Lumber Mills Keep Idaho Logging Company Busy

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PRIEST RIVER, Idaho — Mike Reynolds just recently turned 66, but apparently he has no intention of slowing down. In fact, earlier this year he made a considerable investment in new equipment for his company, Mike Reynolds Logging.

Mike stuck with a combination that has worked well for his cut-to-length logging operations: TimberPro track harvesters matched with Log Max attachments for felling timber and processing the trees at the stump.

Mike lives in Priest River Idaho, up north in the state’s panhandle, which is only about 50-70 miles wide in some places. Priest River is about 45 miles due north of Coeur D’Alene and 50-60 miles from Spokane, Washington, depending which route you take. There are two national forests east of Priest River, the Coeur D’Alene National Forest to the south and the Kaniksu National Forest to the north.

Mike’s company employs about 18 workers, a number that rises slightly in the summer. The men are split among two cut-to-length logging crews and one yarding operation. A few employees do mainly road-building work and stage the logging slash and debris into piles for eventual burning. The employees include a mechanic who performs most routine maintenance work on equipment at a company shop.

Mike Reynolds Logging works mainly within about 75 miles of Priest River. “We do a lot of sawmill work,” said Mike, contracted to harvest timber purchased by companies like Stimson Lumber, Idaho Forest Group, and Vaagen Bros. About 80% of the company’s business is for those three lumber businesses. Vaagen Bros. operates mills in Idaho and Washington. Stimson Lumber has mills in Idaho (including Priest River) and Oregon, and Idaho Forest Group has several mills in the state.

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Although some of the mills have changed ownership and names over the years, Mike has been doing business with the same facilities for about 20 years. He also does some work for private landowners and buys a small amount of standing timber.

Mike Reynolds Logging frequently works at elevations ranging from 2,000 to 6,500 feet. The snow begins around Thanksgiving. The company can work until about mid-February when road restrictions force them to close for perhaps a couple of months.

The yarding crew, naturally, works on steep mountainsides. The cut-to-length crews generally can work on terrain up to a 55% slope, which is almost 30 degrees.

The dominant species in the region are all conifers, varieties of pine, fir, cedar, and hemlock.

Mike started his business in 1982 after working almost 15 years for his father, Laurence, whose company did logging and road building. Mike’s company did both logging and road building contracting for a few years before he began to focus solely on timber harvesting.

The company harvests an average of about 22 million board feet annually pretty consistently, Mike indicated. That’s equivalent to more than 132,000 tons of wood.

Mike, who was named the Logger of the Year by the Idaho Tree Farm Association in 2000, ventured into cut-to-length logging in 1993. As he got into cut-to-length logging, he was “pretty much a Valmet customer,” then transitioned to the Log Max single-grip attachments. His first investment in Log Max equipment was in 2012, although he had been familiar with the brand name for a long time. “It’s been a real good deal,” he said.

Mike bought three new TimberPro machines and three new Log Max processors this past summer, replacing aging TimberPro and Log Max equipment. He had purchased TimberPro harvesters in 2013, and since then TimberPro had come out with its new C Series track harvester, and he liked the upgrades on it.

His previous harvesters had accumulated about 5,000 hours of wear. He weighed the cost of refurbishing the equipment, but his dealership, Modern Machinery gave him a good deal on trading it in for new machines, he indicated.

He made a similar decision about his aging Log Max attachments. He was prepared to have them refurbished and put on the new TimberPro machines and run them longer but eventually decided to trade them in on new attachments.

The company now has three TimberPro 755 track harvesters, each one equipped with a Log Max 7000XT single-grip harvesting-processing attachment. The company has three Komatsu forwarders and a Valmet forwarder to round out its cut-to-length logging operations.

“Modern Machinery…has helped a lot with having people around to take care of the equipment, and that keeps us going,” said Mike. “They handle the Komatsu side of things,” including the company’s forwarders.

Modern Machinery represents about 20 lines of equipment, including Komatsu. (Komatsu acquired Valmet in 2004 and added Log Max in 2013.) The equipment supplier has locations in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. Mike’s Modern Machinery sales representative is Joel Doupe, who works out of Spokane.

“They’ve got a good bunch of people,” said Mike. “We can make a phone call and they can walk us through a lot of issues.”

The 7000XT is one of the largest, most powerful Log Max attachments and has a cutting capacity of nearly 32 inches. “They’re done really well,” said Mike. “They’re real dependable, pretty simple.”

“They don’t require a lot of spare parts,” he added. The Log Max heads “were a big improvement from where we came from…The operators love them.”

