Jim Stout wears many hats — logger, equipment dealer and machining expert. He likes the Log Max and TimberPro equipment so much, that he recently started a dealership covering most of West Virginia and all of Virginia.
BRIDGEPORT, West Virginia – Building a business is a lot like constructing a great machine. Thoughtful maintenance, and even modification and realignment, keep both businesses and equipment operating at peak performance. Indeed, the entrepreneur featured in this story sees the connection between the two endeavors, and makes the most of it.
Jim Stout, the vice president of Applied Machining Inc. and the president of Arches Fork Evergreen Co. Inc., recently launched a new venture: AMI Equipment. Jim is now the TimberPro dealer for most of West Virginia and all of Virginia, as well as a Log Max® dealer. The Log Max arrangement dates to 2008.
AMI Equipment got its start at the beginning of this year. It exists as part of Applied Machining, Inc., a company that Jim’s parents, Charlie and Marilyn Stout, established in 1979.
Why did Jim decide to add an equipment dealership to his family’s repertoire? “A lot of it had to do with my background,” he said. “One of the things that has made us successful in the timber industry [is our technical expertise with machinery].”
Jim earned a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering Technology from Fairmont State College (now a university) in Fairmont, W.V., almost 30 years after his father earned the same degree from the institution. (They actually had many of the same teachers.)
After college, Jim was the facility engineer for three years at a titanium plant in North Carolina, designing and managing the construction of machinery used in the production of high-performance metals. While he was out of state, Jim’s parents continued to operate their businesses. Applied Machining, which for many years did machining and welding work for Corning Glass and many other industrial customers, continued to be successful in the machinery maintenance and repair fields. The family’s other business interests were stable, but there was still room for something more.
The U.S. glass and ceramic niche began to contract, and in 2003, Jim returned to W.V. to partner with his parents in a timber harvesting operation, Arches Fork Evergreen Co., Inc. (AFEC). What’s remarkable is that none of them had any experience in logging. But they assessed the market and the rich stands of trees in the Mountain State and concluded their venture had great potential.
Fully mechanized at inception, AFEC now runs with two crews. “One crew is dedicated to softwood,” said Jim. “One crew is dedicated to mixed hardwood.”
The softwood crew relies on a Log Max 5000C, while the hardwood crew uses a Log Max 7000XT. “We actually don’t own any timberland ourselves,” said Jim. “We purchase on the open market [and] serve our customer base” according to requests.
The choice of Log Max heads illustrates the strong ties among all Jim’s business interests. “Interestingly enough, when we first started to replace [our original] harvesting head, I thought of building my own head.”
After doing considerable research, Jim concluded he did not have to build a head. “I realized Log Max had already built it,” he explained. “There was no reason to re-invent the wheel.”
The confidence Jim has in representing Log Max finds a match in the enthusiasm he has about representing TimberPro. “Incredible quality and innovation” is synonymous with the TimberPro name, said Jim.
The first Log Max head Jim bought for AFEC, the 5000, was new. It was installed on a Valmet 500T carrier that “was actually a salvage [machine] from Washington state,” he said. He rebuilt the carrier and has since put 7,000 hours on it.
Carriers in West Virginia must be compact, agile and sure-footed. The terrain is often steep and the stands are thick. TimberPro carriers with their swing and stability are a good fit. At the same time, they can support Log Max heads and a variety of feller-buncher heads. Being able to offer customers of AMI Equipment a strong pairing is important, said Jim.
AFEC cuts up to 22-foot lengths. “We do cut specific length logs, eight-foot, 10-foot, 12-foot,” said Jim. “We do a large amount of pulpwood.” But all cuts are separated for highest yield.
“We do a lot more merchandizing on the hardwood crew – sometimes up to seven sorts,” said Jim. With both crews and subcontractors, the number of people employed by AFEC is quite stable at 10.
“We maintain our own fleet of trucks,” said Jim. All the tractors are Mack, a company he likes “because they build their own engines.” He depends on the Mack dealer in Clarksburg, W.V. for updates.
