Led Back to the Woods: Logger Lanier Meador Chooses Forestry Over the Farm

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Some people are born with the vision of what they will do with their lives. Lanier Meador is one of those lucky ones. He had a vision, and—except for a short detour during his college years—followed that vision to create a successful business in the forest industry. Today, L. Meador Forest Enterprises, Inc. has two logging crews in its employ, as well as occasional contracted crews. The company purchases timber and cuts it for a variety of uses in the area around Jachin, Alabama.

Lanier Meador grew up on a Hereford cattle farm that included growing crops for feed and raising quarter horses. There also was a family-run sawmill on the farm under the name the Jachin Lumber Company.

When it came time for Lanier to go to college, he chose the agriculture school at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama. Partway through the program, he admitted to himself that he didn’t care for the cattle part of the operation, and he didn’t see himself making a living in agriculture.

“What I really liked was the woods,” he said. “The logging and the sawmilling. I had an interest in timber management, even in high school. Daddy showed me how to mark timber, and I marked timber in high school, and painted land lines, and burned, and all those things. I loved driving log trucks; I was driving them when I was 14.”

Lanier transferred to Lake City Community College in Florida.

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“When I decided I wanted to be in forestry school at Auburn, they said, ‘Well, then you’re going to be here four more years,’” he said. “I had taken so many classes already that wouldn’t give me credit toward forestry.” Lanier wasn’t interested in staying in school that long, so he left and went to Lake City.

“It was the best A.S. forestry school degree in the country,” he said. “It took me two and a half years for the program, and it was a very good school.”

Lanier’s plan was to get his forestry degree and return to the family business. But fate had other plans. While Lanier was in college, the family sawmill burned, leaving no forest industry job to return to. Instead, he went to work for the James River Timber Company. He worked there as a forester for several years, doing mostly land and timber management, as well as some procurement.

Then Lanier’s father decided to rebuild the sawmill, and Lanier went back to work at the Jachin Lumber Company.

“Before long I was buying pine logs to cut boards for export and managing family land, and we had a logging crew that cut on family land most of the time,” Lanier said. “I also was buying other timber that didn’t fit our sawmill, and getting other contract logging crews to cut it for me. That led me into being a supplier for other markets. In 1995, when Lanier was 35, his father asked him if he wanted to do all the logging. Lanier thought that was a good idea, so he bought a skidder, a cutter, three Mack trucks and a Barko loader, and rented a bulldozer.

“Then I had to really make it a business, so I incorporated as L. Meador Forest Enterprises,” Lanier said, “and that’s when I started logging.” At the time, he hired a truck driver named Stanley Thompson, who has been with the business ever since.

“I think it’s kind of cool that he’s been with me since my first day,” Lanier said.

Two years later, in 1997, Joe Wayne Gibson walked into Lanier’s office and said, “My boss passed away and I’m looking for a job.” Lanier asked him what he could do, and he told Lanier he’d been running a logging crew.

Lanier had been thinking about hiring a second crew.

“I asked around about him and decided he was the man for me,” he said. “I bought equipment for a whole new crew, and he’s still with me today.”

Lanier takes pride in the relationships he has with landowners.

“We treat them fairly, and do what we tell them we’re going to do,” he said. “I came up on family timber and land, and I know what people like and how things need to be done. I treat everyone’s land and timber just like it belongs to my family. That’s my reputation.”

Today, Lanier cuts a mixture of forest products.

“One crew does mostly first thinning,” he said. “They can cut and merchandise any kind of timber; they have to, because of changing market conditions. But primarily they do first thinning.”

These trees are going primarily for pulpwood. Since the company now owns 12 trucks, they can easily haul everything the crew can cut.

“We’re primarily selling pulpwood to Georgia-Pacific, Louisiana-Pacific, WestRock, and International Paper,” Lanier said. “The closest one is 7 miles from my office, and the furthest one is less than 60 miles. So they’re close.”

The other crew, under Joe Wayne Gibson, cuts bigger trees.

