Schmitz Timber Management, Silverton, Oregon

After the Burn

Schmitz Timber Management, Silverton, Oregon

By Jan Jackson

Greg Schmitz, third-generation logger and President and CEO of Schmitz Timber Management Inc. in Silverton, Oregon, thought he’d seen it all in his forty-plus years in the woods. However, the wildfires that started sweeping through the Santiam Canyon early on September 8, 2020, proved him wrong.

As a result of those fires, more than one million acres of Oregon’s timber burned—and 400,000 of those acres were in the area where Greg goes to work every day. In one spark, he lost a log loader, needed to buy a new road builder, and he changed his focus to salvaging fire- ravaged timber for his clients.

“I had in mind to buy a new road builder anyway but backed off when the uncertainty around the Covid thing started,” Greg said. “About the time I decided to go forward with it the second time, the fires hit, and I had to back off again. When it came to building and rocking road in the burn, I couldn’t wait any longer.”

Schmitz Timber Management, Silverton, OregonGreg Schmitz, President and CEO Schmitz Timber Management, Silverton, Oregon.

The Ground

The Santiam Canyon Fire (originally called the Beachie Creek Fire) wiped out the towns of Detroit, Gates, Mill City, and Idanha, and burned the underbrush, which left the steep terrain in the salvage area a dangerous place for the men to work.

The Link-Belt 4040 already comes outfitted with extra guarding, higher undercarriage, and a forestry cab specifically for road building in the woods, but Greg went further yet. Because he wanted to fall timber with it, he added additional plumbing to run the head.

“I figured I’d be working in the burn at least two more years, so I had them add single bar tracks with extension on the bars so we could operate on steep terrain,” Greg said. “I wanted to run my felling head, heel rack and grapples, and my bucket thumb and coupler, so we plumbed the machine to accept all of those attachments. In addition, they put single bar grousers on it so we could get around better.”

The Sale

One of the first people Greg called was Curtis Ward, Link-Belt sales rep for Marion, Tillamook, Yamhill, and parts of Polk County, who has worked with Greg for some 30-years. Since he was already using Link-Belt’s 4640 Log Loader, 4040 Processer, 350X2 Shovel, and a 290X2 Processor, it was an easy decision to add a second Link-Belt 4040 Road Builder that he could modify to fit his needs.

“We had Greg back up and running pretty quickly, because Triad [Triad Machinery Inc. Portland, Oregon] does a really good job of keeping machines in stock and men in the shop to make modifications,” Curt said. “We have a constant supply of forestry machines on order and dedicated guys in the shop that don’t do anything else but finish the assembly and build the 40-series. They totally understand the Waratah engine, and they are good at trouble shooting.”

Curt adds, “Replacing [Greg’s] burned log loader with a new Link-Belt 4640 was an easy decision for him because a log loader is a log loader. But he needed a multi-purpose machine that had extra traction to work on burned-over ground in the salvage area, so the road builder was a different story. We modified his Link-Belt 4040 Excavator so much that we laughingly called it his Swiss Army Knife of sorts.”

Schmitz Timber Management, Silverton, OregonIt’s All in the Name

The Link-Belt company, which started in the mid-1800s in the wheat fields of Iowa, is rooted in problem-solving. In those days, the farmers had to wait sometimes days for even the simplest repairs to their steam-powered harvesters because when one section of the belt wore out or broke, the whole chain had to be replaced or taken back to a metal shop for lengthy repair.

A young farm implement dealer by the name of William Dana Ewart proposed that a drive chain could be constructed of several detachable links. When wear and tear caused one piece or link to break, the defective section of the chain could easily be replaced right in the field. Ewart called his product link belt — and the brand name and reputation for providing solutions to real workplace problems was born. Ewart patented the Link-Belt chain in 1874. Today, the company sells products all over the world.

Tapping Technology

While Greg grew up hearing how his grandfather used horses for logging and commercial wood-cutting, he uses the latest equipment, drone technology, and GPS apps on his smartphone.

“I’m fortunate to have had my drone operation in place before the fires, because stringing the lines we need to carry the logs down from the steep mountainsides would have been extremely difficult and dangerous without it. The steep terrain, poor roads, and small landing areas on the job around Detroit Lake have been particularly challenging, and I’ve had to spend a lot of time there. In the burn areas, all of our underbrush and stuff like that is gone so you’ve got a lot more rolling objects. There’s nothing for the men to hold on to for traction or anything like that. It’s really a different environment out there for cable logging, so it has just made the drone that much more important. We definitely weren’t the first people, but yeah, the drone to me was the biggest no-brainer.”

The terrain was another reason for using the 4040 Excavator. “One of the factors for choosing the 4040-road builder was the large fuel tank is positioned to help give it stability. That machine is famous for fuel efficiency anyway, and they have positioned it to give the stability I need for the rugged territory I work in.”

Schmitz Timber Management, Silverton, OregonLink-Belt processor salvaging burned timber from the Beachie Fire.

The FutureHoping to harvest the burn logs quickly to get the best quality of lumber and plywood possible, Greg thinks most people in the area are shooting to get most of it done in a year.

“I’m hearing two years on a lot of it, though I don’t think the younger timber is going to last that long,” Greg said. “That’s really accelerating the salvage operations, I believe. I mean, not only are they able to salvage their trees, but at least so far, they’re also getting pretty good money for it. The mills are telling me that they’re sending out the finished product as fast as they can get the logs in, so it doesn’t appear that the market’s flooded at all – yet!”

Two years ago, when asked what his favorite part of the job was, Greg quickly said it was the challenge of figuring out how to do a new job, how much it will cost to log, negotiating with the timber owner, and then making sure he has the right equipment and people available at the right time. Right now, his favorite part of the job is being challenged.

TimberWest November/December 2013
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