AMI Equipment — and the other businesses of which Jim is a part – is headquartered in Bridgeport, W.V., a city with approximately 8,200 residents. Bridgeport is part of Harrison County in the north-central part of the state and two hours south of Pittsburgh, Pa.
Much of the harvesting that AFEC does is toward Parkersburg, W.V. to the west of his home base, said Jim. Parkersburg is situated at the confluence of the Ohio River and the Little Kanawha River in the aptly named Wood County.
A Log Max 12000 is the first machine that Jim sold in 2009. The new head was installed on the customer’s machine through Applied Machining.
“We really like forest equipment,” said Jim. “It’s really a combination of all technologies.” The way the pieces of his businesses fit together makes the day a very interesting one, he explained.
“You still have to manage personnel,” said Jim, which he explained can be the most challenging part of a business. But complementing fine timberland with excellent machines is rewarding.
When AFEC got going nine years ago, things were different in terms of approaches to logging. “There were very few mechanized contractors in the state of West Virginia [in 2003],” said Jim. Contributing to the forward movement of the industry was then, and now, a very engaging task.
“One of the things that attracts us to [harvesting] is there is so much that can be done,” said Jim. Well-maintained, high-quality machines improve results for loggers. And with Applied Machining on one side and AMI Equipment on the other, Jim can contribute to every aspect of the timber industry.
“We actually bought all our harvesting equipment before we became TimberPro dealers,” said Jim. In the forwarder department, AFEC runs with a Timbco 820D, a predecessor to the currently produced TimberPro forwarder, in hardwood and a Timberking 458 in softwood.
Both forwarders were purchased used and refurbished. And both have given good service. “We’re in the process of switching one of the forwarders,” he explained.
AFEC was recognized as the 2011 Appalachian Region outstanding logger by the Forest Resources Association (FRA) and Stihl, Inc. In 2010, AFEC was recognized as the outstanding logger in the state of West Virginia.
AFEC is a member of FRA, a group the Stouts believes does a great job of advocating for the industry. “They are the public voice of the forest industry in the United States,” he said.
Although Jim and his parents began logging without prior experience, they did have one relative who logged. “My maternal grandfather logged years and years ago, but he was a college-educated school teacher,” said Jim. “My dad grew up on a farm.”
In 1999 and 2000, Jim’s father owned a small mill at Arches Fork in Wetzel County, W.V. Although the mill is no longer a family holding, the name of the place serves as the source of the AFEC moniker.
“In 2008, we purchased a high-volume band mill,” said Jim. “It’s been sitting idle since 2008. We thought the market was at bottom [then].”
Jim is still waiting for an upturn in the saw mill side of the industry. His long range plan is to reopen the mill. “Before opening, I will probably switch to a narrow band saw.”
With the mill off line, Jim has been able to consider the best configuration. He said there are many opportunities for improvement. Taking a wide view of business possibilities has enabled Jim to integrate several interests – logging, machining and sales. His family’s corporate interests extend to oil and gas, a Ford automotive dealership, a Honda ATV and motorcycle dealership, and a Can-AM ATV and Spyder dealership.
“The wood and timber industry is constantly changing,” said Jim. “[Participants] must change with it to be successful. We will see more mechanization in the future. We believe that we possess the key support [to help loggers].”
Wearing as many owner hats as he does, Jim plans to add a full-time mechanic to AMI Equipment very soon. He explained that he knows firsthand how important quick turnarounds at sites are to loggers and he will provide them.
When we spoke to Jim in early January, AMI was putting the final touches on its website, www.amiequipment.com. And word-of-mouth customers were already in the queue.
For all the rewards of being a business owner, one reward is definitely not the freedom, said Jim. An owner must keep on top of all activities amongst employees, he explained. That demands many hours and acute focus.
“The true calling is how you do what you do – how we treat our employees, ethics,” said Jim. “I’m living up to one of my callings” through business, said Jim. Another calling takes Jim to a jail ministry twice each month, where for almost seven years he has held church services at the Lorrie Yeager Juvenile Detention Center in Parkersburg, WV. “My dad and mom have done jail ministry for some time as well – 18 or 19 years I think.”
Jim’s wife and young family are the center of his life. There is little free time – as leisure time, but it is very much family time.