Rodgers Contract CuttingYou’re Only as Good as Your Horse and Crew

By Jan Jackson

Nick Rodgers, a fourth-generation logger from Butte Falls, Oregon, started contract cutting right out of high school. Now president and CEO of Rodgers Contract Cutting Inc.,

he and his 25 employees cut for all the main loggers in southern Oregon. He admits that getting to this point hasn’t been easy.

Jumping Ugly and Starting out

Nick started hand cutting for Weyerhaeuser right out of high school, working in Northwest Oregon along the coast toward Tillamook. Nick said, “A year later I came back to Butte Falls, bought some equipment, hired some employees, and went to work solely for a company that ended up selling out and leaving me a million-and-a-half dollars’ worth of equipment and no work. I laid most of my timber fallers off, and I was able to get out from under the equipment and made it without having to file bankruptcy. It was a scramble to find a way to pay my mortgage and feed my family.”

Nick admits that trying to grow a business was tough. He adds, “Being in my 20s and 30s trying to gain the respect of 50 and 60-year-old timber fallers that had cut timber their whole career was a challenge. I do believe you are only as good as the people you hire. I’ve got good guys.” Nick offers health insurance and paid vacations and backs his crew up where he can. During this interview he said that he was on his way to one of his sites to give the crew assistance. “My boys are working on one of the hardest jobs we’ve had here the last couple of years, so I’ll try to get some insight into the problems they are facing and jump on whatever piece of equipment I need to help them out.”

Rodgers Contract CuttingNick says horse logging doesn’t make a lot of money, but it’s a great.

Mike Weaver, Southern Oregon Safety Officer for Associated Oregon Loggers, who has worked with Nick over the last 10 years, talked about the development of Nick’s cutting business.

“There’s a big focus right now on mechanized cutting, and it is indeed growing,” Mike said. “Contract cutting has been around for decades, but a lot of these crews are just a couple of guys and chain saws. Nick started out small, but he grew. Over the last 10 years, I’ve watched Nick grow his company. He has a good reputation for doing a good job, including developing a good safety program. I like seeing young people like that do well. He’s at the top of his game.”

In the Timber with the Right Iron

Located about forty miles from Medford, Butte Falls (population 450) is where Nick’s great-grandfather, grandfather, and father all worked in timber. Today, Nick operates with hand cutters and a complete mechanized collection of saws in a mixture of Ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, incense cedar, and white fir.

Rodgers Contract Cutting“We are really balanced right now with about 50% timber fallers and 50% operators,” Nick said. “On my logging side, it works well to be able to plug the hand cutters in and keep them busy full time.” He still fills in where needed, but over the last year he hired “some key people” so that he can spend more of his time bidding and planning jobs.

Nick says that the current operation differs from that of his predecessors. “In the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, my dad and grandpa were in on revolutionizing all this ground that we cut down here. We are working the same ground, just in different ways. We cut steep ground logging 30 percent, 40 percent, 50 percent grades and though we cut for cable loggers, we don’t do any cable logging.”

As far as equipment, Nick says the company has a Tigercat that runs full-time and two Timber Pro hot saws, one of which is used for ground-based logging, while the other cuts on their logging side. In addition to the hot saws, they have TimberPro feller bunchers, a John Deere 2454 processor, a 525 Cat skidder, a 527 Cat dozer, and a big John Deere skidder.

Ed James, Nick’s rep at Modern Machinery’s Grants Pass office, talked about working with Nick.

“I inherited Nick about seven months ago when I took over the territory from John Hamlin who had worked with Nick for years,” Ed said. “He’s fun, he’s young, he’s energetic, and he’s moving in the right direction.” Ed mentioned that Nick recently purchased a TimberPro 745, equipped with a squirt boom, and a Log Max 7000XT processor from Modern Machinery that’s going to allow him to harvest trees and process them right at the stump. He can also do a short logging side that will process short logs in the field, and then he’ll be able to forward them to the landing already processed ready to go.

Ed added that Nick is serviced by resident field technicians out of Roseburg and Bend that are dispatched by Modern Machineries Eugene Service Center. “They take good care of him.”

Rodgers Contract CuttingOperators with their John Deere 2454D and handfelling.

Not just satisfied with the standard cutting operations, Nick also does horse logging, salvaging timber in sensitive areas for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

Riding the Horse Through the Bar

For the horse logging, Nick depends on his Percheron draft horses. “One of the purchases I made when I was desperate to do anything to make money, was to buy a team of Percherons so I could do salvage work for the BLM,” Nick laughed, adding that it was about the only thing he could afford at the time. “I bought Jody and Rook from a ranch in Nevada and added Hercules and Apollo later. My cattle riding horse is a mustang rescue I bought from the BLM. They called him Satan because his tag number ended in 666, but he’s my buddy. I call him Lucifer Lou.” While Nick admits that the horse logging doesn’t make a lot of money, it acts as a getaway for him. “Being able to leave my phone in the truck and spend all day out there on my mustang with my dog, I guess is my kind of meditation.”

Priding himself on being versatile, in addition to his contract cutting and horse logging business, Nick owns and flies a little helicopter, and he restored the historic Butte Falls Tavern.

Rodgers Contract Cutting“I decided to buy and restore the tavern five years ago when the town needed a public place to gather. I redid the inside with a bunch of blue pine and a little bit of Doug fir I salvaged with my horses from some of the BLM jobs as well as some special items I salvaged from the old house I grew up in.” Although progress was slowed by COVID-19, Nick and his wife hosted a grand opening celebration on July 2, 2022.“I always thought I was going to be a big game guide outfitter or something like that and maybe I’ll still do that someday, but right now I’m enjoying what I’m doing,” Nick said. “My wife and I raise and home school our two daughters on an off-the-grid ranch just outside of town. At six and eight, they not only do well in academics but know a lot about horses, four wheelers, and tractors and they can both walk the excavator from the lower barn to the upper barn and back.”

As far as the business of logging goes, the work continues to be fulfilling. “Our latest cutting job is to create a unique fire and fuel suppression corridor around Butte Falls that the Butte Falls Community Forest just got a grant to pay for. We almost lost our town during the 2020 Obenchain and Alameda fires, and we are going to try to keep that from happening again.” Calling it more of a stewardship program, Nick says he is happy to be involved with project.

“My family has been a part of this community for generations, and I feel blessed to continue. My core is solid, and I feel they respect me just as much as I respect all of them. Our high school motto has always been the Butte Falls Loggers and I’m honored to be one.”

TimberWest November/December 2013
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