Two Barko 495 loaders are among the strong performers on the equipment roster.
HURT, Virginia – Bootstrapping is a time-proven way of launching a business. Motivation, knowledge and relationships make it work. And Gregory Timber Inc. illustrates how it’s done.
Rocky Gregory owns Gregory Timber, a total timber harvesting business. He was motivated to start the company by his son, Danny Gregory.
“After returning home from his second tour of duty with the U.S. Army in Iraq [Danny had the idea],” said Rocky. “I didn’t encourage him much because I had exited the logging business broke…in the early ’90s.”
Yet Rocky had deep affection for the profession of logging and soon Gregory Timber was a reality. “[On] August 8, 2012, we loaded our first load of poplar logs on a 1986 Chevy single-axle truck, using a Case farm tractor with a front-end loader,” he explained.
“From there we moved onto a pine plantation that had been infested with epps beetles,” said Rocky. Aiming to get ahead of the beetles in infested areas, they would cut and buck manually with a Stihl MS362, skid with a Long 360 farm tractor, and load with the Case.
Rocky’s father would come out and drive truck for his son and grandson. “[It was] three generations working together to get one load a day.”
Having logged in the 1980s into the early 1990s, Rocky was skilled at felling trees with a chain saw. Yet he knew that making a go of Gregory Timber required moving to a mechanized operation. Moreover, in the years between when he stopped logging and the formation of the new company, Rocky had gained more knowledge about the industry.
After working at a saw mill for two years as a debarker operator, he went into trucking. Later he drove a truck and then worked in the equipment repossession business. He knew a lot about machinery, as well as the logging industry.
When Gregory Timber was ready to beginning adding equipment, Rocky was confident he could purchase old machines and refurbish them himself. That’s the juncture at which Rocky began one of his most valuable relationships, the one with Jewell Machinery in Rocky Mount, Va.
“I started out buying parts from Jewell,” said Rocky. But the relationship quickly moved on from there. “[I began] asking advice on how to make repairs [and] then to having them come and repair.”
By 2013, when Danny had to leave the business to pursue more financial security for his young family, Rocky could have quit but did not. He was motivated to make Gregory Timber successful. He relished again being in the industry he knew well. And he had a great relationship with his equipment vendor.
“Every piece of logging equipment we own was either bought from Jewell or inspected and appraised by Jewell before purchasing,” said Rocky. “They have helped me make some great purchases which allowed me to constantly update equipment with a very low cost per hour.” All of the company’s equipment financing needs have been met by Gary Fisher, regional vice president of People’s United Equipment Finance Company.
The succession of equipment following the inception of Gregory Timber — with chain saw and farm tractor — was rapid. “We moved on up rather quickly to an old Barko 160 and a John Deere 540 and then a Barko 225 and a Timberjack 450,” said Rocky.
With that modest equipment roster, Rocky’s young company got a real boost when it won a contract to begin cutting exclusively for Gregory Pallet Company in Gretna, Va. (The principals at Gregory Pallet and Gregory Timber share a surname but they are not related.)
There is a “very strong business relationship” between us and Gregory Pallet, said Rocky. “It is a relationship that has allowed us to grow as we have.”
As Rocky’s company grew, so did his confidence in Jewell Machinery, a company about which he kept getting favorable reports from colleagues. “[Jewell has] a great reputation in the logging community for being able to fix it right,” said Rocky. “And if they can’t find a part, they’ll make one.”
The first piece of equipment that Rocky purchased new from Jewell Machinery was a Barko 495ML loader. That was in 2014 and it is mounted on a used trailer.
“By the time I got ready to buy a new piece of equipment, I had developed a trust and working relationship with Jewell Machinery – enough to know that whatever I bought, I wanted it serviced by Jewell,” said Rocky. Many conversations with Mike Jewell, president of the company, persuaded him that a Barko was the right choice for his operation.
“We calculated fuel consumption, insurance, repair cost, finance charges, resale value and more,” said Rocky of the interaction with Mike. “It took probably two months to make that decision.”
From Mike’s perspective, the effort put into helping customers make the best choice benefits everyone. “We truly look at our customers as partners,” said Mike. “If they’re not profitable, we’re not profitable.”
Rocky said that although his company is less than four years old, he believes he has already met every member of the Jewell Machinery team.
Mike explained that his team of 20 takes getting to know the customer as seriously as does he. “When our service technicians and sales people get to jobsites, they try to help out by answering any questions,” he explained.
As for staying with a Barko loader, Rocky said the initial experience with the used Barko 225 gave him a good impression of Barko. He did compare brands during his research, but Barko won his preference.
“I chose to stay with them because they’ve been building for years and years,” said Rocky. “Operators like the smoothness. It’s just a lot more comfortable to operators.”
In 2015, Rocky bought a second Barko 495 new. The 495B is mounted on an eight-wheeled Pitts trailer. Seeing value in having a track loader among his machines (e.g., job sites can get muddy, steep slopes), he plans to replace the 2014 495ML with a new 495ML on a track carrier in the not-distant-future.
Gregory Timber has six employees and three truck drivers. Five of the six employees can run every piece of equipment. The company delivers to mills with its own rigs or contracts with log haulers.
“We are now capable of running two sites at one time or [we can] run two loaders on one site with one delimbing and loading tree length and the other bucking and loading random length,” said Rocky. “We’re so versatile that every piece of equipment matters. I can swap the equipment around.” Equipment is moved by a contractor, J.J. Hogan of Danville, Va.
Felling is done with a 2016 Tigercat 724 wheeled feller buncher and a Bell three-wheel feller – one at each jobsite. One Cat 525C, two Cat 545C skidders, one Tigercat 240 loader, and three CSI 4400 bucksaws are also on the roster, as are four Pitts trailers, one Western Star, one Freightliner and one Kenworth. Four old vans have been converted to chip vans.
In April 2014, Rocky added a Barko 585 drum chipper. “We only make fuel chips, so the 585 is great for chipping tops and undergrowth too small for pulpwood,” he explained. “It allows us to clean up the track a little better and make a profit on what has already been cut and pulled to the loader. The feed system on the Barko chipper is great for folding those tops in and pushing them to the drum.”
The Barko chipper helps make the most of wood fiber. “We merchandise almost every tree we cut…,” said Rocky. “Better merchandising creates better profit. Better profit buys better timber.”
Gregory Timber is based in Hurt, Va. Part of Pittsylvania County in the south-central part of the Old Dominion, Hurt has 1,270 residents.
Rocky’s company works along the Virginia-North Carolina state line and generally within 75 miles of Hurt. When the team is west of Hurt, it is in hilly terrain cutting mixed hardwood species. East of Hurt it is on flatter land and cutting pine.
The most productive day at Gregory Timber on record is 28 trailer loads off one landing. Rocky explained there’s been an uptick in productivity since July 2015 when he hired the newest member of his team, Russell Roach. Russell brings exceptional experience to his work, having grown up in a family where mother and father logged and he followed in their footsteps. Rocky recalled seeing Russell with his dad when Russell was just a boy.
Rocky is very happy with his decision to return to logging. “I do enjoy it,” he said. “Working through the challenges” is part of the joy. “Every day is a new challenge.”
It takes effort to bring accomplishments, said Rocky. “It’s just a good feeling” to work hard, he explained, and to be part of a community of loggers that willingly share expertise and lend help to one another.
With Gregory Timber on a stable footing, Rocky hopes that Danny, who is now working for H.J. Shelton in Chatham, Va., will want to return. (H.J. Shelton is owned by Danny’s uncle and Rocky’s brother-in-law.)
“We are only here by the grace of God,” said Rocky.