McLaughlin Logging Finds Niche in Thinning: Log Max Harvesters Prove Good Fit for Idaho Contractor Who Transitioned to C-T-L

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McLaughlin Logging – Log Max Harvesters Prove Good Fit for Idaho Contractor

OROFINO, Idaho — Might, myth and magic add glitter to the history of logging in the Pacific Northwest. As gigantic logs slid down the mountains and moved by rail and river, they charged the imagination. They still do. But in the 21st century, cut-to-length (c-t-l) logging has reshaped the picture in many parts of the region.
Today, being equipped for either shovel logging or cut-to-length logging is a must for any versatile logger in the Pacific Northwest. G. Bruce (‘Mick’) McLaughlin Jr., president of McLaughlin Logging Inc., is one of them.
Mick began transitioning the business to c-t-l in 1995. For the first five years, he felt he had not found the right equipment that would be the best long-term solution for the business.
That changed in 2000 when Mick asked a logging equipment representative, who happened to be a colleague in a sporting activity, for a recommendation. Joel Doupe suggested to Mick that he give Log Max a try. Joel is a territory manager for the North American subsidiary of Log Max, which is based in Sweden. Log Max manufactures single-grip harvesters that fell, delimb and cut to length.
Mick had a lot of respect for Joel, and on that basis alone he decided to try Log Max. He bought a Log Max 750. “I bit the bullet,” he said. “I just took Joel’s word. I knew him pretty well.”
That’s not the way Mick usually makes decisions about buying equipment, but it worked out well. In fact, the Log Max 750 performed so well for Mick that he subsequently purchased two more Log Max harvesting heads.
McLaughlin Logging now operates a Log Max 750, two Log Max 7000 models, and will soon add a Log Max 6000 that it is using on a trial basis. The Log Max attachments are mounted on Timbco 425 track carriers with Southfork booms.
The Timbco carriers are equipped with leveling systems that get high marks from Mick. “Our ground is really adverse,” he said. The company conducts logging on mountainous terrain, and the machines work on slopes up to 60 degrees, he said.
The Log Max 7000 is designed for big, heavy timber, which is plentiful in the panhandle of Idaho and the surrounding region where the company works. Red fir, white fir and cedar are the most common species. Most of the work, 70-80%, done by McLaughlin Logging is thinning. The company typically thins stands to achieve 16-foot spacing between trees.
“Ninety-five percent of our business is for Potlatch,” said Mick. Potlatch Corp. owns forests, sells timber and manufactures forest products. The company has 1.7 million acres that has been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Mick’s company also does thinning for Three Rivers Timber and works for one or two private landowners each year.
Specifications for thinning typically call for leaving dominant and co-dominant trees and removing others, said Mick. Most trees removed in thinning are between a 9-26 inches dbh, but they may be as small as 2 inches or less and can be larger than 26 inches.
Some trees are big enough to require felling by hand with chain saws. McLaughlin Logging employs one hand felling crew and also contracts for hand felling as needed. For hand felling, Mick has a decided preference for chain saws. “This is Stihl country,” he said.
The Log Max 6000 that McLaughlin Logging has been trying will be used to harvest timber that is 45-60 years old, said Mick. The Log Max 6000 is designed for final felling applications. It is as tough as the Log Max 7000 but lighter weight.
When Mick talked with TimberLine in early October, the Log Max 6000 was being readied for service. “We haven’t put it on yet,” he said. Based on his experience with the Log Max 7000, though, Mick had high expectations. He has found the Log Max 7000 to be “a little more operator friendly” than many harvesting heads, and expected the same from the Log Max 6000.
McLaughlin Logging works within about 70 miles of Orofino, Idaho, which is in the west-central part of the state, near the base of the panhandle. The town has a population of about 2,800 people.
During the winter, it is not uncommon for McLaughlin Logging to work in snow that is 11 feet deep in “the back country above 4,500 feet,” said Mick. During other months, the company is challenged by dry conditions; it keeps small pumpers on job site sites in the event of fire and works closely with local firefighters.
The Clearwater Potlatch Timber Protection Agency (CPTPA) and local volunteer firefighters in the region do a great job, said Mick. “Two years ago,” he said, “there was a lightning strike on one of the slash piles. At one a.m., an operator saw it.” The logger called it in to fire officials and also called Mick. By the time Mick got there, in about 90 minutes, CPTPA and Pierce-Weippe Fire District volunteers were on the scene and had extinguished the flames.
Mick’s paternal grandfather and father both worked in the logging industry. His grandfather was a logger in Michigan, and his father, Bruce, who died in 2004, began working as a logger in the 1940s.
Mick earned a bachelor’s degree in education and science at Boise State University and became certified to teach. Then, he made a crucial discovery about teaching. “It wasn’t my cup of tea,” he said.
