clear road for her sports car.
“Everything went smoothly. Nobody complained. We were in their backyard,” adds Clarkson. “Gary and I have strong values. We take care of our employees, and they take care of us. Same way with the landowner. You treat people the way you want to be treated yourself. It’s pretty simple.”
A Solid Crew
With production levels reaching 800 loads a month and over 25 MMBF annually, both Clarkson and Worthen emphasized how important their crews are to the company’s success.
“Sure, the market has been good for the last five years, but our crews know how to work. They want the company to succeed so their benefits and wages keep growing. The company comes first,” Clarkson says, adding, “I’m blessed to have that same mentality. We preach it, we hire it, and reward them for it. You take care of your crew, and it has paid off for us. We got 32 guys and they’ll work all day and all night if needed. You don’t have to ask them. They know if it has to be done, they won’t hesitate.”
Clarkson notes, however, that Denali has also experienced what nearly all logging outfits encounter when it comes to finding new employees. He blames the situation on the shifts in society and on his generation. “We babied our kids too much, and we did everything for them. If they fell down, we picked them up and brushed them off. We wanted our kids to have it better than we did. At least, I did. I think we’ve created a weak workforce that doesn’t know how to fix problems or deal with them. It’s easier to walk away and move on.”
Clarkson also pointed out that while the timber industry has not really kept up with wages like many other industries, there is a certain amount of pride that comes from working in the woods. At Denali, he says, you can be a choker setter and get the same respect as an operator who has been there 30 years. Respect means a lot to the employees. “Our industry is really tough compared to flipping burgers or something. You’re out in the weather, and there’s nothing easy about what we do. It’s work.”
Other aspects, such as good equipment, training, and medical benefits are also important factors in attracting and keeping crews. In addition to a good living wage, Denali offers its employees medical and dental insurance with the company picking up the tab for the employee and a reduced rate for the family. In addition, Denali has a company-paid retirement program, vacations, and other perks and benefits.
Cat equipment is the preferred iron at Denali, Clarkson said; however, they are open to trying out other brands while seeking the right combination of power, strength, and fuel economy.
“Ninety-eight percent of our equipment’s Caterpillar,” he said, “Two percent is Link-Belt. We like Link-Belt. We ran into [fuel economy] issues with the Cat motor the last few years because of the Tier 4 engine. Link-Belt with that Isuzu engine is 25, 30 gallons less a day. That’s huge when you’ve got as much stuff as we do.”
To keep five sides operating at peak performance, Denali’s equipment roster includes eight shovels, two Waratah dangle heads, and three Pierce 3348 stroke delimbers. Denali also uses two Madill 172 towers and a 1240 Thunderbird yoder on the cable sides.
In addition, the company also has an excavator, dump truck, and grader that they use for building the occasional road. “We build our own haul roads. If we’re on a piece of property and the landlord says, ‘You mind putting in a road?’ as long as they don’t want it shot in at 14.5 percent with a 3 percent slope, we’ll put in a nice road and rock it for them and stuff,” Clarkson says.
Denali runs three log trucks of its own and contracts with two others that Clarkson regards as part of the Denali family. Cutting is farmed out, but the company is looking at buying a feller buncher if they can find the right guy to operate the machine.
“If there was a man out there that we could trust, we’d probably go buy one,” Clarkson says. “It goes back to not enough qualified people.”
When all is said and done, the company is proud of its work and the honor of Southwest Oregon Operator of the Year. Clarkson believes it comes down to hard work and strong values. “Gary Worthen’s work ethics and values are priceless and were embedded in the original employees and is the key to the success of Denali Logging.
ON THE COVER
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