Hectic, busy and gradually improving

After a lengthy, and very wet couple of months up and down the left (western) coast of the country, at long last it appears we may finally have a spring arriving. It’s not that rainfall is something new to this part of the country, its not, but in this volume prolonging the winter, with big dumps of snow in the highlands, and soppy ground in the lowlands does get a bit old.

From the Loggers World perspective we’ve been fortunate enough to catch the weather just right for stories, lucking-out and catching a relatively “dry day” when we visit logging sites. Certainly we catch stories all times of the year in all varieties of weather, but photos are much better when its not in blustry winds and pouring rain at a 45 degree angle right at the camera lens.

The intermountain region’s logging season was different as well, enjoying a mild early winter before the monsoons arrived in March. The early mild winter season stuffed the mills with wood early on, thus when the late rains arrived their March breakup was brought on by rainfall and wet ground as well. We’d held some hope of catching someone working when we were on the east side for the Intermountain Logging Conference, but that wasn’t going to happen: too wet.

Perhaps the weather should get some credit for the generally larger crowds and improved participation at both the Intermountain and the Olympic logging conferences. Along with the improving weather was the general perception that the overall climate for logging has improved as well, with many contractors having jobs booked ahead for some time in the future. People are cautiously optimistic with reservations with some of the same concerns looming: work force, logging prices, regulatory uncertainties, and perhaps the greatest concern presently is the cost of fuel. Still, in spite of this optimism prevails, a credit to the determination of the logging industry.

A man for all seasons

We’ve known Idaho Forest Group’s Doug Bradetich for a number of years through his involvement and leadership in the Intermountain Logging Conference, and working his way through the various leadership chairs on his way towards being this year’s conference president. In past years they’d had other vocalists step to the podium to lead the national anthems for both the United States and Canada. In the past three or four years that duty had been shouldered by an ad hoc a’cap pel’la performance by fellow board member and past president Joel Nelson (Plum Creek) and Bradetich... very well done, considering initially they had no forewarning.

This most recent Intermountain Conference, Bradetich kicked it up a few notches again presiding over the opening ceremonies, in gaveling the meeting to order, leading both national anthems solo, giving the invocation, and a bit later giving the president’s address as well. Hats off and kudos to now past president Bradetich!

Better engineered
There’s a bright spot within the prolonged economic doldrums of the past several years. That shining factor, which continues to perform daily, is the new generation of equipment being used in the logging business that continues to perform well beyond the time where historically it would have been traded or retired. Even though one may grumble over the cost of new or used equipment, the difference in design, quality, engineering and manufacturing of the past several years has in many cases yielded both longevity and durability above and beyond what had been considered the norm not very many years ago. It is becoming common place to hear contractors and operators talk about engines and components that are still running well with 14,000-18,000+ hours of continuous use, that in turn has delivered strong performance even late in what has been considered a machine’s life.

The timing could not have been better in continuing to deliver value, and keep the companies working, through these challenging times, without the added burden of new payments when the cash flow is tough.

Even the best engineering in the world would mean little if the emphasis on routine maintenance, greasing, changing oil, and care when adding oil and hydraulic fluids, were not adhered to in the field by a better trained and quality conscious operators. Many contractors have invested in automatic lubrication systems that constantly feed key lubricants to critical joints and pins.

The bottom line has been longevity, durability, and performance one could only have dreamt of in decades past. The difference is bankable, and we think has been the difference to many contractors survival through the lingering recession.

We are a performance based industry, but as Finley Hays would note time and again in these pages, “it’s not just about working harder, its about working smarter.” Today’s smart contractors and operators recognize a tube of grease is a very cheap insurance policy for machinery life, and one’s job.

Thus as we wince at the cost of today’s equipment keep in mind what we are buying today is not the same as your father or grandfather was buying decades before. In fact the quality, consistency, design and engineering are paying off in the longevity and durability that’s helped us weather the current economic storm. Even if it is silent, give thanks for those things today’s machinery delivers that was unimaginable just a generation ago.

Transportation costs
When fuel costs last spiked some while ago the immediate sting came in our personal and business fuel bills, yet most were aware that the true cost would take a while to ripple through the economy reflecting that added expense in the energy costs as it worked its way through the supply chain.