His father, who started his own logging business in 1958, probably was not surprised by Mick’s change of heart. “I think he always knew I was coming back,” said Mick. “I’ve been running the business since 1988.”
When logging took a downturn in the Wolverine State, his father went to work in a mine. After a couple of years, he decided to go to Idaho to check out logging prospects there. “He enjoyed logging enormously,” explained Mick. His father moved the family to Idaho when Mick was a year old.
“When he first started out, he had a flatbed truck, a boom with a winch on the truck,” said Mick.
Mick and his mother, Marguerite, helped Bruce hook up logs with chokers and tongs. “We did it all by hand and ran winch rigs up to 1990,” Mick recalled. “Then we bought a feller-buncher. Then in 2002, we went cut-to-length, all short logs. Then, this year, Potlatch decided it wanted long logs.”
Being flexible and able to adapt to market changes like that is a must. McLaughlin Logging, which has 13 employees, can provide long or short logs, depending on what the client wants.
McLaughlin Logging also is equipped with three TimberPro forwarders, a TimberPro 840, a TimberPro 820 and a TimberPro 815. Mick has depended on Pat Crawford for equipment since 1997. Pat, whose original company was Timbco, now owns and operates TimberPro.
Mick recently went to Pat with a special request. He said he talked to René Van der Merwe, an equipment product manager he knows, and told her he wanted a 200-inch grapple he could put on a TimberPro 840 to work in shovel logging operations; the equipment would be used to sort logs at the landing. “She made the call to Pat Crawford,” said Mick. “We just got it two weeks ago.” The TimberPro 840 with the custom grapple will take the place of two other machines, said Mick.
In early October, the c-t-l crews were producing wood with nine different sorts for pulp mills, sawmills and specialty wood products manufacturers.
Mick is a member of Associated Logging Contractors and Associated Loggers Exchange and is on the governing boards of both Idaho organizations. He is also a member of the Forest Practice Act Board and the Pro-Logger Certification Board. He has many interests outside of work, too. “I’m an avid snowmobiler,” he said. “We have a cabin on the Salmon River.” He and his son and daughters like to hunt.
Mick is a ‘hands on’ business owner who works every day. “I run a piece of equipment every day,” he said. “I really like my Komatsu loader,” another machine that is used for shovel logging.
McLaughlin Logging also has a Kobelco 180, which is used for road building. “We have some trucks,” said Mick. “We run five Gypo trucks to move logs to mills.”
Although Mick is modest about his knowledge of machinery, he has had many ideas for ways to tailor equipment. The custom grapple is just one example. A chipper for working at the margins of logging roads is another.
“My son, Bruce, runs the roadside chipper,” said Mick. “We can clean culverts with it. It cuts bush and trees.” The KG Chipper is mounted on an excavator, the Kobelco 180. Glenn Dick Equipment Co. in Boise designed and built the chipper to Mick’s requirements.
Bruce is one of several family members in the business. Mick’s wife, Mary Anne, is the secretary, a wide-ranging role she took in the early 1980s. “She’s on the radio, keeping in contact with guys,” said Mick, and handles a variety of administrative tasks. “She’s very active.” Mick’s mother, Marguerite, who served in the state Senate for 19 years, is company vice president.
Both of Mick’s daughters worked for him when they were college students; Michelle is now a nurse and Molly works for a large retailer.
Mick’s brother-in-law, Rob Clift, who has worked for McLaughlin Logging for 35 years, runs one of the TimberPro 820 machines.
Butch Hodges also has worked for the company for 35 years. “He’s probably one of the best operators in the region,” said Mick. Butch has been operating the Log Max 6000 during the trial run.
“It just takes all our employees to make us work,” added Mick. “We’ve just been very fortunate.” The people of Idaho generally have a strong work ethic, he said.
If the Log Max 6000 does well, as Mick expects, he will buy it. The harvester probably could increase the company’s production by about 20%, he estimated.
Mick has been impressed with the durability and reliability of the Log Max harvesters. “They’re darned dependable,” he said, “95 percent uptime, five percent downtime.”
The Log Max harvesters get a tough work-out, too, according to Mick. “We’re not real gentle on them. We’ll even cut 30-inch trees and the big limbs on them.”
Log Max personnel have provided strong service and support. “Joel’s been to our site many a time,” said Mick. “He’s just a phone call away. All the Log Max people are.”
Mick foresees a fairly steady market for relatively small logs. “Mills are…looking for earlier rotation on timber,” he noted, up to 22 inches on the butt.
Mick is happy he made the decision to go into logging. He likes working outdoors and seeing wildlife. “It’s demanding,” said Mick, “but somehow you get enjoyment.”