Maintaining the Pace: Allen Bros Forest Management, Arlington, Washington

Article by Mike Crouse

Innovation, planning, and anticipating change has long been a way of life for Les Allen. He was born and raised on the Olympic Peninsula near the town of Chimacum, and started his logging career at 15 working for his father, Robert Allen, who owned Chimacum Logging. “That was when second growth was just starting to come on,” he explained.

“Then I worked for my uncle, Ray Allen,” who owned M&M Logging, and continued working with multiple sorts. “When you get multi-stands like we had, it really created a mess,” which in turn gave them strong incentive to organize it for greater efficiency, organization, and a better flow of the wood. He worked a number of years for M&M until the company dissolved, “...my brother Craig and I picked up some of that equipment, and that’s how we started logging (on their own) in 1975. By 1983 Les bought his brother’s interest out becoming sole owner, and retained the Allen Bros. Forest Management, Inc. company name.

Meeting Pope and Talbot (Port Gamble) supervisor Milt Philbrook, was particularly fortunate both for Allen, and several other loggers on the Olympic Peninsula. He fostered and encouraged that group to try a number of different harvesting systems, methods, and techniques, particularly on the second growth stands, to figure out what equipment combinations would work the best both for the land and for production.

The lesson encouraged Allen Bros.’s early entry into mechanized logging, and to this day drives his company’s adopting emerging technologies, from innovative equipment, better layouts, and the best use of high-tech to keep operations running at peak performance.

“One of our main keys for success has been to use a feller buncher for many years,” said Allen, which started when they were one of the first to purchase a Drott feller buncher with a shear head in 1975. It was a leap in technology and production, particularly with the change in tree diameters in those early years. Since that time they’ve kept up with changing technologies on their feller bunchers, having gone through some seven different machines in that time, each a marked improvement over its predecessor.

Moving inland

By the late 80s with the Northern spotted owl, and the change in public lands policy change was on the horizon. “I knew there was not enough work on the (Olympic) Peninsula to support all of us,” he explained. “There just weren’t companies (on the Peninsula) that had enough of their own land that was ready to harvest. We had to make a decision,” and started looking for work further inland finding some jobs and commuting to the job for about a year before, “...we got in with the Campbell Group.”

Allen’s decision wasn’t easy, but he felt it was a necessity. “I sensed if we were to pull through this whole thing we had to ‘til everyone got their directions.” They finally moved operations to Arlington in 1992.

Tower logging

Allen continued the single mechanized shovel side the next several years until the mid-90s. Allen was seeing an obvious need, on the grounds managed by the Campbell Group. “There was a lot of shovel ground left, but we kept running into mixed stands with tower needs,” and could see not only a need but an opportunity. “We knew we had to go that route and had to take care of it.”

Allen had worked on towers before, “...when I was younger I worked around the big towers and had run some for my uncle for three years. My dad had yarders too.”

In 1995 they purchased a Diamond 210. “It’s a 330 hp swing yarder with a 6-speed Funk Transmission (made by John Deere), the transmission all those carriers use overseas,” Allen explained.

“We hired good people that had the (tower logging) knowledge as well,” he added. “It didn’t take too long to get back into things,” and being productive though he explained, “... it took maybe a year or two to get back to comfort levels.”

Their approach had a difference Allen explained. “No one was swinging from shovel to a cable with buncher wood. We had lots of uphill situations where it was better to do that with the yarder rather than with the shovel. The system worked quite well and we’ve used it ever since.”

They’ve yarded with a motorized carriage from the start, eventually moving to Acme carriages. The Model 28 they run presently is the third Acme they’ve owned. He’s found them to be reliable, tough, and having excellent support.

They’ve also run electronic chokers a number of years when the situation calls for them, switching to Fortronics electronic bells some four years ago. “When they first appeared we bought a set from Acme,” Allen explained then added, “...for quite a few years we’d just ran a three-man crew because we used the automatic chokers. We use them back and forth (with hand chokers) quite a bit. They paid for themselves in the right circumstances. My crew knows when to use them and when not.”

