By Barbara Coyner
Travel North Idaho’s Benewah County with logging contractor Bob Danielson and you get part history lesson, part assessment of the logging industry’s future, and part logging equipment review.
Danielson has recently added winch-assist steep slope logging to his company’s capabilities and sees the technique as evolving in some very promising ways. He bought into the technique, as well as the right equipment, to keep his business flexible.
“I saw this work about two or three years ago,” says Danielson. “I’ve watched it work and see that it’s all mechanized and safe. It gets people off the ground. These days it’s harder to get sawyers and hookers, so it makes sense to do this on steep slopes. It changes some of the ground you are doing, and it’s safer and more productive.”
The steep slopes of the Benewah region are well-known to history buffs, and Danielson is happy to include some of the steep slope logging in his overall portfolio, which currently includes running four sides, working contracts for Potlatch Corporation, Stimson, and Idaho Forest Group, with occasional state and federal work, as well. But he doesn’t consider the tethering aspect of steep slope all that revolutionary.
“Tethering is not that new,” he says. “They were doing the same thing 100 years ago, using steam donkeys and big Shay engines in this country. It took New Zealand to rekindle the idea, and now they’re doing things with machines that are much safer.”
Just a stone’s throw from some of the old steam donkeys abandoned in place in the 1920s, Danielson mentions the human toll early-day logging took on crews. Conditions were often treacherous, and there were no quick-response rescue helicopters to get an injured man out, so humans just seemed expendable.
“These days we’re just trying to keep guys safe and off the ground,” Danielson says of the modern-day logging. “In today’s world, you get more production with the new equipment, and you can do that with less people.”
A tour of one of Danielson Logging’s steep slope jobs shows a 330 D Caterpillar excavator with a tailhold Lantec winch doling out a single line.
“With a single line, you know right where you’re at,” Danielson points out, noting that he feels two lines can pull sideways, causing issues. He says the single line approach is most often used in New Zealand.
Inside the Cat, a screen shows the same specs the operator sees inside the 765C TimberPro felling shovel, with the two machines sharing communications. The TimberPro features a Southstar head with a bar saw that can handle a 34-inch cut.
After deciding on steep slope techniques, Danielson took the maiden voyage down the slope in the TimberPro himself, admitting that he wouldn’t tell his crew to do anything he wouldn’t do. From there, Danielson tapped Jeremy Stephenson to pilot the TimberPro most days.
“I’m a TimberPro person,” Danielson admits. “It’s got good swing power, it’s strong, and it’s got good stability; plus it’s easy to maintain. It’s very agile and fast on the ground.” Stephenson seems equally pleased with the TimberPro, usually dealing with 70 to 80 percent slopes, but sometimes going up and down 90 percent inclines. His usual configuration is to hand the logs off to Dustin Brusseau in the John Deere 3756 shovel logger. “We shovel all the logs up or down the hill,” Danielson says, explaining that loggers on the coast use the same technique.
Investing in the Productivity
Watching the steep slope activities at work, Danielson is constantly reassessing what will get him the most amount of production while keeping his crew safe. One mainstay in his business formula is always buying new equipment, and here he tells the background story of why.
Danielson operated a small cedar mill at age 24 and, at 30, moved away from that to start a small logging business. The first order of business was to buy a used Cat. Newly married, he and wife Sally sold firewood and eventually scraped together the funds for the machine. But things didn’t go well, and the Cat broke down frequently, causing Danielson to consider buying a brand new Cat.
“People told me I was crazy, that I couldn’t afford to do that,” he recounts. “But I couldn’t afford not to.” Since then, he has bought new equipment, citing better maintenance costs and the ability to keep better people. Thirty years later, Sally continues to play a big part in the business, keeping the books and furnishing the reality check on each new equipment purchase. Danielson admits he couldn’t grow the business without her help.
Creating that Perfect Piece of Equipment
Another unsung hero is head mechanic Nate Burns, who Danielson describes as one of the backbones of the business. Overseeing a shop staffed with two other mechanics, the 35-year-old Burns is mostly self-taught and definitely self-motivated. Capable of repairing breakdowns in the woods, Burns maintains the highly expensive machines, and even fabricates new equipment pieces. A case in point is the boom Burns fabricated for the company’s excaliner, a Cat 324, which Danielson describes as part excavator and part line machine. The utility machine is handy for work near sensitive streams and has a reach of 800 to 1000 feet. Burns studied the standard boom put out on the market and found he didn’t like the detachment features. Ordering the raw steel, he fabricated the boom right down to the modified bolt configuration.
“We try to keep the right equipment matched to the terrain for maximum production,” Danielson says. Along with that, he is glad to have the right people operating his high-tech fleet of machines. Taking care of and having some of the best employees in the area is key, along with having the right equipment.
In addition to running the TimberPro setup for steep slope, Danielson has employed some shovel techniques he has seen work out on the coast. As an alternative to line skidding, he teamed a TimberPro 745C, featuring a Quadco hot saw (operated by 29-year veteran Jamie Wilkes), with a 568 Cat shovel logger (Tye Osborn at the helm), 948L John Deere skidder (Austin Schiermeister, operator), and a 909 John Deere processor with a 10000 Log Max head (24-year veteran Kenny Nelson, operator). A new 745D TimberPro with a Quadco hot saw also works that side, with Cole Ware as operator. Ware calls the new machine amazing and cites the longer track frame adding stability on the steeper slopes. The head allows him to take down bigger trees, and the zero-tail swing on the 745C and 745D enables better selective cutting.
Slopes not quite steep enough for the winch-assist give Danielson the chance to have the TimberPro bunchers taking down the timber, then passing stems off to a shovel, with the skidder gathering the stems and dragging them to the landing where the processor finishes the delimbing and piles the logs in various sorts for hauling.
Meanwhile a Timbco 445, a 948L Cat skidder, and a 3754 John Deere with a 10000 Log Max head work yet another side in similar paired-up fashion. And the 324 D excaliner supplements a side including a 2454 John Deere processor and a 320 Cat log loader. All the loading is contracted out.
Always on the lookout for new solutions to stay strong in his business, Danielson keeps his eye on efficiency, matching good machines to good workers to make the job efficient. Yes, he could easily get an ulcer from the equipment payments, payroll, and benefits, but instead he stays focused on his four sides and volume harvesting.
With a number of timber companies in the area, it’s all about negotiating what his crew and equipment can reasonably take on. Negotiating is a huge deal for Danielson, and these days he feels it has become a bit easier to negotiate better rates due to competition among mills.
“You have to stand up for what you want,” he says, adding that he stays away from bids that put him in a losing proposition. For him, it is essential to go out to the area before submitting the bid. “You’ve got to go on site and look at the job. If it’s on a certain site, I won’t bid.”
Having a productive rock pit and a strong road-building component as part of the business add more layers of competitiveness as Danielson strives to stay strong.
“We have two road-building sides, and the rock side opens us up to having a year-round operation. With the road-building, we are a one-stop shop, and that enables us to do a nice clean job.” Adding steep slope capabilities to his portfolio of careful harvesting decisions, Bob Danielson knows that steep slope best describes how uphill the logging profession can be in this day and age.
On the Cover
Photo taken by Barbara Coyner of Danielson Logging harvesting on a steep slope.
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