By Lindsay Mohlere
After 35 years in the logging business, Jim Gahlsdorf, president of Gahlsdorf Logging Inc., out of Rickreall, Oregon, is well aware that overcoming the challenges of owning and growing a business depends upon the ability to embrace change and push ahead.
Dreams of Working in the Woods
Gahlsdorf got his start like many others in the timber business. He had the dream and desire to work in the woods. That coupled with a keen interest in the outdoors and family influence – his dad had a forestry background but didn’t work in the field – were major guiding factors.
“At one point I thought I wanted to be a forest ranger because it looked pretty cool to live in a ranger station, wear a green shirt, and drive a green pickup around,” says Gahlsdorf.
One summer vacation, Gahlsdorf worked for the Department of Forestry as a conservation aide, where he participated in a small, in-house logging project. When he got to set chokers behind an old D-6 Cat, “That was the bug that bit,” he says.
“I ended up in forestry school at Oregon State University, with the design that I’d go to school in forestry and learn about that side of it and someday have my own logging company.” When he graduated, he went to work for a consulting forestry company cruising timber and surveying. “Worked there for about 11 years and still had the dream. It was either do it or don’t. Then my wife came out and said if you don’t, you won’t.”
And do it, he did. One step at a time.
“I went out and rented a worn-out Cat. Bought a worn-out chainsaw, and that was the beginning. Worked by myself for a couple years, hired a guy here and there to bump knots, or to cut a little bit. Bought a skidder on top of the Cat. Started hiring people around ’90. I cut the cord on my real job in ’87, and I’ve been here ever since,” says Gahlsdorf.
Spreadsheets, Social Media and a New Log Loader
As it was in the beginning of Gahlsdorf’s business, the preeminent challenge has been cash flow.
“That never changes. It was just learning the ins and outs of it,” says Gahlsdorf. “I didn’t really have any formal training doing logging stuff. I just bought a saw and decided I could cut timber. I survived that barely, and kind of the same thing with running a Cat, or skidder, or anything else. I kind of quit learning how to run stuff with a Cat. I never really got any better running a log loader or processor or anything, so I just stay away from that stuff. But I got pretty good at a spreadsheet and computer. I can print checks real fast.”
With cash flow as a major obstacle in growth, Gahlsdorf focused on working around the problem. “With the way vendors work, if you want something, they’re going to help you get it,” he says, adding that doing a rental purchase agreement, in many cases, can pave the way.
“With the RPO stuff, you got a higher down payment, but if you can make the first three months or whatever your deal is, then you’ve got a down payment. Whether you get it financed with the vendor or a bank, you’ve got a down payment by virtue of applied rent. That’s the way a lot of people have done it. That’s the way we got rolling,” says Gahlsdorf.
Gahlsdorf doesn’t have a particular equipment philosophy, but the overarching goal is to try to get good people and good equipment, get good jobs, and make it all work together. “Sometimes the three-legged stool is a little precarious in terms of trying to keep all three of them even.”
Currently, Gahlsdorf Logging fields a shovel side and a yarder side utilizing a Berger Mark IIA and a Madill 172 tower. The company has a lineup of 50 forest machines and support equipment with John Deere and Link-Belt topping the roster, including a newer John Deere 3156 and a John Deere 859. Gahlsdorf says the company looks at John Deere and Link-Belt because the quality, service, and support have always been good, and they have been well served with those relationships.
Finding the Next Generation through Social Media
According to Gahlsdorf, another important challenge of growing his business is overcoming the labor problem, which is a pervasive problem encountered by most logging contractors.
“I think labor, obviously, has been a challenge. I think we’re all getting kind of a culture shock in the last couple maybe four years, five years,” says Gahlsdorf. “It’s just a different mindset in the younger people. I don’t think anybody will deny that. It’s trying to get your arms around what we need to do differently. We have to learn to adapt to what we’re presented with. Like the cell phone, for one thing. People can’t really do anything without telling somebody or letting somebody know what they’re doing or finding out what their buddies are doing. It’s just the way it is. You have to figure out ways to accommodate it or deal with it or come up with new policies to make sure you’re safe and productive.”
Recently, the company has devoted its Facebook page to attracting new employees to complement the 16 to 25 crew members already employed. “It seemed like the way to go. Some of my competitors are using social media for that purpose. We were using Craigslist quite a bit with pretty good success, but that seemed like it’s waned a little bit. Facebook is pretty popular,” he says.
2019 Northwest Operator of the Year
Gahlsdorf Logging has earned some good press lately. The Oregon Department of Forestry awarded Gahlsdorf Logging the Operator of the Year award. Gahlsdorf says they won the award “for taking extra firefighting precautions due to the location of the operations in a steep and remote part of the coast range. Soil disturbance was minimized by using an elaborate rigging system that lifted the logs off the ground and over a high ridge to a yarder landing.”
According to Gahlsdorf, the project was “probably one of the most challenging, if not the most challenging logging project we’ve had in my career.”
Located in the coast range, about halfway to the ocean and halfway to the valley, the 105-acre unit owned by Hancock Managed Timberlands presented a number of difficulties Gahlsdorf and his crew had to overcome, including the drive-time to the site.
“It’s pretty much in the middle of the coast range, probably anywhere from an hour and a half in any direction to civilization,” says Gahlsdorf, adding that the topography was the biggest hurdle.
“We did a lot of research looking at old historic photos to see how somebody else logged it. We used a lot of lidar and mapping, Google Earth, and whatever we could get our hands on to help figure out how to approach it,” he said.
The topography dictated that there was going to be a fair amount of sidehill logging, downhill yarding, and uphill yarding in difficult terrain.
About a third of the unit was on the back side of a ridge from the main landing. The trees could not be accessed from below, so the crews had to figure out how to get the trees over the knob and to the landing.
By bringing a smaller yarder up the hill and beefing up the rigging employing a series of intermediate supports and blocks, Gahlsdorf’s crew was able to yard the logs up without much soil disturbance. When the turns got to the top of the hill, they were then skidded down to the main landing.
ODF Stewardship Forester David Thompson noted, “Gahlsdorf crews are pretty in-tune with their operations and how it’s impacting the environment. They are pretty conscientious workers as far as how they set up and how they do their business.”
“It’s not just one big job,” says Gahlsdorf. “It’s a continued commitment to protecting the resource and trying to follow the Forest Practices Act as best you can. I think we’ve made some mistakes and stumbled a time or two, but overall, I think that all of my people have that commitment. After they get involved and see where we’re at as a company, they try to do the right things for the most part.”
On the Cover
JEM Forestry's and its Link-Belt and John Deere combo at work in the woods
Fourth-Generation Logger Chases Dream
Justin Everhart had always dreamed of striking it out on his own, and that’s just what he did.
Dream to Realty — One Step at a Time
Jim Gahlsdorf, president of Gahlsdorf Logging Inc., knows that overcoming the challenges of owning and growing a business depends upon the ability to embrace change.
After the Fire
On November 8, 2108, the world changed for Jenny Lowrey and her family as the forests of Butte County, California, exploded into flames.
It’s All About Solutions
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A look at the wide variety of forwarders on the market.
New Technology on the fire line.
Vote: Your community, forests and livelihood depend on it