Story and images by Mary Bullwinkel
Logging and family. For northern California logger John Boak, there has always been no separation between the two. He has dedicated his life to working in the woods, along with helping his wife Candace raise a family of three boys, two of which represent the fifth generation of family loggers.
John Boak Logging LLC was established in 2013, after Boak had worked for the family logging business all his life. He started his company using logging equipment rented from the family-owned Boak Logging Inc. that was in the process of being dissolved, after the death of his mother. Between that time and one year later when his father would pass away, Boak entered into a logging equipment rental agreement with his dad.
“I wanted to carry on with the logging business,” says Boak. “I had absolutely no thoughts of doing anything else. I’d been a logger all my life, and I was 60 years old,” he added. “Some of my siblings wanted to dissolve Boak Logging Inc., and I saw an opportunity to continue logging on my own.”
That was seven years ago, and Boak’s philosophy that “life is not about problems, it’s about solutions,” has contributed to his success. “Never say it can’t be done,” he says, “find a way to do it.”
When starting his own logging operations, John Boak Logging was using two TMY 45 yarders with motorized carriages, two 330 Kobelco log loaders, one with a Keto dangle head processor, and a 300 Kobelco excavator, also with a Keto dangle head processor. His Caterpillar side used one of the processors and a 480 Timberjack grapple skidder. This equipment was rented from Boak Logging Inc.
“I worked out a rental agreement with my dad,” says Boak. “I rented the equipment I needed to carry on the same operation that I had run for him and mom,” he added.
In addition to the rented equipment, which Boak was able to eventually purchase, he added a 322L Cat with a Denharco delimber, a purchase made possible when he and his wife sold their home and moved to a new house. Turns out that one of his close logger friends needed a delimber for one of his operations, so Boak traded his piece of equipment and an operator to go with it, in exchange for a 517 Cat swing boom that he later purchased from Bud Newton at Three Star Logging.
“That Cat was the life blood of that first year’s cat side,” says Boak, “and still is the star of the cat side today.”
Along the way, Boak added several other pieces of equipment to his logging operations including another Caterpillar 517 with a straddle grapple, an 850C John Deere choker cat, a Christy yarder, a 445EXL Timbco feller buncher with a 2900 Quadco intermittent saw, and in 2016, a new Doosan 225 log loader, which gave some fresh paint to the outfit.
Boak said he is eternally grateful to his father for having the confidence in his plan to carry on the family business under the name of John Boak Logging. The way Boak looks at it, when one door closes, another door opens.
John Boak Logging is still using the Kobelco log loaders, and Boak says the Keto processing heads are essential. “In 2000 when we needed to go to dangleheads to get away from strokers on yarder landings, there were no heads doing redwood and no dealers from up north willing to demonstrate. We were on our own, and we made a good choice, thinking that if there’s any hope of doing a redwood log with a processing head, it was going to be a Keto.”
Boak says 20 years of service speaks for itself. “We’re happy with what we’ve got,” and adds that he and his crew have the skills necessary to tackle any problems that might arise. “You show us a Keto that malfunctions, and I’ll show you how to fix it in less than two minutes, unless my oldest son Johnny beats me to the punch.”
Learning the Mechanics
Boak said he acquired his mechanical skills at a young age, when he started fixing chainsaws for his dad and grandfather. Back in the day (1920s) Boak’s grandfather Ted Boak was a consultant to Washington Iron Works, Willamette Iron & Steel, and Clyde Iron Works. Through high school John Boak worked summers setting chokers or chasing landing.
Boak says by the time he got out of high school, “I had been fixing crummies, and that quickly evolved into learning to cut and weld, and rebuild motors, transmissions, pumps, and anything else a logging outfit could wear out or break.”
He applied these skills to the TMY 45 Thunderbird yarder used in John Boak Logging operations. He says the TMY 45 is a very good yarder but built with a three-stage torque converter. “They pulled great, but with no reverse it was not so great, and scary to drive. So one winter we put in a five-speed twin-disc transmission and turned it into a more modern piece of equipment, which also made it easier to drive.”
Boak also uses a truck-mounted Christy yarder in some of his operations. “We’ve logged some good timber with it, and as a little yarder in some locations it really fills a niche there.” he says.
Another one of Boak’s prized tools is the 2900 Quadco saw on the Timbco feller buncher. Boak’s second-oldest son Daniel runs the cat side of logging operations and is the feller buncher operator. Daniel Boak is also responsible for doing all the layout work and coordinating skid trails, landings, brushings, and water barring. Both father and son agree on the value of the 2900 Quadco processing head.
“It’s less trouble than a bar saw and it doesn’t have the same fire restrictions as the hot saws,” says Boak. “It’s ideal for selective cuts where you pack so much of the wood to your trail, and it cuts a 29-inch tree — hot saws can’t do that.”
John Boak Logging is very proud of one of its recent logging operations in California and the impact it will have on reducing the impact of wildfires. For more than one year, the company logged burned timber, mainly on private timber company land, in Trinity County. This was the area burned by the Carr Fire in 2018, the seventh most destructive wildfire in California history, one that blackened more than 229,000 acres and killed eight people.
“If we don’t log the burned timber, a fire will sweep through all that area and burn it again,” says Boak. During his logging operations Boak removed 6.5 million board feet of burned and dead trees, and he was one of several loggers working there.
“I was using my TMY 45 and Christy yarders,” says Boak, “and from where I was logging I could see four and sometimes five other yarders working.”
Boak is convinced that logging is part of the solution and not the problem when it comes to wildland fires. The harvested timber was transported to landowner Sierra Pacific Industries’ mills in the Redding, California area, and some also went to Trinity River Lumber Company’s sawmill in Weaverville, California.
As mentioned, John Boak’s versatility is one of many factors contributing to the success of his business. In one instance, the company’s yarders were used for a purpose other than logging.
“It was my ‘outside the box’ suggestion that led to a partnership with a local construction company to deconstruct and reconstruct a 210-foot bridge across a creek on private timber company land,” says Boak. Instead of using monstrous cranes, Boak set up two TMY 45 Thunderbird yarders, one on each side of the creek, to get things done.
“We took down the bridge and put the new steel girders in place using a skyline system. Moving the steel girders into place was just like moving logs,” he adds. “The center of the creek was nearly 150-feet out from where a crane could have set up. Not what you would call a long span for a yarder, but definitely out of reach for any crane on the west coast.”
Regarding his lifetime of logging, Boak says, “I love everything about it. The engineering part of it, the work of it, the machines, the timber, the logs, the men; there’s nothing I don’t love and haven’t loved since I was little.” Also of importance to Boak is the camaraderie between loggers in Humboldt County, California. “I ask friends for advice, and they ask me for advice. I help friends that are broke down or don’t know how to fix a yarder, and my friends have helped me out too.”
“I truly have a team,” adds Boak. The team includes his two sons Johnny and Daniel and four employees who have worked with him for more than 20 years. “Without my boys, without my wife, without my crew, without my sister Kathleen, who is the best bookkeeper ever since my mom, I would have nothing.”
Boak believes that his two sons will carry on the family business when he steps down, although that probably won’t be anytime soon. He says, “I can do this 365 days a year, but they love it, and they’ll carry on.”
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