Part of what is particularly confounding in dealing with policy makers is their dedication to achieving change not because the market wants it, but because someone’s ideological dreams elected to impose those costs.

Energy is the driver not only of our economy, but of the world’s economy. Where our country has the good fortune of having many resources to draw from, and have worked to capitalize on those resources, we’ve competed very well and our economy as a whole has grown.

The insight of previous generations demonstrated the wisdom of planning ahead, expanding and modernizing the electrical power grid, increasing the sources of energy to supply future needs. More recent we’ve worked to reduce waste, increase efficiencies, and getting the most out of existing resources, which most of us would find no fault in.

Somewhere during transition into the present the well indoctrinated “Captain Planet” generation had the bright idea that business was bad, the environment was in danger, and that balance was passé. If you’re an environmental attorney, not only is this politically popular but very lucrative, especially when the legislatures are primarily composed of other attorneys all of whom either are or were feeding up to their haunches at the public litigation trough, and anxious to write laws guaranteed to enrich the legal community.

Thus since the 1970s to present times, the public debate has been derailed from sustainable public policy to sustainable litigation income streams, great for the legals and the public be damned.

Thus in the quest for the ever popular sustainable energy, many in the political culture celebrate lengthy permitting processes (15-years minimum, not counting years of legal battles) for new power plants, while similarly celebrating removing existing hydropower plants, apparently without considering where the power will come from. Does that seem myopic?

Similarly the glamour of wind turbine farms has been heavily subsidized by our tax dollars and glorified by the public media, led by our illustrious president, as power for the future, and perhaps it will be. Yet especially in the pacific northwest, when compared to hydropower, wind power is present only because of subsidies for their construction, and now subsidies when they are not running because their power isn’t needed (only in America).

Who is paying for all of this? If your guess is you, your children, and your grandchildren, you’re right. Who profits: society? Well, no. Imagery does well, and well serves the purposes of the current administration because they have an entire generation raised on Captain Planet, et al that has been indoctrinated to accept any expense, any folly, is fine and above criticism because it is in defense of Mother Earth (and into the pockets of the legally connected).

The real play in all of this will be in another 20 or so years, assuming our form of government can continue to stand in the light of such lunacy, when may of us baby boomers will either be dead or the subject of a government agency who considers the benefit of keeping us alive versus cutting off the medical care.

By that time the wisdom of two generations ago might be reflected upon and studied to see why they had done so well in building a nation of dreamers and doers. The first lesson should be finding how to do things better and spending less. That would mean less emphasis on image and more on doing things that actually work. That, in fact, is what has separated us from the “old world,” the freedom that comes from a capitalist society that rewards the risk takers who create workable solutions the market wants, not the whimsy of those using the public money to force change of their own ideological dreams.

When you guess wrong in business, you’re out of business.

When you guess wrong in government, you change departments.

President Obama campaigned touting the benefits of expensive gasoline driving our economy towards alternative fuels. The real answer is in inexpensive oil and alternative fuels combined with an energy policy that encourages and rewards innovation in the market place, rather than in the picking winners and losers in bowels of the bureaucracy.

Afternoon pick-me-up
A few years ago, unsolicited, we received a single vial of an “energy” drink that would, according to the promotional prose, energize the user at the start (or end) of the day, in addition to other benefits.

Perhaps the product will do that very thing, but we have doubts, although we do know a few loggers who swear by the stuff.

We’ve always been skeptical of such things put into the system that promises a miracle cure with no downside at all.

The past few weeks we’ve been driving several hours a day with the radio playing in the background. One of the commercials explained in “matter of fact” language that the reason we’re not able to lose weight is because of a “hormonal imbalance,” which not too surprisingly, they had the very product that offered the cure. Thus take whatever it was they were offering (cost was not mentioned) and no diets, no exercise, the weight will “magically” melt away.

Magically indeed. Folks, the problem with weight loss is too many calories in, two few being burned through some form of exercise. There is no miracle cure. The miracle comes from enriching the manufacturer of the product.

There’s a host of these “magical” energy drinks out there, most of which sell for $4-6 per container, and we see people buying them in droves. Such is faith in advertising.

The smarter bet is settting your own mind on the right course steering clear of the elixir.