By Lindsay R. Mohlere
As Justin Everhart tells it, he had always dreamed of striking out on his own and owning a logging company.
“I was picking rocks and sticks behind my grandpa’s grader in what would have been my fifth-grade year, and then every summer after that. I was finally able to hop into a skidder when I was about 14, and that was every summer until I graduated high school,” says Justin.
After high school, Justin went to work full-time for his grandad’s outfit, Everhart Logging Incorporated. For nearly ten years, Justin continued to learn the ropes of the timber business from the ground up while keeping his dream alive and developing the mindset to create his own outfit.
In April 2020, Justin stepped up, split from his dad’s company, and formed his own company, JEM Forestry. The company is based in Bonners Ferry, Idaho, and fields a crew of Justin and three others, specializing in mechanical logging.
“It’s been more balls than brains,” says Justin. “This has been my dream since I’ve sat around Grandpa’s dinner table with him and Dad as a kid. I’ve learned so much being there, but this has been my dream to own my own business and do my own thing. Logging is a changing industry, and I’m still young enough to see the change. Like Eric Krume said, ‘It’s a changing industry. You either change or you get ran over.’ And I think that’s a big thing.”
The Men Are Rarin’ to Go
At 27 years old, Justin is probably one of the youngest owner/operators in the business, and the other members of his crew are young as well, but age doesn’t get in the way of having a strong work ethic and a desire to be the best.
“To be honest with you, I got what I consider one of the best crews around,” says Justin.
“We’re a younger crew. A lot of logging crews around, they’re older guys. Average age about 50. My oldest guy right now is 31 years old. We’re young and work hard. We take a lot of pride in that. We take a lot of pride in just the quality of our work, every one of the guys do. That and teamwork, the crew morale. They go out and attack the work. Whatever we’ve got to do, they’re there with a smile on their faces, raring to go. They just want to work. We take a lot of pride in that because I’ve always been, ‘if you ain’t having fun, why be there?’”
Currently, JEM Forestry is working a contract at Schweitzer Mountain Ski Resort in the Selkirk Mountains of North Idaho. The steep and rocky terrain presents unique challenges to Justin and crew, but that doesn’t slow them down.
“We’ve got probably two or three summers’ work up there. There’s quite a bit of wood, it’s just, steep, rocky, crummy soil. I mean, it’s pretty much a trifecta of not-fun logging. Terrible wood. It’s just the steeper, tougher ground. All the good stuff’s already been logged off, so you got to adapt to what your conditions give. That’s kind of actually what we specialize in,” says Justin.
Another challenge Justin faces with his new company is weather. Typically, the winter snows and rain shut down logging in the Panhandle, and crews are lucky to work eight months a year. To overcome that downtime, Justin and his crew work 10 hours a day, every day. “I’m trying to pound 10 and a half, 11 months out of eight months. Everybody’s scared of that big overtime work, but when you’re sitting at home doing nothing, that overtime doesn’t seem do bad,” he says.
In addition to crew members, Beau Cowley, Mark Mitchell, and Dalton Magie, Justin’s wife Maria, and his mom Ketta handle the paperwork.
“My wife Maria pretty much pays all the bills and basically handles almost everything at home. And my mom actually does our payroll. There’s no way I could do this without my wife. She’s been by far, my biggest supporter.”
Machines to Meet the Terrain
To meet the steep challenges of the North Idaho terrain, Justin relies on late-model equipment that will hold up to the demands the ground throws back at him. At present, Justin’s equipment stable includes a 2018 Tigercat 830D buncher, a 2019 Tigercat 632E skidder, a 2017 John Deere 948L, and two 2016 3740 Link-Belts. One’s a loader, and the other has got a 500 SouthStar processor on it.
“If I could afford to own all Tigercat, that’s what I would own. There is no better machine out there. I came out of a Timbco, and I’m cutting stuff now that I would have never even dreamed about cutting in a Timbco. As far as operator ease, I mean you’re not sore at the end of the day. You got that harness, where you’re hanging on the side of a cliff, and you pretty much feel invincible. And then as far as Tigercat’s support, I’ve been doing this a long time and I’ve worked with all of them, and there isn’t anybody even close. They’re the type that would get in their pickup and drive you the part that night if they could. They’re great,” says Justin.
Justin also had high praise for Triad Machinery out of Spokane, Washington. He says the service and sales were top rate. “They’re great to deal with.”
Justin hasn’t really considered going into tethered logging yet but is looking to expand with a yarder down the line. “I’m hoping to have Summit build a yarder this spring. I’ve been in pretty good contact with Eric Krume, and he’s getting some new ways of logging. I like that idea. I think the new ways are the future. You got to go out and try. But right now, we’re just staying mechanized,” he says.
The Future and Other Challenges
Starting a new logging company, and any other business for that matter, is a challenging proposition. For Justin, just starting out, overcoming the everyday challenges of working in the woods feeds his desire to expand and prosper.
“My biggest challenge is there are only seven days in a week. My next plan is getting into the yarding side. At some point I’d like to have a smaller roadside. I don’t know if I really want to have another full mechanized crew. Around here, there’s really not the work for it. I think I’d rather have one big side and keep the guys all busy and raring to go,” says Justin.
“I would like to be one of the big top competitors and be able to not only have a healthy living for myself, but a healthy living for all the guys with me,” Justin continues. “Yeah, the boss man has all the risk, but without your good employees, you’re still nothing. They’re out there working just as hard and just as many days as you are. And I think people tend to forget that part. I want my guys to make a good, healthy living.”
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
John Boak credits his success to the philosophy — life is not about problems, it’s about solutions.
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