“The Right Tools in the Tool Box”
Buck's Logging, Onalaska, Washington
By Mike Crouse
The search for better opportunities for his family brought William Lyons, his wife Maggie, and their eleven offspring from the Dust Bowl in Nebraska to Onalaska, Washington around 1940. “They were dry land farmers,” explained Brad Lyons, and they packed up the entire lot moving out in a “Grapes of Wrath” style trip escaping the dust bowl. “Back then families had to work together just to survive.” His grandfather went to work for the Carlisle Mill, which at the time was, “...one of the largest inland mills in the world,” and on their arrival, he and his older sons “went right to work in the woods,” eventually landing in and running one of the “tie mills” making railroad ties.
They ultimately wound up with their own tie mill, with logging being an extension of that mill, ...buying sales, and setting up their own logging crews,” Lyons added. “It was mostly family and they’d hire others as well. They got involved in the logging in the early 50s.”
All of William’s 11 kids were raised “...in and around logging,” Lyons explained, “and they all logged in and around it all their lives.”
The second youngest boy, of the eight boys and three girls was Willard “Buck” Lyons, born in 1934, and by the time he was old enough the Carlisle Mill was no longer operating, but he joined his father’s company, W.M. Lyons and Sons, “...driving a short logger by the time he was 16 years old, a little International of some sort.”
Following his tour of duty with the armed forces, he purchased his own International log truck with a gasoline engine and a tandem axle, “partnering with his brother Ralph,” Lyons explained. While the rest of the family were loggers, Buck really loved driving log truck.
In the mid-50s he met and married his true love, Beverly (Jones), making their home in Onalaska, adding three boys and two girls to the family over a span of several years.
While he loved trucking, he’d been raised around and knew how to log as well. “He’d done a little Cat logging borrowing one of the brother’s Cats, and there was some other work coming along.” His break came when he got a contract with Scott Paper in 1968.
With the Scott Paper contract, he purchased a John Deere 440 line skidder, and coupled that with a Northwest “dipper stick log loader,” working alone at first. By that time he owned two log trucks: a White and a diesel Kenworth hiring drivers for them. Once he was up and running he hired a skidder operator and a cutter. “Dad did the loading, chasing and a lot of the Cat work.”
“He ran a single skidder side for a few years,” oldest son Brad Lyons, who was 10 when his father started the company at 31, explained. When the logging side got slow he’d go back to trucking, “...but kept his equipment and would still do some private logging on the side. Trucking was the main part of the business.”
Also in ‘68 he purchased the gas station in Onalaska, providing some diversity, about the same time he bought the ‘64 Kenworth log truck (which they still have as a show truck). “We were raised around that gas station,” Brad said noting the social connection in small towns. “It’s a beer hall without the beer.”
The two oldest boys, Brad and Bart are 11 months apart, and when they were old enough loved going to work with dad. “He had no choice but to take us with him from when we were very young, at least one of us if not both,” Brad said smiling. “We were raised in trucks pretty much. We couldn’t wait to drive trucks and be a part of the logging world...and dad was ok with that.”
As they grew, “we could set chokers, knew where to stand, how to run a saw.” Bart added with a smile, “We may have been more in the way early on. They’d pay us a milkshake coming back in that evening.”
“There was no doubt we’d be loggers from early on, and dad was ok with that too,” Bart added. “Where else can a young man go out and make a man’s wage being 18 years old?”
Brad Lyons graduated from Onalaska High School in ‘78 and began his logging career driving the ‘78 Kenworth, one of the trucks owned by Buck’s Logging at the time. Two years later brother Bart started on the same truck, which he added, “...I ended up driving that truck nine years myself!” Then laughing at the memory, “...not a good experience driving log truck and being 21. It was terrible.”
Buck’s Logging was primarily a skidding show its first several years, but around ‘83, “...trucking was slowing down,” and the overall trend favored tower logging, Bart noted. “You had more opportunities logging if you had a tower to log with,” which also meant a longer logging season. “There was work for a tower.”
“We’d just looked at a few jobs where you needed a tower to do those jobs, so we knew,” Brad said, “to generate work at that time you had to go out and get a yarder, and dad was progressive enough to see what was needed.”
With a line on a tower, Bart made a daily vigil to visit the head operation manager (Steve Bernstein) at the Rayonier district office telling him they had a tower. He was in that office on a day a job was available, “...and that got me the job!” Lyons then laughed, “...it was the only way he could get rid of me.”
With the contract Buck’s Logging purchased the used Edco BU-75 tower from H&S Logging’s owners Jim Sabin and Earl Hagseth, and while the tower was used, with it came the experience of the former owners, and a host of other similarly experienced tower guys, to help them learn the fine points of tower logging.
Brad Lyons has worked with them when he had time off trucking. “I’d go to work with some friends who had experience tower logging. All those guys started out with (Roy) Filla and had been through that program. They had the knowledge, especially Sabin.” He laughed explaining, “It was like our being the S&H side two at the time!”
