Story and photos by Mary Bullwinkel
It’s been a lifetime of family commitment to the logging industry. Today, the father-son duo of Steve and Jake Morris is the driving force behind more than 40 years of successful business operations at northern California-based Steve Morris Logging and Contracting. Add adaptability, diversification, the necessary equipment to do the job right, and an experienced crew, and you have a healthy business that has survived and thrived during the ups and downs of the timber industry.
“We’re a pretty diversified company,” says Steve Morris. “We can do a lot of different things, which has kept us afloat over the years, like grinding or logging or making [wood] chips or putting in a bridge — whatever needs to happen, and I think the key is adaptability because of this ever-changing industry.”
Blending Chipping with Logging
Steve Morris is a second-generation logger, and son Jake represents the third generation working in the family business. In 1976, Steve Morris and his dad established Morris Logging in California. Six years later, Steve purchased the logging side of the business from his father and has been working in the woods ever since.
Since then the company has worked in Humboldt County, California, the home base of the business, as well as throughout northern California, doing logging as well as chipping and grinding.
A few years ago, after more than 20 years of mostly conducting chipping and grinding operations, Steve Morris Logging and Contracting returned to logging. It is this combination of both activities that keeps the company busy these days.
At a logging job in Humboldt County, the company was using a 2012 Tigercat 830LXC feller buncher, a 2017 Doosan 380 processor with a Waratah 624C head, a Cat 535D skidder with bunching grapples, and a Cat 527 track skidder.
Regarding the Tigercat feller buncher they purchased last winter, Jake Morris says, “Dad and I did our homework before buying it, and it’s the most robust, productive buncher on the market.” Couple that with operator Virgil Greene’s 20-plus years of experience, and that’s a powerful combination.
When the feller buncher was purchased, Morris Logging and Contracting mechanics went through all the key components of the machine and made sure it was in top operating condition.
The maintenance of equipment during logging’s off-season is very important to the company. “Everybody in this business knows you only have a short window to make your money, and I knock on wood, this year, we have not had a machine go down for more than an hour all summer,” says Jake Morris. “A lot of that goes back to what we do in the wintertime in our shop,” he added.
The 2017 Doosan 380 Processor is probably the most recent piece of equipment added to the company operations, and it weighs 115,000 pounds with the Waratah 624C head attached. It was originally purchased for use in the chipping and grinding side of the operations but made the switch over to the logging side in the last two years. It’s the biggest processor made by Doosan, and according to Morris, the biggest processor on the market.
“The reason we went with that for our processor is because when you run danglehead processors, you need enough hydraulic oil to operate the way the head is designed to be run. That particular machine has an abundance of oil to where you can run that head at its full potential,” says Jake.
“The duo of the feller buncher and the Cat skidders is an efficient combination,” adds Jake. “The feller buncher can have all the turns in bunches, ready to go, so the skidder can make quick turnarounds.”
The swivel seat feature of the 535D Cat skidder is another contribution to increased logging productivity. “There’s no wasted time in jockeying around,” says Jake. “The operator can drop the turn and then pull ahead, straight out . . . and basically drive the thing like he’s driving forward. The seat will actually swivel with the [joystick] controls, and there are two sets of pedals in the front and the back.”
The Right Piece for the Job
Steve Morris said the Doosan and the other equipment being used in the company’s logging operations are the right machines to do the job right. “If you don’t have a processor to process logs on the landing, you can’t compete,” he adds.
Steve Morris Logging has two skidders working together to improve the efficiency of the logging operations. The Cat 527 Track skidder does much of the more difficult or adverse work on the logging operation, mostly on the steeper ground, so the Cat 535D can operate on the ground that is flatter. Jake says, “What’s nice about having these two skidders is that the 527 can basically do all the nasty ground and keep the big skidder with the bigger grapples going up and down the hill all day with more volume.”
For approximately 20 years, the company exclusively did chipping and grinding work. That came to a screeching halt in 2003, when the market collapsed, and Morris had to lay off the entire crew. For the next couple of years, Steve Morris and his sons kept the business going, and then things picked up again.
Steve said the chipping and grinding work was “probably some of the most satisfying work that I’ve ever done. Because here it is, it looks like a bomb went off, and we go in there and clean it up, and it looks like a park when we get done.”
Today, for the chipping and grinding portion of the business, the company uses a 4810 Flail debarker and a Morbark Model 30 chipper, along with two Peterson 5710 horizontal grinders.
The Flail debarker and Morbark machines are used to make clean wood chips out of tanoak and other conifer species for Green Diamond Resource Company. This is something Morris Logging and Contracting has been doing for the last five years.
One of the two Peterson 5710 grinders operates in the wood waste recycling yard at the Morris Logging and Contracting shop in Humboldt County. Wood waste such as unpainted and untreated wood and green waste can be disposed of (for a fee) at the company’s shop, is processed on site, and then hauled to the D.G. Fairhaven biomass power plant, some 16 miles away.
The second Peterson grinder is moved around to various mills in Humboldt County, producing biomass at those locations, which is then hauled to Samoa.
Year Round Work
Combining the logging and chipping and grinding sides of the business often translates into year-round employment, which keeps an experienced and skilled crew on the job.
“Ultimately the company logs in the good weather and makes chips and processes wood waste during the winter months,” says Jake. “In the winter months, when there are no logs to haul, the truck drivers can transition to chips.”
The crew at Morris Logging and Contracting is cross-trained to work both on the logging side, and the chipping and grinding side of the business. “What I say to the crew is that we’re all on the same team,” says Jake. “The crew does a good job, and we all get along.”
Jake says he is glad to be following in his father’s footsteps. “What I’ll give Dad is that through his whole career, he’s thought outside the box and hasn’t gone with the blueprint of doing everything.” And of his son’s involvement in the company, Steve says, “He helps me think like a 20-year-old, with a fresh perspective on logging.”
Both father and son have a strong work ethic, and Jake says he is proud to be part of the family business. “I like it because we both have the same goal in mind. I think it would be hard to be a partner with somebody that you felt wasn’t pulling as hard as you all the time, but I don’t have to worry about that.” For Jake, the best part of the job is being able to work side-by-side with his dad. “That’s probably my one biggest joy — to be able to work with him and be happy about it. This is what I grew up doing, and this is what I’m happy doing.”
When it’s time for the company to fully transition to the next generation, Jake will be ready. “That’s the plan,” he says. “Dad and I are joined at the hip with everything that’s here, and in the meantime, I see our present partnership continuing. When I was a kid, I always knew what I wanted to do, and today, I can’t think of a better way to make a living. It’s hard, good, honest work, you know? I have a lot of pride in the work that I do, and I have a lot of pride in my last name because I’m proud of what my dad built.”
ON THE COVER
Photo taken by Mary Bullwinkel of a Tigercat LX830C at a Morris Logging operation in California.
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