Sept, 2001





Branching Out

Forward thinking and expanding into related businesses has kept Huffman-Wright prominently on the map

Story and photos by Kurt Glaeseman

Biodiversity may be a catchword of the current decade, but the Huffman-Wright Company of Canyonville, Oregon, knew and understood the concept twenty years ago when they figured out how they could keep themselves alive and healthy with a similar idea - economic diversity. Still one of the top ten Oregon logging contractors, the Huffman-Wright name also figures prominently in road construction, an equipment supply shop, a Stihl dealership sawshop, and the Starlite Quarry. The sometimes complicated inter-relationships are no accident. When logging took a decided downturn in the late '80s, the company leadership assessed their strengths and modified their focus. 

The garage and workshop at 3rd & Huffman, Canyonville,OR

It was a gutsy move, but brothers Hap and Ralph Huffman and brother-in-law Roger Wright chose an aggressive role in reshaping their destiny. The family-owned company started in the late 1950s, logging in the Canyonville and Riddle area south of Roseburg. In the 1960s and '70s the company experienced a growth surge; with plenty of logs, they expanded to 13 cat and high lead skyline sides. Road-building came with the territory - it was not unusual for plans to call for 20 to 25 miles of forest access roads. Business prospects looked good, that is until about 1985, when federal legislation made vast tracts of timber unavailable. 

Above: Timberjack 2628 feller-buncher 
BELOW: East of Cottage Grove, OR a Thunderbird stroke delimber.

The Huffman-Wright team were willing to consider logging cutback options, but they did have a lot of expensive machinery and a payroll of loyal employees. As Hap Huffman points out, it was only natural to branch out with their roadbuilding expertise to state and federal projects. Once the decision was made, the company made major investments in equipment and manpower. Some of their loggers who adapted well to the machinery suddenly found themselves building roads. The enterprise started out with small projects in the late '80s; the company learned about funding and bonding and bidding and a host of new regulations, but success did come. 

Huffman-Wright had always tried to keep their logging operations within a hundred miles of the home office, and they tried to do the same with the road construction. But that was difficult. Although they prefer to operate within Oregon, their excavation, bridge, overpass and underground line bids have taken them to Washington, Idaho, Nevada and California. Today the 140 employees are almost evenly split between the road building and the logging crews. 

Logging: Thunderbird 6140 swing yarder, used in conjunction with an Eaglet Carriage for thinning.

With a growing two-pronged venture, often spread over many square miles of area, it made good sense to stabilize the source of supplies that they would need from day to day. The South Douglas Supply Shop, under the Huffman-Wright umbrella, keeps a staggering inventory of skylines, haul-back lines, culverts, tools, signs - even safety glasses and logging boots. Items can be used directly for the company operation, or for personnel purchases, which can be deducted from paychecks much like the old company store idea. And the South Douglas Sawshop Saws and chains and bars, as well as advice and maintenance, are just minutes from the main office. 

Another valuable offshoot is Starlite Rock and Construction, a quarry with a rock crusher that can supply and deliver material for Huffman-Wright projects or for private parties. "It was a question of survival," says Hap Huffman, Vice President in Charge of Operations. "We had to have the foresight and the ability to shift gears if we were going to move into a new venue. We've always had good relations with several mills, but we couldn't afford to have our total income based just on logging. If we wanted to go forward, we had to broaden our base. I never wanted to get out of logging completely. I started as a timber faller in 1966, and it still is part of my life, but now things are more complex." 

Link-Belt 4300 with Pierce front

Today Huffman-Wright operates seven logging sides, with a variety of techniques and machinery. The long span skyline side has a cut-to-length operation, but you could also see a small cat side or a forwarder side, with plans for thinning or for clearcutting. The company tries to keep their logging options open - and that means having lots of different equipment available for whatever might come up. The stems they cut are mostly Douglas fir - a little old growth but mostly second growth. The Forest Service work has pretty much shut down, so almost all the work is on private land. 