“When we had the contract the tower was purchased,” Bart said. “The tower and the partnership came at the same time,” which brought Buck, sons Brad, Bart and Brent (who was still in school) together. They already had the loader, cat, power saws, skidder and trucks.
The Edco had a 70-ft. free standing tube, truck mounted on a ‘64 Autocar, and was a pretty good buy, particularly considering the education available from H&S. “We learned that in a hurry from them. We gained a lot just having them show us what had taken them years to learn,” Bart explained.
Another plus was having an experienced hook tender. “We had Mort Binnion as a hook tender, who took care of the tower,” Brad explained, “and I started loading under the tower.” They were gravity logging at the time, running on 1 1/8th inch mainline. Dad took care of the trucking.”
The addition of the tower meant not only could they bid on more sales, but they could get work year around, “... and there was a lot of work at that time,” Brad added.
It also gave them a second side with their existing skidder side. “We learned a lot on the bidding process,” Brad explained. “Sometimes we didn’t make much and other times we made more. Plus we learned to read the ground and have a feel over time too, on what to do and what to bid.”
In ‘88 or ‘89 they bought a newer Skagit BU80 mounted on a T100, to replace the Edco. “It was newer, more power, a better drum set, and better production,” Brad explained. “Just having the extra height and power upped production considerably and increased our capabilities in logging.”
Buck retired from the operation in ‘94, and the boys bought his interest. “We were stepping up the game at the time and he was ready to step back,” Brad said.
When Buck went to an auction in Woodland hoping to buy a new mainline for the tower, he wound up buying a complete Skagit T120 yarder with that mainline for $10,000! “At that time,” Brad explained, “everyone thought the day of the big tower was done, and not many of those (old towers) were purchased. It was built in ‘67, telescopic tower and a BU94 hoist, with increased Horse Power and capabilities (beyond their existing tower),” which they then logged with the next six years.
Later in ‘96 they had the opportunity to work for two different companies and elected to go with Champion (which has since sold a few times with the ground now being owned by Port Blakley). It’s been a steady home since that time.
When their BU80 lost a drum, they made a conversion. “We took the hoist, swapped hoists and in the end had a BU94 mounted on a T100. “Just the weight of the tubes alone,” explained Bart, “we went from 190,000 to 120,000 lbs. that made quite a difference in hauling weight,” and along with being easier to move, “the biggest difference: it had Wichita brakes, more power and more speed. The type of timber we were in, and with the roads, we need smaller setups for smaller timber, and easier to set up, so this got us there.”
In 2008 they were looking to add a third drum, and found a Skagit 737 and mounted that with their existing T100. “It was built in ‘76 but it was new for us. They still log with the 737 today.
They’ve used motorized carriages the past 10 years, the first one being a Thunderbird, which they used two or three years, “‘til it fell out of the sky one day and was totaled,” Brad noted shaking his head. That was replaced by a Boman, then they added an Eagle three years ago. “They each have their place,” he explained.
“We’re a three-side program now,” Brad Lyons explained adding, “two shovel sides and a tower side. You have to have the right tools in the tool box for these jobs. We’ve worked with Port Blakely the past seven years and on the same tree farm since ‘96.” On the logging side of operations, “we have 30 employees, including trucks, sawyers and crew.”
In addition to logging they still own the gas station in Onalaska, a second convenience store/gas station in Silver Creek, and the Winston Quarry rock pit they’ve owned the past nine years with a crew of six.
Their crews are a strong mix of veterans with younger men, with a refreshing perspective by design. “We’re making a career for them rather than just a job,” Brad explained their change in approach. “We just got thinking between the three of us of our kids growing up and how to get a better employee and give our kids something to look forward to. We found out if you make it a career instead of its just being a job for our young people coming in, you give this next generation a profession, a great profession that goes on forever out there.
“We pay employee health insurance (through WCLA), 401(k) retirement, and a bonus for production and how long they’ve been with us.”
“We always get a kick out of people telling us there are no good men out there,” Brad smiled then added, “here we have them.”
The brothers split the responsibilities: Brent takes care of the tower side, Bart handles the rock pit, and Brad oversees the logging operations, does the bidding and finds other work. “We set up all the machines the same so all our operators can go to any machine, and make them run.”
“What we’ve learned is you treat people right and they treat you right,” Brad emphasized. “We surround ourselves with good people. It’s all about who we want to meet. We choose the people we meet to make our lives a little better.”
“The reason we’re here today is because my kids grew up with those boots and White Ox (gloves) by the wood stove. Our fifth generation’s now seeing these.”
They’re deeply appreciative of the many loggers who they’ve known and learned from such as Jim Sabin and his example helping and teaching Buck’s crew even today. “Like our hook and the rigging crew, they learn so much from them,” Lyons said. “We’re just blessed with good friends in this logging world. We’ve known them all our lives.”