Wood River LoggingDriscoll's John Deere 648L stands ready and waiting to get into the action.

A Simple Plan in a Complicated World

Klamath Falls, Oregon

According to Ray Driscoll, owner and operator of Wood River Timber in Klamath Falls, setting out on a logging career path “just happened.”

Starting out at 19 years old with a pickup and a chainsaw, Driscoll began working in the woods as a contract timber faller and set about making a living for himself and his family. One of his first contracts was with Erickson Air Crane. His days with Erickson were short lived and he came back home and started contract timber falling in the Klamath basin.

“It’s funny,” Driscoll says, “My timber falling was going to the wayside with the mechanical harvesting. That was in 1996, and I decided to buy a Timbco. Going into the logging business just happened.”

Buying his first tree harvester and putting it to work was anything but a bed of roses. “My payments on the Timbco in 1995 were $12,333 a month. I was so broke, I had to finance my down payment. It was a tough run in the beginning, but we just plowed through.”

At that time, Driscoll had one machine and one employee, and he was still taking hand falling jobs to supplement his income. “I still do a portion of my own timber falling—unfortunately my body doesn’t like it as well as it used to,” Driscoll said.

Driscoll explained that building his logging company wasn’t the result of a dynamic business plan, but rather rolling with the punches, trying to keep moving forward through the industry changes and challenges, and doing whatever worked best.

Wood River LoggingThe Wood River Logging crew: Jeramy Mcfarland, Rusty Green, Leevi Lane, Troy Davidson, Jan Driscoll, Ray Driscoll and Muck the dog.

“I never wanted to be a logger, I was perfectly content cutting, but there just wasn’t the money in it that there should have been. I’ve had to change directions several times since I started in the business from hand falling, to mechanical harvesters, to putting together a logging side, but staying ahead of the industry has been probably the biggest challenge we’ve faced,” he said.

Keeping It Small by Design

Wood River Timber works one side at a time, and fields a crew of five, along with Driscoll. According to Driscoll, he has a very good crew and little interest in growing any bigger. “That’s all I want,” he said. “I watch a lot of these guys get big, and I think it’s a losing proposition for most loggers when you start getting bigger.”

Having a solid equipment philosophy has helped Driscoll keep his operation small but profitable. “We’ve been able to run older equipment for a lot of years because we’ve taken good care of our iron, and we’re real vigilant about maintenance. That’s another huge factor. If you don’t take care of your people and your equipment, you’re going to have problems.”

Currently, Driscoll’s equipment roster is heavy John Deere, featuring a John Deere 859M feller buncher, a John Deere 643L rubber tire feller buncher, and a 648L skidder. In addition, Driscoll has a CAT 324D delimber, John Deere G2 and G3 skidders, and a Hitachi log loader. Two log trucks/low boys, a water truck, and a dump truck round out the stable.

When needed, Driscoll can convert one of his skidders into a skidgen (a cross between an engine and a tracked skidder). Driscoll’s skidgen is unique in that the tank is a separate unit from the skidder. Driscoll cut down an old 1000-gallon propane tank, inverted it, put a pump engine in it with a door, and covered it back up. The end product is a versatile 500-gallon water tank that is all self-contained with pump and hose.

Wood River Logging

“We built it for my logging jobs. If you have a fire up on a hill somewhere that you can’t get your fire trailer to, the skidgen is perfect. The skidder runs up, grabs [the tank] just like a log, takes it right to the fire; you start the pump engine, reel out the hose, and put the fire out.”

Forged by Fire

When Driscoll first started out in 1984, he was also contracted as a cutter on fires. Since then, he has continued working fires, not as a supplement to his logging, but as a segment of his business to alleviate the toll fire has on logging operations. “I’ve been doing it 36 years. I like going on the fires because fire danger is such a pain in the butt. You’re between fire watch and limited hours. Your production is so far down. And then you’ve got the constant worry of starting a fire. So, I’ve been working fires virtually my entire career.”

Wood River LoggingDriscoll said the 2021 Bootleg Fire near Beatty, Oregon, was probably one of the most complex fires he has ever been on. The fire scorched more than 400,000 acres and was the third- largest fire in Oregon since 1900.

“The Bootleg Fire was the most consecutive days of heavy concern that I’ve ever had on fires. Normally, the Forest Service uses our equipment as a contingency tool. You’re cutting line a mile out in front, or they’re going to back burn off your line to box in the fire. The Bootleg, we were right up tight to the fire a lot of times. And the fire was moving at such a rate. It was a bizarre fire for a lot of seasoned firefighters,” Driscoll said.

Saving the Mitchell Monument

In July 2021, Driscoll and crew were on the Bootleg Fire clearing timber from the area surrounding the Mitchell Monument, located in the Fremont-Winema National Forest near the town of Bly, Oregon.

The stone monument commemorates the only Americans killed as the result of enemy action in the continental United States during World War II. The site is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and honors six people who were killed by a Japanese balloon bomb more than 75 years ago.

Melsness Logging had begun prep work on the area but had been pulled by the Forest Service the previous day. When the fire started moving in the direction of the monument, the Forest Service asked Driscoll to move in to help save the monument.

Driscoll studied the fire and determined where he could put his people and equipment. He brought in the skidder first. Then Driscoll went in with his feller buncher and took out a patch of reprod across the road from the monument as the fire was coming at it.

Wood River LoggingSkidgen goes to work.

“We continued to cut and skid out the reprod that was adjacent to the monument. We didn’t go all the way around it. Hand crews had done some really good work clearing brush and stuff like that.”

With pyrocumulus clouds developing, Driscoll raced to clear the site. “Looking back, when we got on the low boy in the afternoon about 6:30 p.m., we were about five to six miles away when the clouds collapsed,” he said.

When they returned the next morning, Driscoll says, “A bunch of the turns that we couldn’t skid out because we ran out of time were all burned up, everything was gone.”

Driscoll noted that the air support, the work done by Melsness Logging, and the hand crews were a big part in saving the monument. Due to the efforts of everyone involved, the monument remained unscathed.

 

 

TimberWest November/December 2013
May/June 2022

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