September October 2005



Staying Ahead of the Game

Mahon Logging uses new technology to take on unique jobs

The Timbco 445 EXL with
the 24-inch Intermittent
Saw Quadco Head.

By Kurt Glaeseman

A new generation of loggers is making a resounding impact in the forests above Council, Idaho. Brothers Joe and Mark Mahon are part of the new breed — smart, energetic, dedicated, ambitious, and entirely open to new technology and new ideas. They are college-educated, one with a degree in mechanical engineering and the other in forest management, yet they are quick to give credit where it is due — to their father Tom.

"Logging with Dad has been fun and an honor," says Joe. "I’ll never get tired of hearing the old logging stories." But Joe and Mark are creating their own logging history, with new harvest plans, new hauling challenges, and new machinery like stroke delimbers and tong throwers. Their Timbco 445EXL with a Quadco head still makes father Tom grin with approval. When he was a young logger, no one was debating the advantages of a 24-versus 29-inch intermittent saw.

Getting Their Start

Tom Mahon grew up in a logging family in eastern Oregon. His dad was killed in a logging accident in 1959, and soon thereafter Tom joined the U.S. Navy. When he got out, he stopped in Council, Idaho to visit a logging uncle, who immediately got him a job with a Boise Cascade brush crew. In 1969 Tom bought his own log truck and then a Cat so he could pick up small timber sales. He recognized the efficiency of skyline work and bought his own yarder, a Skagit SK4.

Sons Joe and Mark remember a childhood where logging was the big thing in the community. Council had its own sawmill and everyone had a family member working either in the mill or in the woods or on a truck. "We used to play with our little Cats and trucks," remembers Joe."Dad would cut us limbs for ‘logs’ and we’d join our friends with their toys to build our own roads and logging sides. At recess, when a log truck went by, we all had to see who it was."

At the age of 13 the boys "went to the woods" to work with their dad. They started out as chasers, unhooking chokers, but gradually worked up to more responsible positions. "That’s what we did all summer," says Joe. "We paid for our college with money we’d made logging in the summer. And at Christmas breaks we’d be out logging with Dad." Both went to the University of Idaho at Moscow, and it was here that Joe remembers standing up in defense of loggers. "There weren’t a lot of environmentalists then at the U. of I., which was pretty much an agriculture and engineering and forestry school, but I couldn’t keep quiet when I did hear unwarranted criticism of the profession that had kept my family alive."

Father Tom Mahom (blue coveralls), Rene van der Merve,
Valmet Product Manager with Modern Machinery in Spokane
and Operator Joe Mahon (beige jacket).

In for the Long Haul

Joe always knew the Mahons were in logging for the long run, and he understands the necessity of staying current with changes in processes and machinery. Mark sits on the boards of several logging organizations, and all three like going to the logging conferences to see what is new. "We get a lot of new ideas, and it’s up to us to absorb them and see what applies to our operation," says Joe. "We have to keep our eyes open. It’s dangerous to fall into a fixed mind-set and keep doing things in the same old way. I keep reminding myself that we have to work smarter, not harder!"

Gearing Up to Handle the More Difficult Jobs

With the Forest Service gradually offering new contracts and companies like Boise Cascade writing modern harvest plans, the Mahons want to be able to comply with sometimes unusual and often tighter prescriptions. At the Lightning Ridge Tract, the plan calls for the removal of over-mature white fir, Doug fir and Ponderosa pine, with some small clearcuts in designated areas. The Mahons had been looking at the specs for a 29-inch Quadco head, but unfortunately it hadn’t quite cleared the factory assembly line yet. Modern Machinery in Spokane came to the rescue: Could it loan the Mahons a 24-inch Quadco head so they could keep cutting through December, at which time the bigger 29-inch head would be available? The Mahons jumped at the opportunity.

Joe loves operating the combination Timbco 445 EXL with the Quadco head. "One of the biggest things," he asserts, "is that it’s easy on the operator’s body. You sit back and appreciate how good it gets around." Joe had previously run a bar saw, and he had to re-tune his eye to what the new saw could cut. "This area is tough because the trees are so big, but I did my homework on this head. I never thought a hot saw would work, but I like being able to grab a tree and know I can cut right through it…and I’m no longer spending my nights filing chains. The profit comes for us in December and January, when the bar saw got clogged with snow. With this Quadco head I can keep cutting."

Staying in the Woods and Avoiding Downtime

Joe speaks comfortably about the efficiency and history of the Mahon machinery. He’s interested in the nuts-and-bolts construction— the more he knows, the less downtime there will be if there’s a problem. He cites their good track record with a Denharco delimber, which has over 8000 hours on it and very little downtime."The support team," he says, "is exceptional about helping us, working us through a problem on the phone. We’re a long way from everybody, and we do the majority of our own mechanical work. We have to rely on information by phone — we can’t afford the time to have a service truck sent out if the problem is something we can fix ourselves."

One thing Joe would like distributors to concentrate on is a modern, streamlined documentation system. It would make it easier for him to troubleshoot if he could combine good guides with telephone support. "With our new and sophisticated machinery," he says, "we need a master troubleshooting chart. We’re talking about a huge screen with detailed diagrams. It’s the manufacturer’s responsibility to get me as educated as possible so that I can talk intelligently when I make the ‘Help!’ phone call."

The Mahons don’t shy away from the complexities of computers and electronic systems. The Mahons are forced to shut down for two to three months in late winter, so they spend the time repairing, overhauling and getting acquainted with their machinery. Joe admits he enjoys the challenge of figuring out what went wrong when he’s in the winter shop. But that enjoyment quickly turns to frustration when he’s up on the mountain and stands to lose up to $3000 a day. "When that happens," he laughs, "I want everything on the Net available to me…and quickly!"

Looking Ahead

The Mahons are optimistic about the future of logging in their part of Idaho. They’ve seen the closure of many mills, but the land still keeps producing trees. If there’s one snag in their operation, it’s getting the logs hauled to distant mills. "We just don’t have enough trucks in circulation around here," explains Joe. "It’s not unusual for us to be 60 to 70 loads behind. There’s certainly room in this country for more dependable log truckers."

Both Tom and Joe are quick to praise their crew, many of whom have been with the Mahons for years. Like other operators, they see definite trends in the workforce. Most of their crew are in their 30s and 40s, men who did not grow up with computers but do have a good work ethic. "They can learn the computers," maintains Joe,"much faster than a young, computer savvy kid can develop good work habits. We’ve got a real good crew. They’re professionals. You don’t have to babysit them."

Babysit? Joe laughs. He takes his turn with his own kids, a six-year-old boy and a three-year-old girl. "Dad opened up a lot of doors for Mark and me. People would say, ‘Those are Tom’s boys. Give ‘em a chance!’ I remember how we were when we were kids. Already my two want to come out to the woods with me. They sit in the seat with me and ‘drive’ the stroke delimber or the loader. Logging is definitely part of their lives."

It appears that Mahon Logging has a clear-sighted, multifaceted, hands-on approach to preserving the best of a profession in perpetual transition.


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This page was last updated on Tuesday, November 15, 2005