“We Innovate When We Can”

PULLEY LOGGING
SEDRO WOOLLEY, WASHINGTON

by Mike Crouse

When you first enter the office, or walk onto any landing of Pulley Logging, you can feel the undeniable vitality and energy present in every member of the crew, from the brush crew, to side rods and the management team. It’s a controlled and certain commitment to excellence, safety, and the future everyone is involved in, which in turn has built not only a diverse cross-trained first rate crew that dedicated to doing the best job possible. This came to pass by design and the conscious recruiting, training, and the shared vision of company owner Greg Pulley, who’s assembled this team over time and genuinely credits the quality of that crew with their success through good and challenging times.

“The guys who work for me,” Pulley began to explain then, paused and started again emphasizing, “I’m the one who’s fortunate, and very grateful they work for and with me. My entire career, I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by great people. They just take care of things. We have a lot of guys that do that. They do an awful lot for me, more than your normal exceptional crew. They go over the top, and always concerned for how we’re doing.”

Yet in the beginning, Pulley’s original intent and interest was to follow the lead of his grandfather and father in becoming a millwright, working on machinery, innovating, improving and finding solutions to doing things better.

Pulley’s father, Fred Pulley (born in 1930) had grown up in the Dakotas and where he’d been a Cat logger in the 50s and 60s, when he moved his young family, including four offspring, to Alaska, “...because that was where the money was. He was running the camp at Well’s Pass, and we settled there in ‘60,” Pulley explained. “Dad was the superintendent of that camp,” a position he held in various camps until ‘66 when the family settled in Ketchikan where he was a millwright, eventually the head of maintenance, a position that ultimately led to a position with WRP in Sedro Woolley, Washington in 1972.

“Sedro (Woolley) was a big place then,” Pulley (a high school freshman at the time) noted, “Skagit (Manufacturing) was cooking!”
Following high school graduation in ‘76, Pulley pursued his millwright interests. “When dad’s head of maintenance,” he smiled, “it’s easy to get into it. There was no apprenticeship because the mill wasn’t that big.” He noted he learned by doing and had some great teachers early in life as well. “I learned from the other guys as well as dad and grandpa etc.” But that dream was derailed when the economy slowed and he was laid off.

Logging career

Pulley learned to operate a D7 Cat working for his dad spreading rock and doing some work on the log yard his dad ran, plus they had an old D7 at home, “...so I’d had a lot of experience with that,” he explained. “It was easy for me to do that stuff.” That turned into a very good thing when he traveled to Forks, Washington looking for a job in logging.

“I was chasing crew busses around in forks like everybody did,” Pulley explained. “I followed a crew bus to a shop with cork boots and a tin cap, and a guy asked if I could run a Cat, and I told him I’d run a D7.” The man was Ralph Johnson, “... and I became a member of the road crew. We were building road for the Snell Brothers (from Sedro Woolley). I knew Dick and Russ Snell because I’d gone to school with their kids, and here I was working on their project in Forks!”

When road building season ended eight months later he was laid off again and he headed back home, working at the local mill, which had been rebuilt by that point, something he was involved with at that time frame too. When that mill closed, Pulley again was laid off and his father went to another mill.

At that point his father told him, “...if you have a big old Skagit you could have work tomorrow with all the wood you can haul,” which has a lot of appeal to the 21 year old Pulley, especially in light of circumstances. “Scott Paper (Bellingham) was getting out of it (company logging crews) and getting rid of their company camps, so were selling all their equipment.” It was an opportunity he couldn’t ignore. Taking advantage required a lot of money, and fortunately he had a friend who came through with a loan, plus he noted he’d done a lot of buying and selling equipment as a side enterprise. “I was always buying and selling something back then, selling for a profit, and the bank (he dealt with at the time) liked that. I’d had a really good rapport with the (Rainier Bank) bank, and the banker. They had enough lending power to loan a fair amount of change back then,” he added. And with that Pulley started Pulley Logging with the purchase of a Skagit BU84, and an SJ7 loader from Scott Paper, then added a couple of Cat D8s, “...to move the tower around.”

“I was 21,” Pulley said with a smile, “and didn’t know much about tower logging,” however the Scott Timber crew was looking for jobs as well. “James Hoyle was their hook tender and he had a whole crew,” so the company was up and running with an eager new contractor and an experienced crew.

Interest in improvising

“I was always interested in improvising,” Pulley declared. The BU84 came with butt rigging. Always eager to learn a better way, “I watched the Graham Brothers out of Easton, they were the greatest guys, helped me out a lot of times,” he said. “They had a Bullet (a mechanical carriage) with sheaves on each side for balance, and you can hang your lines from it...a vast improvement to butt rigging. They called it a bullet because it would run down the line as fast as a bullet. We hooked that up we went to 25 loads a day in the old growth, where we’d get 10-12 with butt rigging.” 

“I’d stayed in the rigging,” Pulley explained, not just because he was younger but because “...it’s where you can lead production, and you can set the pulse.”

