Sierra Logging, Newport WashingtonChris Johnson says of the 2018 Tigercat 620E skidder "It’s the most stable, capable machine I’ve ever been in.”

Life Happens Even When You’re Logging

Sierra Logging, Newport, Washington

By Lindsay R. Mohlere

Chris Johnson has always marched to the tune of a different drummer. Starting out nearly 30 years ago, it was just Chris, his dog Axel, and a chainsaw. He liked it that way. Simple. Easy to go to work.

Like many loggers, Chris grew up in a logging family and jumped into the brush at an early age. At 16 years old, he was busy in the woods bucking logs with his dad and another logger who owned a skidder. When the skidder owner needed knee surgery, Chris’ dad put him on the machine. “I jumped in, and I was bucking logs and skidding timber. Just never looked back. I’ve always been around it. I was the kid that went to work with Dad. None of my siblings are involved in logging,” Chris says.

Down the road, Chris began to do his own thing. “I worked alone, just me and my dog and my skidder,” he says. “Logging is more of an affliction with me. It’s all I know. Sure, I’ve done other things, but I keep coming back to this. And it’s fun. Logging’s always fun.”

Around 2013, Chris hurt his shoulder. “I’m not sure how it happened,” he says, “but we do play in a pretty rough sport.”

Chris found that he couldn’t work like he had in the past, which meant he had to change the way he was doing things.

“When I hurt my shoulder, everything changed. I went out and bought a stroker, and then I bought a skidder. After that I bought a loader,” Chris says. “I do my own thing. Still do. I take off with that skidder and do the little jobs because that was my bread and butter.”

But then, as Chris is fond of saying, “Life happens even when you’re logging.”

Sierra Logging, Newport WashingtonJohn Deere 2154D with a Waratah HTH622B head.

The Shape of Things to Come

Now Chris works with three other loggers in the Newport, Washington/Bonners Ferry, Idaho area. He refers to himself and the others as the “four amigos.”

He says the evolution of the “four amigos” wasn’t a planned or foreseen joining of forces.

“We just kinda came together,” he says.

“Ben Dahlstrom and I worked together for a long time right next to each other. Rode to work back and forth. For years we did that. Carpooled. And there’s Wayne Pluid. We’ve known each other for over 25 years,” says Chris.

Another friend, Jimmy Michelson, caught wind of what Chris, Ben, and Wayne were doing and joined up with them. Both Ben and Jimmy wanted to be on their own and jumped ship from other log crews to join up with Chris. Wayne was already an independent contractor.

Together, the Sierra Logging team have more than 120-plus years of combined experience. Each individual brings his expertise to the crew, with Chris handling the management and marketing duties. “I ramrod this end of things,” Chris says. “I talk to the landowners. That’s my role. I do the marketing and work with the log buyers. Been doing it a long time, and I know a lot of them.”

As Chris explains, the “four amigos” all have particular responsibilities. Sometimes they go hard, like they’re killing snakes. At other times, things slow down. For the most part, the Sierra team members know what roles they play. “Sure, it’s hard. But I’ll tell you, any of these guys — they’ve been in the brush. They’ve all had snow dumping all over them. No one needs instruction every half hour. We’ve been around. We’ve all done this forever.”

Sierra Logging, Newport WashingtonThe “Four Amigos” (left to right) Ben Dahlstrom, Jimmy Michelson, and Chris Johnson. Wayne Pluid not shown.

Ben operates a 2014 John Deere 2154 equipped with a Waratah HTH622B head and does the processing for the team. Jimmy is the tree saw guy of the group, running a 2010 TimberPro. Wayne works the Serco log loader, which is mounted on a flatbed rig much like a yoder, and he also owns three Peterbilt log trucks that regularly haul for Sierra. In addition, employee Bryan Kirschbalm handles the 2018 Tigercat 620E skidder when Chris is wearing the managerial hat.

“The Tigercat is brand spanking new,” says Chris. “We leased it, and it’s the most stable, capable machine I’ve ever been in.”

Since the “four amigos” have been a crew, they’ve done a few different kinds of jobs, one of which was sending a load of cedar to Michigan.

“We sent a load that was going to be made into cedar planks for grilling and smoking salmon and other fish,” Chris says. “It’s all for big restaurants like Chili’s, Red Lobster. The big time. It was a different twist.”

Radio Ads

True to form, since March 2018, Chris has been doing something a bit different, and it is way out of the normal logging outfit box. He has been running 60-second radio ads on a local country music station, advertising the services of his company. The ads target private landowners who need help in forest management and fire protection.

Plot sizes vary, but usually average 80-100 acres. “The first thing I do is ask what the landowner would like to see. It’s not about me. I’m just there to perform a task. We want to make it as easy for people as possible,” Chris says. “Typically, the landowners have an idea of what they want to do, so I ask them to tell me about their land, what kind of trees they have, where they’re located, and what they want to see done.”

Sierra Logging, Newport WashingtonSerco 285 log loader, mounted on a flatbed rig, operating much like a yoder.

Chris adds, “Some people have a great clear view. And some don’t. They don’t have a clue as to what they want to see. They know they’ve got a fire hazard and that’s all.”

One particular element that stands out in Chris’ ads, is the line about courteous truck drivers. “We made that a focal point,” Chris said as he described the ads. “We needed something that was going to stick out. Every soccer mom in this region has probably got the stuffing scared out of her by a loaded log truck rushing to the mill, you know.”

On the day TimberWest visited Sierra Logging, they were finishing up an 80-plus acre strip of jack pine located around and below a landowner’s home. Chris said, they were taking all the merch timber out of the patch, and then a grant from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources was going to further address other fire prevention needs.

Chris says the radio ads are paying off and paying for themselves with jobs being lined up for the future. “It’s been quite lucrative for us. And, you know,” he says, “imitation is the highest form of flattery. Ben called this morning. He’s hacked off because another outfit is running ads just like ours. Ha! That’s neat.”

TimberWest November/December 2013
March/April 2019

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Guest Column
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