By Rick Stedman
The Zender name is well-established in the northwest corner of Washington State since 1890 when German immigrant Peter Zender homesteaded in the Bellingham area. The surname Zender has long been associated with the logging industry. Over the years, numerous family members worked in logging in a variety of jobs and under various Zender-named companies. At one point back in the 1980s, nearly 70 cousins with the last name of Zender worked in the Bellingham area logging industry.
Jordan Zender continues that trend. In July 2021, he and his partner Darryl Mcnielly assumed ownership of Zender Brothers & Wilburn Logging (ZBW), a family-owned and operated logging business since 1984.
“Peter was my great-great-grandfather who got this whole Zender family thing going when he moved into the Kendall area of Whatcom County,” says Jordan. “His logging, though, was restricted to clearing his homestead enough so he could use the land for farming.”
Jordan shares that it was his great-grandfather Jacob, one of Peter’s sons, born in 1896 in Whatcom County, who actually began logging in the early 1920s. Jacob sired 11 children, nine of them boys. When the boys grew up, they all became owners of Zee Brothers Logging. “They logged from 1948 to 2001,” says Jordan. “Many relatives in the area logged for them including my dad, one of his brothers, and multiple cousins including my previous bosses.”
Same Name, Different Company
Jordan’s previous bosses (cousins) got their business going in 1984. At that time, Greg Zender, Jeff Zender, Scott Zender, Brad Zender, and their brother-in-law Marty Wilburn established Zender Brothers & Wilburn Logging. It wasn’t until years later that Jordan joined the team.
Jordan has been with the company for the last decade, learning all the nuances of the logging business. “I was 19 when I first started working in logging,” he says. “I worked more than 10 years at Zender Brothers & Wilburn Logging, and during that time I learned a great deal about the business. During that decade of on-the-job training, Jordan not only became a skilled logger, he also knew he wanted to go into business for himself. “My eventual partner Darryl Mcnielly and I talked many times about forming a business, and kicked around lots of ideas,” he says.
Darryl is no stranger to the logging industry either. “I appreciated the small company atmosphere where the employer actually takes time to get to know you, and know about your family, like ZBW.” He adds, “I’ve worked for big logging outfits, and I felt a little lost working there. There was no connection at all, I was just a number.”
At 37 years old, Darryl has been a logger for the last 18 years. He comes from a family of loggers as well. “My dad was a logger for 41 years, and my two uncles both worked for more than four decades in the logging industry.” Like Jordan, logging is in his DNA.
Darryl and Jordan’s similarities also include appreciating the family-type atmosphere in the work environment. Both men worked several years together at Zender Brothers & Wilburn Logging. That camaraderie on the job was part of their team’s make up. It also served as the foundation for their eventual partnership.
During their time working together, Darryl and Jordan spent many hours discussing various aspects of owning their own business. “We’d talk about what it would take for us to actually own a logging business,” says Jordan.
Then, like magic, early into 2021, the owners of Zender Brothers & Wilburn Logging began floating the idea of retirement. Jordan’s cousins, who had owned the company for 37 years, planned to simply close the business and sell the equipment. When Jordan and Darryl heard that news, they went into overdrive with their business planning efforts. It wasn’t like they were starting from scratch, for their ideas and interests had been churning for several years.
“From that point on, we started looking at every aspect of the business, talked with professionals about financing and other aspects of taking over and running the business,” says Jordan. “At first, there was a lot we didn’t know, but we quickly became knowledgeable about a lot of different areas, and eventually, everything came together. Darryl and I took over the business of Zender Brothers & Wilburn Logging on July 20, 2021.”
Of that experience, Darryl shares, “At first, it was overwhelming the amount of information and topics we had to come up to speed on. We talked with the current crew members about staying on and working with us, and some of the companies that had been working with the previous owners. Eventually, we pulled everything together.” Darryl says that even though there were lots of responsibilities and new things to learn about business ownership, the entire process from start to finish took only around six weeks.
Part of any good logging operation is the right equipment. They purchased a Skagit BU-94 and a Madill 071, as well as two Kobelco shovels and a Kobelco processor with Log Max head. They also have three carriages — an Eagle, a Bowman, and a Danebo gravity carriage.
“We’re currently using the Skagit, doing a lot of high lead down hilling and bullet logging with the Danebo,” says Darryl.
The business operated under the name Zender Brothers and Wilburn Logging through the end of 2021, but January 1, 2022, they officially became Zender and Mcnielly Logging Corp.
Along with becoming a business owner, there are new obligations that go along with the title. “I used to be very hands on as a logger, but now I have other responsibilities,” says Jordan. “In addition to training new employees and ensuring everything runs smoothly, there are lots of other responsibilities like paperwork and the business end of things,” he shares. “The days don’t end at five anymore!”
As a new owner, Jordan says he appreciates having the latitude to make business decisions about his company right on the spot. “Both Darryl and I grew up in the logging industry, and we have pretty good business instincts,” he adds.
If you count the owners, there are only seven employees at Zender and Mcnielly Logging Corp., and Darryl says, “What I really like about our current small staff is that we are a bunch of young, go-getters who love what we do. And we’re a tight-knit group. Also, everyone is kind of a Jack-of-all-trades. We can each operate all our machines and equipment, like the shovel and yarders.”
The small but amazing team includes yarder operator Paul Zender — son of Brad Zender; rigger Kolby Williams — he, too, is a Zender by birth; main rigger Bryce Fleming, who started working for ZBW about a year ago and stayed on when the business changed hands; shovel operator Bubba Blockley, who also comes from a big logging family in the area; and Ben Watts, who runs the processor and is very efficient on the machine.
Summarizing the family perspective, Jordan says, “We have one of my cousins rubbing the yarder, another cousin rigging, and me hook tending. I guess it’s still kind of a family outfit!”
Both partners readily agree that it’s a good thing!
ON THE COVER
Morning view from the Zender & McNielly landing.
Family Logging Tradition Continues in Whatcom County
Zender & McNielly Logging - The Zender name is well-established in the northwest corner of Washington State since 1890 when German immigrant Peter Zender homesteaded in the Bellingham area.
A Coming Revolution in The Forest Products Industry
Expect Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) to become a viable “go to” building material, even for “skyscraper” sized projects, in a relatively short time.
Red Tail Forestry Clears the Way
Overgrown brush and dense invasive trees crowded their woods, making once well-worn paths unwalkable, increasing the chance of forest fires, and cutting off younger generations from land their parents and grandparents grew up on.
Hometown Logger Rewarded for Innovative Management
When a roadless stand of timber must be harvested and transported across a fish bearing stream, one’s first thought might be to build a bridge. That was Tony Hauth’s first thought too, but the solution he came up with, earned him the title of 2021 Eastern Oregon Operator of the Year.
Watch Out! Here Comes the Money!
Face to Face at the Loggin’ Show
Family and friends kicked off the 84th Annual Oregon Logging Conference with great expectation following two years of in-person restrictions and mask mandates as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nick Smith weighs in: Russian Invasion Should Renew Effort to Increase Western Lumber Production.