Larry Heestacker, founder of A-1 Logging, and his sons, Ben and Jeremy, took a big leap with their business in 2014. They replaced their mixed fleet of old equipment with new Caterpillar machines.
Today, Ben and Jeremy credit their success to making that switch and investing in new equipment. They left behind the high cost of repairs and downtime for making regular payments on new, more efficient, productive, and reliable equipment.
Larry started his career in the woods with a chainsaw and a pickup truck. He started transitioning away from the company in 2011 and fully retired and turned over the business to his sons in 2021.
Today, Ben, Jeremy, and a crew of 25 employees operate with a fleet of late model Caterpillar equipment. They also have a subsidiary trucking company, Trask Mountain Transport.
Ben moved up from equipment operator to manage the business side of the company, and Jeremy is in charge of the equipment, field operations and crew. The company does a wide range of work, from performing thins on small homesteads to clear-cutting hundreds of acres. Services also include reforestation, and land clearing, site preparation and road building. Known for their work ethic and adaptability to change, the company harvests up to 20 million board feet of timber annually.
A-1 Logging is based in Yamhill, a small farming town located about 35 miles southwest of Portland. The region is predominantly made up of forests of Douglas fir, grand fir, western red cedar, and western hemlock. The company harvests timber within a 70-mile radius of Yamhill, and the truck drivers deliver to mills as far as 100 miles away.
“We have a lot of different sorts, so we sell where we get the best price,” said Ben. “Our main mills are Stimpson, Hampton, and Boise Cascade, but we send our oversize logs to Zip-O-Log in Eugene. Doug fir goes to Rosboro in Springfield.” A-1 recently worked on its first job for Rosboro, which is America’s largest producer of glulam beams. “We also harvest alder saw logs,” said Ben. Saw log market prices are up, although the pulp market is down. “Everything has gotten so high that buyers are starting to get products from other countries,” said Ben.
The company has a fleet of Cat logging equipment. The workhorses are three Cat 558 forest machines configured for processing work – two with Ponsse attachments and one with a Waratah. Caterpillar manufactures four forest machine models, which are purpose-built track machines that can be configured for general forestry operations or for log loading and handling tasks. The Cat 558 machine is the second-most powerful in the lineup.
Felling is done with a Cat 552 track harvester equipped with a Southstar 750 head; it can do double duty, felling and shoveling. About 20 percent of the felling work is done manually, subcontracted to B&G Cutting.
A-1 Logging also has several Cat shovels for shoveling logs and a single Cat 517 track skidder. Loading and handling operations are performed by six Cat loaders, which includes four log loaders and two Cat shovels configured for loading operations.
All the company’s equipment are track machines. “Everything is on tracks,” noted Ben. “Even the yarders have been converted to tracks.”
The company has turned again and again to Cat equipment when it has come to invest in a machine. “A lot of it is the local Cat Dealer, Peterson Cat,” said Ben. “The support we get from them, and the performance of the equipment are the two factors there.” Don Chandler, a sales rep for Peterson Cat in Salem, has been working with the Heestackers for 30 years.
Jeremy and Ben are getting ready to upgrade their felling machine and are looking closely at a harvester from Weiler, which acquired Caterpillar’s feller buncher and skidder lines in 2019. Peterson Cat is also the Heestackers’ local Weiler dealer.
For its cable logging operations, the main yarder the company uses is a Madill 171 tower yarder paired with a new Boman Industries SkyCar carriage and an Eagle slack puller. The company also has a small Summit yoder with a grapple carriage. Older Cat D7 bulldozers are used for anchoring yarder equipment.
The Boman carriage is brand new; they decided to upgrade and replace an older Bomman carriage. “We’re trying to move to a more solid braking system, and the new one has a new band brake,” noted Ben.
“Eventually we’d like to get to a fully mechanized cable system,” added Ben.
The company has two drones from Hilltop Aerial to help lay cable for yarding operations. “It’s great for us,” said Ben. “We no longer have people on the ground taking all day to pull cable all the way across. Now, we simply hook the rope to the drone, and in four or five minutes it’s done.”
The company works on tree farm land owned by Hampden Lumber and Stimson Lumber, and Ben also bids on timber sales on state forest lands. They also buy some timber on private land “but not much right now, markets are so bad.”
The company usually runs two or three jobs at the same time. A-1 Logging does jobs as small as 5 acres up to several hundred acres.
“We’re pretty much getting a lot more ground-based work now,” said Ben, using tethered or cable-assisted equipment on steep terrain.
The company harvests a lot of Doug fir, grand fir, hemlock, grand fir, western red cedar, alder, and maple.
There is “zero pulp market,” observed Ben. Prices are so low there is “nowhere for it to go.” It is left behind unless they can sell it for firewood or some other market.
“There’s no market right now for timber on private land because we can’t sell the pulp and hardwood,” added Ben.
The company typically forms slash into piles to be burned later, although on some jobs it is scattered so it will rot and decay and return nutrients to the soil. Some landowners want the job sites cleaned up.
Ben oversees the business side of the company, secures work, and checks on jobs. Jeremy runs the cutter and fills in other equipment as needed.
Ben represents the company in the Association of Oregon Loggers (AOL) and Pacific Logging Conference (PLC).
“I think AOL has me on about three or four committees, and we try and do as much as we can to support the PLC,” said Ben. “Right now, we’re just trying to stay on top of a couple of new policies coming up. A particular concern for us is the private forest policy and a new Oregon Habitat Conservation Program (HCP) that affects state grounds.”
The Private Forest Accord, signed into law in 2022, sets a new standards for forest roads and culverts to remove barriers to fish passage, and expands the width of required no-cut buffers along streams. “There are a lot of projections out there and it’s going to hit the coast range hard,” said Ben. “We’ll just have to see how many companies survive.”
Larry, who grew in nearby Banks, started out as an electrician for a mobile home factory. He went to work in the woods when the manufactured industry suffered a downturn. Ben and Jeremy grew up working with their father in the woods. A third son also worked in the woods until a bike accident required him to make a change; he now works in computer software sales. Larry also has a daughter who manages a cabinet business.
“We’ve had our outs early on, but we just kept coming back solid,” said Larry. As Ben and Jeremy matured, “they got more locked into the business,” he said. “I knew they were ready the day we all three independently bid on a big, seven million board foot job and came within 20,000 feet of each other.”
Ben finds it pretty easy working with family since they grew up working weekends and summers through high school and the nearly 25 years they’ve worked together since then. Their holidays, which they take independently, finds them elk hunting, and they don’t have to go very far from home to do that.
When asked what made the Heestackers so adept at change, Ben quickly said, “Survival!”