Starting around 2005, they also began using Samson synthetic line as their haywire. “What a difference,” Rob Allen explained. “Those guys pack 600-ft. of that and think nothing of it. You can break it, sure, but the splicing is easier,” than splicing steel line. They’ve used Samson for guy lines as well, “...but it’s very expensive. “We had one strand as the center guy line and had a wire guy line failure, but the rope (synthetic) held: it pulled the stump! We went back to steel because of costs, but we’d like to (use the Samson) again, because it is a one person change over on roads.”

The Allen’s are fourth generation loggers since Jerry Allen had joined the company right out of high school. In 2005 Jerry broke off forming his own construction company and Les asked his younger son, Rob Allen, who had logged right out of high school a few years as well, to come back.

Rob had run the Cat 518 skidder, loaded trucks, etc. right out of high school but “...I had a wish to do something else,” which led to his going to college in Port Angeles. It was a two-year program earning an AA, and at the same time completed their flight program, enough credits to enroll at Big Bend Community College in Moses Lake, Washington. There he completed a 2 1/2-year program, from ‘92-’95 (roughly) and, “...walked out with commercial instrument rating on a single engine plane, plus lots of hours flying, a commercial instrument rating and commercial license.” His intent was “to fly airplanes for a living.”

Rob went back to work in the woods running the Cat D5 to pay for college. “I was mostly involved in the yarding, either Cat yarding or setting chokers, stringing roads, going from an enclosed cab to a set of chokers in my hands,” he noted, “and wound up doing some hook tending,” but he wasn’t doing what he’d wanted. “Doing that sort of work I was wiped out at the end of the day. I was doing some flying with another guy’s plane, as much time as I could to build the hours of flying (until you can fly people and get paid for it as is required by law). I didn’t have the energy to do it and I felt it was slipping away.”

A new opportunity

“Then I got an opportunity with Northwest Hardwoods in Arlington,” Allen explained, landing a job there. “I could make money (working swing) and had the time to fly, plus I was eight minutes from home, and they gave me free gloves and boots! I couldn’t believe it!”

He started on green chain, but did his best to learn “other stuff” as chance presented itself. “I saw a lot of opportunity there if you had ambition.” Within a year a position came up for millwright. “I applied for it. The maintenance supervisor had hauled logs for dad on the Peninsula, and he recognized my name, knew I had mechanical abilities and he gave me the shot. I hooked onto an experienced millwright and taught me all my welding, fabrication skills. When you spend hours a day waiting for a break down, you learn stuff!! Four-years later I’m not only a millwright but was teaching others how to run equipment.”

Allen also married Kim Deisher in ‘98. He’d known her in college several years earlier, and they’d gone on a date, but that was it. “Three years later she’d just started teaching, she’d bought a new home (I didn’t know that), and she was talking (at the grocery store in Arlington) about tiling her kitchen,” and tiling the floor. “I’d tiled kitchens before (having done that on the side during college) so I put up her tile and we kept talking. We got married in ‘98.

He also became involved in their safety and environmental programs as part of a committee. That expanded into safety auditing of other mills as well, involving a lot of travel, although time for flying was again fading.

By 2004, “Dad needed someone to move and perhaps transition to take the company eventually. Dad approached me with that business plan. Rob decided to re-enter the logging business. “However, I’d never run loader before,” a key link to running the show.

On July 1st of 2004 “I got in the loader and started loading trucks... Dad would load a few trucks and I would as well. After a couple of weeks with dad’s help, to get acquainted with the machine and the process,” he said. Then Les went back to his shovel logging and maintaining, organizing the trucks, dispatch, loading, etc.”

In the next few years, Rob Allen continued to learn and load trucks as well as taking responsibility for the truck hauling side of things. “Dad shovel logs and more or less is involved with the yarder, so he goes back and forth between shovel logging and the yarder setup. He can break away and assist them, where I’m with the trucks, sorts, foresters, quality control, loading and sorting.”

