Jan Feb, 2003





Hustling for Federal Contracts Tom and Seth Zacharias Carve Niche For Pro Thinning With a Timbco & Rottne Combo

By Barbara Coyner

Tom (left) and Seth Zacharias by Timbco harvester

They call themselves third generation loggers from Joseph, Ore., yet in today’s logging climate it’s no slam-dunk following in the footsteps of dad and granddad. In truth, Tom and Seth Zacharias earned the right to stay in the logging trade because no one handed them a successful company to carry on. Instead, youth, hustle, innovation and business savvy have created business success, job by job. “We cut our teeth on cut-tolength,” says Tom, 25, who teamed up with his brother Seth, 23, three years ago to form Pro Thinning. “We each started working as soon as we could hold a Pulaski, and after awhile we did water bars, chokers and riggings for our dad and granddad. Then we had a chance to get into things more. Neither of us wanted to leave Joseph, so we went for it and started our own company. Cut-to-length is what we started out with, pretty much. ”Tom piloted a single-grip when he was 17, working for his dad after school. Seth meanwhile gained experience with both a feller-buncher and single-grip when the family branched out to Colorado some years back. Seth recalls running a chainsaw at age 11, and graduating to a single-grip Rottne at 19.

Federal Contracts
These days, Tom and Seth and their small crew earn over 95 percent of their paychecks from federal sales, snagging an unusual reputation for their ability and tenacity in dealing with Uncle Sam. Running a Timbco harvester and forwarder and a Rottne harvester and forwarder landed them a special niche among Forest Service timber administrators looking for the right equipment for delicate jobs. And their willingness to take on some of Uncle’s more picky jobs also racks up considerable brownie points. “We chase ‘em and we’re good at it,” Tom says of the federal contracts. “That’s what we know, and we know how to jump through the hoops and get the job done right.” A recent federal contract, the Horsefly Salvage Sale, kept bidders hanging for nearly three years thanks to numerous appeals, concerns over possible lynx habitat and opposition to cutting some of the 40 to 50-inch trees. Once into the area, Tom, Seth and the crew were challenged to clean up a blowdown that looked like the forest had been nuked. Operating with constant Forest Service oversight, Pro Thinning removed about eleven truckloads of logs a day, many of them large diameter. Equipment operators followed regulations to the letter, often walking the ground with federal supervisors. In many instances hand fallers preceded the harvesters, which, Seth points out, cuts down on dirt and wear on the harvester saws. “Usually the competition’s not very stiff for Forest Service jobs these days because a lot of others just don’t want the hassles. They actually now require forwarders on jobs on the Umatilla,” Tom says. “We find that now we can be competitive with bunchers and long log sides. It used to be that cut-to length was too expensive.”

Jim Adams on the Rottne forwarder

Timbco/Rottne Combination
On the Horsefly Salvage job, as on most jobs, Seth mans the controls on the Timbco 425 with a Log Max 750 head. “It’s got a lot of power, almost too much, and you can cut up to 30 inches,” he says. “We wanted the Timbco because we needed a more powerhouse machine to handle the rougher wood. The Rottne won’t cut the 20- inch wood; it’s made for 12 to 16 inches. But the Timbco can handle the bigger stuff.” Tom and his fiancée Tara keep tabs on the business side, and Tom does double duty on the Rottne SMV rubber- tired harvester as well. “I’ve been running the Rottne since high school and probably have 11,000 hours on it by now,” Tom says. “I’m familiar with it and what took five hours to fix five years ago now takes five minutes.” Both Seth and Tom agree that the rubber-tired harvester is easier on the body, especially the back, and the Rottne, with its air-ride seats, claim it is like riding around in a pickup all day. No matter what the comfort level, however, Tom notes that he and Seth set the pace for their woods operations. “We’re the guys on the cutting machines, so we set the rate of production. By putting the guys paying the bills in front of production, it’s different than having an hourly wage guy set the rate. I think that’s important to our business.” Seth also sees the forwarders as key in profit margins. “Harvesters have a down side because they’re more expensive and require more maintenance. The forwarders have kept us alive because of their low maintenance. There aren’t any saw chains or bars to replace, so there’s a margin of profit gained on forwarders. We would just break even with harvesters.”

Business Savvy
For the Zacharias brothers, there’s been plenty of trial and error. “We push out a lot more wood than we used to, and we’ve restructured after watching others,” says Tom. “For one thing, we bought a lot of used or repossessed equipment that we’re familiar with and can fix easily. Also, we don’t like to finance longer than three years. You have to be realistic about how long things last, and it’s not worth it when you’re done whether it cost $500,000 or $50,000. We keep good components, and do all our own mechanics, but we don’t repaint our machines every year or things like that.” Seth shares plenty of credit with crewmembers for any success stories. “The crew keeps us running and you can’t make it without good employees. This is the best crew we ever had and you have to pay them and give them benefits if you want to keep them. Jim Adams, who drives one of the forwarders, worked for our dad and granddad. We used to run a bigger crew, but the young guys just didn’t work out. Most of them didn’t want to get up early, and they were a lot tougher on equipment. There’s a lot more rip and tear with younger guys.” The more mature loggers are also more seasoned mechanics, another asset when about 99 percent of mechanical repairs are done in the woods, according to Seth.

Seth piloting the Timbco harvester through Oregon’s ski country.

Hard Work But Satisfying
To the two guys who get up before the chickens, it’s definitely the-earlybird- gets-the-worm thinking. Tom admits that sometimes the juggling act gets pretty tricky. “If I could have my dream, it would be to get to work and not have it be a battle that gets me all stressed out,” he says, detailing some occasions when the crew was only three days from completion on one job before the next one showed up. “It sometimes feels like we’re hanging by a thread and if you miss one pay period, it’s hard to recover.” With loggers getting hammered by federal regulations and loopholes, Tom and Seth Zacharias actually court such hassles. But for them it’s the only game in town. The extra chores of flagging trails, dealing with slash, stumps and water bars, and just interacting with pickier supervisors isn’t exactly fun, but the guys find great satisfaction in saying they got it done, and did it right. And somewhere down the line there may be an advantage. “Sometimes I look around and see that we’re about the only ones our age doing this,” says Tom. “I’d like to think that it may pay off and we can stay in the business. If we can just make it through the tough times, who knows, someday we might be some of the only ones left to do the jobs.”


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