Mark Swanson Logging, Orofino, IdahoOne of Mark Swanson Logging's trucks being loaded by a Doosan 225DX.

Jammin’ Gears and Throwin’ Tongs

By Lindsay Mohlere

Mark Swanson Logging, Orofino, Idaho

Left to right Kyle Freedman, Jeff Miller (tong thrower), Rick Paradis (everything), Norman Merritt (processing/loading), Andy Mckee (falling contractor), Jeremy Davies (hooker), Jessie Davies (faller), Shawn Ogden (faller, photographer, friend).

Most logging company entrepreneurs got their start working in the woods at an early age, usually following a family member. For Kyle Freedman, owner of High Country Logging out of Council, Idaho, the usual career path would have had him mining or developing RV parks like his grandfather and dad, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, Kyle’s love of the mountains and forests around his hometown helped drive him, literally, into the timber business.

“I moved away out of high school to the Boise Valley to work. It just wasn’t for me,” says Kyle. “I grew up in the mountains and just spent every weekend driving back up to the mountains, so I just needed to figure out a way to get back to the Council area.” Acquiring a commercial driving license (CDL), Kyle drove a dump truck for a couple of years, but with plenty of work in logging, he ended up in a log truck. “Just trying to get back to my roots, to my home.”

Mark Swanson Logging, Orofino, IdahoKyle jammed gears for about 11 years driving a log truck. During that time, he would work in the woods a bit. “If my log truck was down, or we got rained out or whatever, I’d work in the woods, here and there. I always enjoyed it. 2018 was my first season. That’s when I went into the logging business,” he said.

Prior to 2018, Kyle had been hauling for Kim Helmick out of Riggins, Idaho. When Kim decided to retire, opportunity knocked on Kyle’s door, and Kyle bought Kim out.

“He was ready to retire, so I bought three machines. I started out with an old tong thrower, a skidder, and a stroke delimber. I also got one of his guys to work for me. He is still with me, so I feel he’s enjoying it — and I must be doing something right,” says Kyle.

The Mindset for Success

Taking the bull by the horns and jumping into a new industry always presents new and different challenges. For Kyle, like many other loggers, one of the biggest hurdles in starting his own business was securing financing. However, his mindset of “not going to be out-worked by the guy next to me,” paid off.

“I believe that nobody can get into this industry without a certain amount of help from different people. Whether it’s advice, or man hours, a little bit of help working on something, or help securing money. If you haven’t been in the industry at least two years, nobody wants to loan you any money. You may get told “no” a dozen times but if you don’t give up, eventually somebody’s going to give you a shot. So far, that has worked for me. It was a big hurdle though, securing money for equipment and just getting the opportunity to prove myself,” he said.

Mark Swanson Logging, Orofino, IdahoKyle also points to his grandfather as inspiration for owning his operation.

“My grandfather was an entrepreneur. He owned a few different businesses throughout his life, and I remember seeing his generosity in the way the people who worked for him enjoyed working for him and working with him. That’s what I’m striving for.” Kyle says he wants to create a place that can be both fun and profitable, where everybody enjoys coming to work.

Kyle credits his years of owning a truck and learning how to manage money as reasons for his success. Usually there’s a three-month layoff due to weather, which makes budgeting for the downtime a critical task for survival. “You really got to try to be careful and budget,” says Kyle. “About the time you get ahead and finally have money in the bank, it’s just in time to go into layoff — and you got nothing for three months.”

Kyle’s crew shares his work-ethic mindset. All his crew members have years of experience working in the woods. His tong thrower has more than 20 years of experience. Kyle says, “It’s pretty incredible what he can do with those things,” adding that his entire crew is of the mindset that they won’t get outworked by any other guy. In addition to his regular three-man crew, Kyle contracts two hand cutters.

Mark Swanson Logging, Orofino, IdahoA couple of the crew standing on top of Kyle's TimberPro TL745C.

“I feel like each guy is out there trying to better himself. And I feel the obligation to manage the business and try to make it profitable not just for me, but for my guys that are putting forth the effort and making it all happen. I really want to get to that point. You can’t ask for any better help. Those guys are few and far between. I’m just fortunate to have a few of them working for me.”

Kyle’s wife Tana is also an integral part of the High Country Logging team, helping out with paperwork and bookkeeping, while holding down a fulltime job. “I have to give her the hats-off — and for putting up with me and my aspiration. I don’t make her life easy, but thankfully she’s a trooper,” he said.

The Learning Curve and More

Kyle is quick to admit that jumping from a log truck to running a logging operation was not that easy.

“As a truck driver, you see the operation, and you think you see it all, but there’s quite a learning curve. I was lucky and quick to find out you’re only as good as your guys,” says Kyle. “I had good guys, with good experience. It’s really not as easy as a lot of these guys make it look.” Although he feels he has developed a good operation sense, it took him a year or two just to get where he felt productive.

Currently, Kyle and crew are doing selective logging, harvesting white fir and Douglas fir damaged by the tussock moth, while leaving pine and larch. Working the steep ground, High Country Logging fields a Caterpillar 320 tong thrower, a newer Doosan 225 with a dangle head, a John Deere 2154D equipped with a Waratah 622 and a TimberPro feller buncher to handle the job. Kyle is also waiting for delivery of his first new machine, another Doosan DX225LL from Cascade Trader in Hayden, Idaho.

Like most of his work, this job is contracted through Idaho Forest Group (IFG). “IFG is a big proponent for us,” says Kyle. “I want to thank them for the opportunity to work for them and recognize how much work they do fighting for our industry. Without them, we wouldn’t have jobs.”

For the future, Kyle is content with one side, adding that upgrading equipment would be more in line with his business philosophy. “If I’m going to try something, then I’m going to give it my all. If it doesn’t work out, at least I can say I gave it a hell of a try.”

TimberWest November/December 2013
March/April 2021

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