Innovation through ­technology

Allen Bros. logs on Hancock ground, which is ISO certified with ongoing audits, something Rob Allen has a lot of familiarity with through his mill background with audits. “It’s been very helpful,” he explained, and one reason when audit teams come through they’ll stop at the Allen logging sites. “We have a lot of tours.”

Rob discovered, early on, a quick and easy way to communicate “with the quality control guys was texting...and it worked! If there’s a change or dilemma, I can talk directly with the source and find alternatives and solve the problem during the course of the day.”

“Then I started texting with my trucks that way too (depends on their phone of course) and the truckers adopted it as well! I’ll still call them at times if there’s a lot to cover... but for basics, its just useful and a great tool, and in the last two years, with better phones, its gotten to be a lot easier.”

Since he rejoined the company in 2004 they’ve upgraded machinery a few times, and changed configurations with existing machinery in search of that better approach.

One such change came three years ago in converting the John Deere 3554 shovel logger, taking it out of shovel logging and mounting their year-old Keto 825 dangle head processor. It’s a more stable platform and has worked out very well.

When in 2010, after extensive research, they purchased Cat’s 532 feller buncher initially pairing it with their existing bar saw, “..., but as we researched it... we thought, is that the future? Hot saws had been out forever, but they’re not really the best option for us, because our operator uses the saw to help him position.” Then their Quadco rep suggested their Quadco intermittent saw. “It seemed a better option: fewer moving parts, less wear and tear, plus not using as much power walking because it’s intermittent.” In addition the head has a 360 rotation, which allows the operator absolute control of the tree. “The intermittent has a smaller disk, and it pivots, hinges out and retracts (during the cut), on and off, but it’s really simple,” Allen said. “Its improved layouts because he can manipulate the tree it can be positioned exactly with the 360 rotation on the saw. It’s made as much difference as anything.”

Allen Bros. added the Caterpillar 568 shovel logger, the first with Cat’s Tier Four engine, to the mix three months ago. “It’s working quite well,” said Les Allen. “We always have them tune the cylinders and everything as we like it. I had them do some of the travel on it a little bit, tweaked the power yet kept it within the parameters of what it should be, but that’s all it needed. It woke it up.” The question everyone asks is about the regen, Allen said. “Does the regen actually affect the power of the machine? ...and the answer to that is absolutely no. It’ll regen itself twice a day in an nine-hour day, and it regens for probably a half hour to 45 minutes. It sounds like you put your hand over the exhaust or something, it just muffles it, but no power loss, it doesn’t affect that at all. It’s a gorgeous machine.”

Fuel consumption: “We work it hard, a nine hour day, its averaging 7.9 (gallons an hour). That’s good for that size of machine. That’s what we were looking for. We thought we’d get there.”

They own two of their own trucks, Rob explained, “...the super train (full length load with a pup), and a mule train for short logs they’d purchased in ‘09 so they could keep the small log loads moving. Both are Peterbilts with Pederson Bros. trailers and rigging.

Working together on bids, and finding work, has been a joint operation since Rob again joined the company. “When I came in that was a push, so I could see and be involved together looking at jobs, and learning about the cost side, learning about the numbers and about the bidding,” Rob said. “Now we’ll each take a couple jobs and bid them, look at the numbers, then decide what we wish to do and how we want to do it. He’s really involved with me from the start.

The company is owned by Les Allen outright although Rob owns a share of the company, and the long term will include the transition of ownership. “The downturn in the economy has changed the time frame understandably,” he said, “which has given me more time to learn as well. It’s worked out to benefit the company (in that) we’ve had more time to make the bigger decisions. We’ve not drawn up a new time line, and there’s no date set. It’s working as a slow transition, and I’m keeping him involved as much as I can.”

And it’s working quite well.