Most of the wood goes to Roseburg Forest Products Superior Lumber in Glendale or Roseboro Lumber in Springfield. One of the most successful operations is a long span side near the South Umpqua River, where a mixture of old and second growth Douglas fir is being harvested. Huffman praises the combination of a Koehring 6644 shovel and an older 46 Madill tower with a Boman carriage. He likes the Boman product and just bought another new carriage last year. "Boman's been around and survived the ups and downs of the last years. We've come to know and trust them." Head chaser Tom Welker agrees: "I've been around the Boman carriage for ten years. It's smooth and efficient." Yarder operator Steve Thompson, supervising 500 feet of dropline, remarks that you have to be careful when you think of the weight of the carriage plus 16 to 18 thousand pounds of logs, which the Madill/Boman combination handles just fine. 

Above: Kelly Hammond, Manager of South Douglas Supply. 
Below: Hap Huffman, Vice President in Charge of Operations.

Huffman adds: "I run Eagle carriages on thinning operations, where they work out very well. We like to experiment until we are satisfied we are doing things right." At another side east of Cottage Grove, equipment includes a Timberjack 2628 feller-buncher, a Link-Belt delimber, a Link-Belt shovel, and a Skajit GT43 swing yarder. This is a smaller clear-cut unit. Russell Powell, who operates the feller-buncher, is more than pleased with his job: "It's kind of cool, running the Timberjack. I love it out here. I'm working on the logging end by choice, and Huffman-Wright is a good outfit to work for. I guess I'm intrigued by the machinery." The list of Huffman-Wright machinery is as diverse as their business ventures. On the two cut-tolength sides, the company has had good results from both a track-mounted and a rubber- mounted Timberjack harvester. 

The two rubber-mounted Timberjack forwarders have been consistent workhorses. You might see Denis delimbers mounted on Link- Belts, 2628 Timberjack feller-bunchers, GT4 Skajit swing yarders, and a variety of thinning yarders: GT3 Skajit, 188 Washington, 6255 Thunderbird, 6140 Thunderbird. Why so many thinning yarders? Almost a quarter of the logging work is now thinning, and the company has to keep a specialized crew for this. Most of the stems tend to be small- around fifteen inches dbh. Because of the steep terrain, handfalling is often the only choice. Hap Huffman comments on the thinning process and responsible logging: "We expect our crews to do a good job of removing wood that would die off as the forest matures. When they leave an area, we see improved wildlife habitat. 

GT3 yarder at side east of Cottage Grove

The open stands allow more grazing for deer. I am of the opinion that logging, correctly done, has enhanced more wildlife habitat than it has destroyed. On the North and South Umpqua drainages, there is more good habitat than there was 40 or 50 years ago. Logging has created that. "We all watch indicator species. Fifty years ago there wasn't an elk in those drainages. Now they are thriving. The elk feed in the old clear cuts, and so do the spotted owls, where they find mice. A century ago I think the stands of old Doug fir were pretty much devoid of wildlife. But if you go to the edge of an old clear cut, you start seeing deer, hawks and squirrels. We've created habitat for those creatures. Loggers are very conscious of the environment.

We want to protect our land so we can come back in 40 or 50 years for another harvest." The Huffman-Wright management team keeps in touch with what is happening at the local, state, and national levels of government. Speaking of the last Presidential election, Hap is direct in his political stance: "The right guy got elected. We hope that the current people in the White House will encourage changes in policy that are more conducive to business. Tax breaks may help us step up to newer and better equipment. 

Russell Powell, operates Timberjack feller-buncher

Of course we'd like to see regulations relaxed so we can get back in the national forests where we belong. Oregon's legislature is pretty much business oriented, and our local Douglas County is definitely attuned to a good business climate. Maybe we have to work from the bottom up-from county through state to federal. But I am convinced that what drives this nation is the wise use of our natural resources." Nephew Rod Huffman, who worked his way up from choker setter to hook tender and eventually to Director of Personnel and Safety for Huffman-Wright, would like the general public to see logging as a beneficial and renewable process that is not intent on destruction: "In this environmental issue, the hands-on people are the loggers, the real stewards of the land. We have a genuine interest in this land because we use it... and we want our kids to be able to use it... for logging, for hunting, for fishing, and for general appreciation.... Of course we want to do things right. We have a definite interest in the future."

Kurt received a Master's in English at Stanford, and taught 33 years before freelance writing. He's has written for a variety of Northwest magazines, including Northwest Travel, Sports Afield, and Western Horseman.

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