“I still like to buy old timber,” Lanier said. “The pine log timber, old pine and hardwood timber.” Most of this timber goes to Hood Industries in Waynesboro, Mississippi, to Canfor in Fulton, Alabama, and to Lassiter Lumber Company in Culomburg, Alabama; Lanier said he also sells plywood logs to Scotch Plywood in Waynesboro.

“The Canfor mill was a Scotch Lumber Company mill, but it was sold to Canfor a couple of years ago,” Lanier said. “Hood is cutting two-inch lumber. Lassiter Lumber buys high grade, clear pine logs and cuts export lumber.” The primary pine species that the company is cutting, Lanier said, is loblolly pine, with a few longleaf pines and shortleaf pines along the way.

Lanier has a total of 22 employees overall. One of his crews runs a Caterpillar cutter, a Caterpillar loader and a John Deere skidder. The other crew runs a Caterpillar cutter, a Caterpillar skidder and a new Barko loader. Lanier also has a “spare” John Deere skidder in case one breaks down. The company bought the new Barko in July, but that’s not the first new Barko Lanier has purchased.

“I bought a brand new Barko 160 when I started in 1995,” he said. “Barko is all I’ve had until I tried another loader brand three years ago. I really like Barko, and Joe Wayne Gibson—who runs the loader and is the foreman of that crew—that’s what he prefers. I try to get the equipment that the operator prefers.

If the operator is on something that he likes, he’s going to do a better job; I don’t want him running something that he hates. I want to keep my operators happy and productive.”

The new Barko that Lanier just purchased is a 595B. One thing Lanier noticed about the 595B right away was its fuel efficiency. “The fuel efficiency is like night and day over the old 595,” he said. “It’s way better on fuel. And it’s faster than the old one. Everything about it is a little better than the last one.” Lanier said his crew ran the last Barko he had for five or six years without any major issues.

The 595B is powered by a 173-HP Cummins QSB6.7 Tier 4 Final diesel engine with SCR aftertreatment. Unlike open loop systems that waste fuel, Barko’s efficient load sensing system delivers power only when needed. Load sensing valves and piston pumps provide excellent control by matching pressure and flow output to operator demand.

The hydraulic control system features a pilot-operated control system in conjunction with IQAN electronic controls, to provide a more natural feel for the operator. The system can be configured as necessary, and maintenance can be performed simply without a specialist.

Efficient and precise grapple functions reduce operator fatigue, and multi-functional dual joystick controls are ergonomically designed to provide enhanced comfort and productivity. A vibration-isolated “floating cab” provides a smoother ride for the operator. It is weather sealed, insulated and climate controlled. The cab also includes a suspension seat with armrests and foot swing controls.

Lanier said he would really like to add a third crew and expand the reach of his company, but market conditions have made him hesitate.

“We don’t have enough markets, and the market is so volatile,” he said. “We spent all of last year and until March of this year on quotas of everything. We just couldn’t work; we were working three or four days a week and we just couldn’t sell anything.”

Lanier attributes the market problems to a variety of factors.

“There’s too much wood and too much production in several counties around here,” he said. “I think the paper business and pulp business got really bad last year and they weren’t selling what they had been. That backlogged product and paper mills around here were shutting down machines and cutting production.”

That creates a domino effect, Lanier said.

“If you have one market that gets cut in half like we did, then I’m looking for something else to sell,” he said. “Then everything else fills up real quick. So it dominoes to everything else around here. When that happens, the only thing we can do is just wait it out,” Lanier said.

“I just keep on going, pay the bills, and hope for the best,” he said.

There also is a labor problem in the area that impacts the company’s ability to expand.

“We just don’t have enough labor,” Lanier said. “I don’t know where I would find three men to run a crew or more truck drivers; truck drivers are awful to find. Labor around here is scarce. And I don’t see starting up another crew and suddenly getting on quotas again. It’s bad enough running two crews and would be even worse if I was running three.”

At the end of the day, Lanier said, his company is all about the people.

“I have my core people that I can count on and never have to worry about things not running smoothly,” he said. “And I work with landowners who appreciate a good job. I have landowners, including some absentee landowners that I’ve dealt with for years. They rely on me, and they say thank you and tell me they don’t know what they’d do if I weren’t there to help them.”