For the yarding crew, he ran a Link Belt yarder for quite a number of years but has been using a Thunderbird a little over a year. An Eagle Carriage & Machine Inc. carriage runs on the yarding system. A Volvo 330 excavator with a Southstar 600 attachment works at the landing, processing trees. A Komatsu 240 log loader with a grapple attachment does the work of stacking logs and loading them onto trucks.

The yarding crew usually has one man on the ground felling timber by hand, sometimes two. Another three or four men work on the ground.

A typical cut-to-length job is in the range of 30-40 acres but may be as many as 150 acres. A typical yarding job will be for about 500,000 board feet of timber, he said, 40 acres or more. A job has to be about 30 acres to make it worthwhile financially, noted Mike. Some Forest Service jobs comprise a lot of acres, but they may be broken up into tracts as small as 3 acres.

Mike’s company also works on federal land, notably Forest Service stewardship projects.

Stewardship contracting includes natural resource management practices for forestry activities that improve land conditions. The projects are aimed at managing forests for the future.

How Mike’s company handles logging slash and residual material depends on the individual job. Some contracts require his company to assemble the material into piles so it can be burned at a later date. In some cases the company uses an Advanced Forestry Equipment mulching head mounted on a Volvo excavator to process the debris into mulch.

Mike does not have chipping operations although he has considered it in the past. “I studied it pretty hard,” he said, before electing not to take his business in that direction. “Some guys do it, but we don’t.” The nearest markets for boiler fuel chips are about 80-90 miles away, he noted.

Lately the company has been impacted by fire season closings and restrictions. This summer’s wildfires have not been as close to the region as last year. Nevertheless, they haven’t gone unnoticed. “Lots of smoke around here this year,” said Mike.

The recession spawned by the bursting of the housing industry bubble and economic collapse in 2009 hit the forest products industry hard, acknowledged Mike. “It was pretty tough going there for a while, pretty dicey, but we survived it.” The company had to tighten its belt. “We pulled in the reins pretty hard,” said Mike. The company worked with its lenders and improved the management of its finances and made some changes in its accounting practices. “When things are really tight, you can’t be running in the negative very long or you’ll be upside down before you know it,” said Mike.

Business still has had its ups and downs, Mike indicated. “It kind of comes and goes,” he said, characterizing recent years. If the mills fill up with logs, he is able to move on to harvest timber for other mills. “The rain gets us a bit,” he added. Last year, particularly, the company and other loggers lost production time because of rain and wet conditions.

Mike has a brother who works in the business with him; Brian, who operates a harvester, has worked in the company for 23 years.

Mike’s wife, Cathy, does the book work and other administrative tasks from a home office and occasionally has a part-time assistant. Mike and Cathy have three adult daughters.

Mike pays employees annual bonuses according to years of service with the company and also provides a 401(k) retirement plan. They get paid holidays and limited paid vacation.

During the spring break-up, some logging companies will dismiss their employees until spring, an ordinary part of doing business. Mike tries to keep his men on — he has about a dozen equipment operators — and working as much as possible. “I really work hard at protecting our operators,” he said, ensuring that they have steady work.

Mike’s day-to-day role in the company is “a little bit of everything.”

“I’m lucky enough all my guys can take care of themselves,” he added. The company has been short-handed lately, and Mike has been pitching in, operating equipment.

He usually spends half the day taking or making phone calls and “taking care of loose ends.” He may be stuck at the company’s shop — located about 7-8 miles from his home — all morning on the phone.

Mike was active in some trade associations in the past but has stepped back from that somewhat. The business keeps him pretty occupied. He owns a boat and a lot on the Priest River but wasn’t even able to take advantage of them this summer. “Busy,” he said. In the little spare that he has, he enjoys spending time with his daughters and grandchildren.

The company does participate regularly in educational activities put on by the Idaho Forest Products Commission. Mike makes his jobs available for tours to show how the equipment works. Most years he also participates in a forestry expo that brings sixth-grade students out to the woods for a two-day program and tour, an event the company has been participating in for about 15 years.

Although the business is “a lot to keep up with,” Mike has no immediate plans to retire. However, he realizes that “sometime or another I’m going to have to.”

“I’ve got a really good bunch of guys working for me, so that makes life a little easier,” said Mike.

(Log Max is based in Sweden and has operations throughout the world. Its U.S. operations are headquartered in Vancouver, Washington. For more information on Log Max equipment or to locate a dealer, visit, call (360) 699-7300, or email info@Log