By Diane Mettler
Tom Holl may be a sixth-generation logger, but he started out his career as a mechanic on B-2 Stealth Bombers in Southern California.
A few years before Holl started working as a mechanic, his dad, Dale Holl, retired from Pinetop Logging and started his own company — Canyon Creek Logging in Arizona. In the early 90s, when the aerospace industry was taking a turn, Holl decided to return home. He got his commercial driver’s license (CDL) and drove truck for his dad.
Only a year later, Holl had started up Timberline Transport. “I bought three more trucks and was in business primarily hauling for my dad and other loggers in the area.”
Transition to Logging
In 2000, Holl’s parents decided they wanted to retire and take their motorhome on the open road. Holl made the decision to buy them out.
It was a successful succession plan. Tom’s mom, Corinne, helped Tom out with the books, and he paid his parents for the company “by the ton” — holding a little back from each load. “That really helped me out,” he says. “It meant that in the wintertime, when I wasn’t working, I wasn’t making payments.
When Holl took over the business, things changed. “I began streamlining things and got mechanized,” he says. “To do that, I began adding to our equipment inventory, which has grown to a nice size.”
Currently, Canyon Creek possesses its own grinder — the Peterson 4710 track grinder — which is used for limbs, brush, and tops. Holl has had the grinder for quite some time and is pleased that it has been pretty much problem-free.
Canyon Creek also has a few Caterpillar 525 skidders and a CAT 522 track feller buncher, as well as a Tigercat 855 processor and a Tigercat 726 rubber-tired feller buncher. Holl says he likes working with Tigercat and feels the company understands loggers.
“I feel that these guys are in it with me,” he says. “They want to make sure we’re all together on this. I like that.”
Canyon Creek also does all of its own road work with a CAT grader and dozers. And Holl owns a fleet of trucks — nine Kenworth T800s ranging from 1990 to 2018. The trucks are equipped to haul short logs on hay rack trailers and/or IMCO live floor chip trailers.
To keep everything up and running, Holl employs two mechanics and has a 6,000 square foot shop to do the maintenance. “During winter shutdown, we bring all the equipment in, tear it down, and clean it up. We fix anything that may give us problems during the coming season,” says Holl. “I feel this is a good learning experience for the operators so they better understand their equipment and machines.”
Keeping a Crew
Holl runs a crew of 16 he recruited from his small Arizona town and surrounding area. Two of his longest-serving employees are processor operator Tino Bermudez and his bookkeeper Anna Amos, who have been with him for twelve years.
“I think being from a small town, a lot of the older guys have been in and out of logging most of their life. But finding younger guys with a good work ethic can be hard,” says Holl.
Also challenging is training the new loggers. Holl starts them out on fairly flat ground, since most of his logging entails USFS thinning jobs and taking material out.
Holl works about ten months a year (weather permitting) in Arizona where the trees are all Ponderosa pine. Most of Holl’s work is USFS jobs, but he also works on the White Mountain Apache Reservation, where he says the landscape is more like the Pacific Northwest. “That’s where you have to have the track feller buncher. Working on steep ground is challenging, and finding the right place for your log deck. You’ve got to lay it out just right.”
Although Holl has had a longstanding contract with the White Mountain Apache reservation, the mill on the reservation is old, making it easy to get behind schedule and develop a backlog, and the reservation struggles to keep the mill open. “I often take the small wood off the reservation to mills around the area.”
Right now the old mill is behind schedule. “When that happens, I kind of jump back and forth a little bit [with USFS jobs], trying to keep my own company going,” says Holl.
Biomass and Energy
Outside the reservation, Holl primarily thins out forestland so the larger trees can grow.
The 6-inch diameter trees are too small for anything except creating fuel, so Holl grinds up and delivers them to a 28-megawatt biomass plant in Snowflake, Arizona. He also takes the material to a pellet manufacturing plant and is hopeful that, in the future, there will be other plants where he can deliver wood. “Around the Flagstaff area, they’re looking for somebody to bring in some infrastructure like an OSB plant to take the small logs.”
Holl says, “The value is not in the wood. The value is in having the wood removed, and the forest being restored. Thinning the forest down from 400 trees per acre to 40-60 trees per acre is a good thing. That’s what we have to do around here to protect the forest from fires and improve our watershed.”
Christmas at the Capital
One of the highlights of Holl’s career was cutting the Capitol Christmas Tree in 2009. “It was a big production,” Holl says. “Everyone came out to the site for a big ceremony. The Apache Indians danced and prayed over the tree, and then we finally cut the tree. That was all kind of fun.”
Holl’s biggest challenge is getting good employees. “It can be a problem getting the right people,” Holl says. “I am in a small, remote area and a lot of younger people are not staying here. They’re moving off and looking for more opportunities.”
Holl is not the only logger who faces this challenge, and it is one reason why he appreciates being a member of the Pacific Logging Congress (PLC) and sharing with others in the industry. In fact, Holl is slated to be the 2021 PLC president.
“The PLC is about comradery and getting around people that are in your business,” says Holl. “I find value in learning other techniques and the methods other people are employing that might help all our logging businesses out. Now the PLC is getting into solving problems — like looking for manpower by going into schools and educating the people that logging is a good way to make a living. For all of us who are out in the forest, we know how much we love it.
Hopefully we can share that with others and bring some more people into our business.”
Holl says he is an optimist when it comes to the future of logging, and he’s also optimistic about the future of logging in Arizona and working through the resistance the people of Arizona seem to have about spending money for logging.
“After all these fires we’re having — especially the tragedy in California — and where I am is the watershed for the entire state of Arizona — they can’t allow it to burn. It’s time to really be proactive and get it thinned out. Get it healthy. Because if we don’t, it is going to burn and will destroy the watershed. I think they’re really starting to preach it down there in the capital. I think we’re getting it figured out.”
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