The next decade had the typical business cycles, but Pulley’s company and crew did well until the Spotted Owl came to the scene around 1990. Pulley sold the BU84 up in Alaska, downsizing to the smaller Madill 071. “It was smaller, easier to move, and in line with what logging was available at the time,” he explained, which worked well until ‘92 when they sold the Madill and shifted to shovel logging, working on thinnings and private logging jobs, and built their own yarder made specifically for thinning.

That span of time started their overall to thinning as their main focus, a move that has worked very well for Pulley Logging since that time.
“In the early 90s the export market went absolutely crazy, and we started logging a tremendous amount of private timber,” Pulley said, “and marketed that through Clyde Shoemaker. From ‘91-’96 we did all that private wood.”

Pulley started bidding and buying state sales in the later 90s. “The state was trying to start a thinning program, and we were trying to grasp it, (and understand) what the state was trying to accomplish.” Some was for habitat, some for basal area, tree counts, etc. It’s a learning process. “So we were buying a lot of sales, seven to eight thinning sales around the state by 2001-02 and that started it.”

Today’s niche

“Thinning’s been our bread and butter since ‘90,” Pulley said. “We’ve embraced that part of it....

We’ve got some top notch guys; they’re really over the top excellent.”

Much of the crew has been with Pulley for several years, including timber manager Donny Anderson, and woods superintendent Aaron Parker. Each of the logging sides has a side rod as well.

“And we did something different 18 months ago,” said Pulley. “We decided we were going to raise our pay to attract good solid guys: married, family guys who want to work everyday. Quality guys are out there. (We felt) when we paid more we’d get way better guys,” which has worked very well, and yielded increased production as well. “I have some of the best guys,” he added. “I’m very fortunate. “We’ve got guys that go above and beyond the call of their job. I know them, I’ve sweated beside them, bled beside them, and that’s the difference.

The other factor in pay is in rcognizing the competitive forces at work for quality crew. “If we don’t start competing with construction wages we’re going to lose our good guys,” said Pulley, and he’s taken the lead by acting on it.

In addition they pay major medical for the employees (available for the family to buy too), and work hours depends a lot on the individual side. “What I tell each side,” said Pulley, “is work as many hours as you want as long as they’re productive hours.”

Today’s company

The week we visited Pulley Logging they were running five sides:

  • Ground based thinning side, Jody Gross side rods includes an 830L Tigercat with a Waratah 622B dangle head processor, a Caterpillar D5H TSK crawler with Esco swing boom grapple, a Cat, 320 log loader and subcontractor Dave Romani running a Clark 668 Esco swing boom skidder, and a subcontractor MVR Timber Cutting with a 2850 Madill with Madill hot saw.
  • Big shovel side: Don Mufford side rod, their year old Caterpillar 568LL shovel logger with Cat boom and grapple, a 325 Cat with 623C Waratah, a 320 Cat shovel loader. “Mufford also works at making jobs and getting sales, he does a lot more. We think the world of him,” said Pulley.
  • Madill 071 side: Jeff Apple’s the side rod. (Pulley’s owned six 071 Madills) “It was built in ‘78, we bought it in 2007, fixed it back up, been a great little yarder since. It has a 350 Detroit, and a fourth guy line,” said Pulley. Also a Doosan 225 Solar with a 870 Keto dangle head on it, a Cat 320 shovel, and an Acme 22 carriage.
  • 255 Thunderbird Swing Yarder, Truman Santiago is the side rod, a 320 Cat with a 622B Waratah head, and 320 Cat shovel.
  • Road side: Bob Kelly side rod. It has a 328 Cat excavator, 315 cat excavator, and a Caterpillar D5K dozer flat track with a 6-way blade, and a 160M Cat Grader (they’re renting from NC Machinery).

They’ve just finished a flying job out of Yacolt working with Kmax helicopter, owned by Bryan Jorgensen, who owns Timberline Helicopter, out of Leciede, Idaho. “We’ve worked with him since he bought the Kmax in 2006,” said Pulley. “They’re a great bunch of guys.”
Bob Hillier is their primarily log trucker in Northern Washington, and they use a number of individual contract truckers, all good guys, they’ve worked with over a number of years.

The future

Pulley met his wife Katie and married her six months later in 1980. She manages the office, and they’ve raised three daughers: Cassie (born in ‘82); Trista (‘86); and Tiffany (‘88) each of them has worked in the business, running equipment when they were younger. “Cats, excavators, shovels, dumps... the girls built roads, and fish enhancements too,” Pulley said smiling. 

“We’re pretty solid with where we want to be,” Pulley said adding, he doesn’t look to grow further presently. “We have our own timber sales (state and USFS) and want to continue on that track and contract log.”

“With the thinning we don’t’ have as much production,” Pulley said. “We get production and we’re efficient at it. Jeff Apple’s crew is the thinning king, they are high producers... we do well. You have to get production in a thinning to pay L&I and all you have to pay, and have safety, insurance, and all the rest u get with a larger company, you have to have more money a day. You have to be getting five loads a day to make it with our size crew.”

“We’ll get your job done, give you a good log product. If you want a quality of log we can give you that,” Pulley said, “but if you want to just crank volume through, we’re probably not your guy.”