Brian Thomas, owner of NWTL Inc. (Northwest Trees and Land), prides himself on the versatility of his company, which has kept him in business for 15 years.
“We can go into a piece of land or buy the timber ground, and we can log it, put the roads in, develop it, and get it ready for a home site,” said Thomas. “Not many companies do all that,” Thomas said.
By offering a diversity of services, from logging and land clearing to excavation and building site prep, Thomas has been able to keep busy through the dips in the economy and slow-downs in the timber market.
Thomas began doing logging work when he was 16. He grew up in Sandy, Oregon, bought his first Cat bulldozer and began clearing trees for local farmers. Although his family wasn’t actually in the logging business (no one had their own company like he does), he grew up around it. His grandfather periodically cut timber, and his uncles were active in the industry in Washington and Idaho.
Thomas launched his first business, Brian Thomas Logging, in 2007. He took a few jobs with other companies during the next couple of recession years. He started NWTL in 2010 and the business has grown since then. Thomas buys stumpage and contracts to harvest timber for other companies.
NWTL has five full-time employees and one part-time worker. Thomas usually runs two jobs at a time; one may be logging and one may be excavating. The logging operations average about 100 truckloads per month. Thomas owns a lot in Sandy to store equipment and is planning to build a shop there soon.
The company works mostly in the areas of Sandy, Molalla, and Estacada, in the foothills of Mount Hood. Besides logging and excavation, Thomas also buys land and logs his own property, both in Oregon and Idaho.
Job sizes may range from as few as 5 acres up to about 80 acres, and land clearing jobs are similar in size. Most of the company’s revenues, 70 percent, are generated by logging, and the remaining 30 percent from excavation work, demolition, and trucking.
NWTL has a fleet of 18 pieces of equipment for logging and excavating projects. Thomas added a new Tigercat 870 track harvester and two Doosan log loaders, a 300 and a 380, in 2022. The Doosan 300 is configured for processing logs with a Waratah 623 attachment, and the Doosan 380 is used as a loader.
The Tigercat was purchased from Triad Machinery in Portland, and he bought the Doosans from Cascade Trader in Chehalis, Washington. He chose the Tigercat and Doosan brands for price, reputation, and parts availability, he said. Thomas has a long-standing relationship with Cascade Trader.
Investing in the Tigercat represents a change and expansion for the company. In the past Thomas relied on hand felling, or felling with another machine that now can be used for processing, or subcontracting with other loggers for mechanical felling.
Thomas invested in the new machines to increase production and enable the company to log on larger tracts. He hopes to be able to run two of three processors on the same site to increase production.
NWTL employees perform about half of the maintenance required for the equipment, with dealers doing the other half.
For logging work Thomas also has a John Deere 2054 swing machine that is paired with a Waratah 622B harvester attachment for processing, a Cat 518 skidder and a Timberjack 580 skidder, and three loaders, a Cat 320, a Cat 325, and a Kobelco 220.
For excavating and site prep work the company is equipped with five excavators: two Cat 315s, a John Deere 120D, a Link-Belt 290, and a Komatsu 220, plus a Bobcat 425 mini-excavator. Thomas has three bulldozers, all Cats: D6H, D6D (grapple dozer), and D8H. Some of the excavators also are used as log loaders and for building logging roads.
NWTL also has a log truck, dump truck, and a low-boy truck and provides his own hauling of equipment and timber. Thomas also contracts for trucking as needed.
The company has weathered the recent volatility in the lumber market, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the 2020 regional wildfires.
During the pandemic, which temporarily closed many mills, Thomas was able to keep his men working. He pivoted to focus more on land clearing as he waited for mills to reopen.
“I’m proud to say I didn’t take any bailouts or anything,” said Thomas. “I just kept working.”
The summer of 2020 brought an excessive number of wildfires to the state. In one weekend more than 20 fires burned, destroying more than 1 million acres of land. Many logging companies have been working the last couple of years on burn clean-up. Things were so busy that Thomas teamed with another company so they could get as much cut as they could before the timber rotted or decayed. They were working mostly in the Estacada area and had some projects with the federal Bureau of Land Management.
Currently NWTL is focused on tractor or shovel logging, with some steep terrain shovel logging. Thomas has owned yarders in the past but is not conducting any yarding operations. “Of course, that is always subject to change,” he said, and hinted that it may be in the near future.
The most common species the company works in are Douglas fir and western red cedar. Others include alder, maple, big leaf maple, and white fir.
When Thomas talked to TimberWest, NWTL was working on a private tree farm in Sandy that contained some Doug fir trees that were 90 years old. The company was thinning in some areas and clear-cutting and removing stumps in others in preparation for replanting. Some trees were being manually felled with chainsaws, aided by using the Doosan 380 to push them down. The Doosan 300 was processing the trees with the Waratah head.
NWTL supplies pulpwood and saw logs to RSG Forest Products and Pacific Fibre Products in Molalla, Western Forest Products in Camas, Washington, and Weyerhaeuser in Longview, Washington.
The days vary for Thomas, a member of Associated Oregon Loggers and Washington Contract Loggers. He may be operating equipment, driving a truck, or scouting a new job.
He likes to stand out from the competition with the color of his company’s pickup trucks. “Every logging or excavation company has a bunch of white trucks,” he said. “I thought red would be different. All my pickups have been red since I was 16, 17 years old.”
Thomas owns 20 acres of land near Sandy, where he lives with his wife, Amanda, who also does the bookkeeping for his business. They have a daughter, Abby, 7, and a son, Everett, 3. Thomas enjoys traveling with his family over to Idaho as often as they can.