RIGGING SHACK "CLASSIC"
(This column originally appeared in the March 1968 edition of Loggers World.)
It comes to me that it costs about ten times more for a contract logger to put together one competitive high lead logging side now than it did about 20 years ago. Of course, the machinery is better and more efficient. It is strange than that the profit margin is not larger in contract logging than it was 20 years ago.
We have the woods full of good efficient high cost, high production logging and road building machinery. We have loggers laying out a quarter of a million bucks for a logging outfit. Yet the logging price is similar to that of 20 years ago.
It forces one to ask; just who is reaping the benefits from this machinery? Certainly it isn’t always the man who is buying it. It is an advantage for the lumber industry as a whole, it is good for those who manufacture, sell and finance the machinery.
When you look at the situation twice you can’t see that it has done too much good for the lumber industry either. As the cost of manufacture goes down the price of stumpage comes up. It seems as though all the possible profits are spent in paying higher prices for timber.
If you watch the prices paid for stumpage it will amaze you. We have got a peculiar problem in this industry. That problem is the competition and the clawing to get ahold of the raw material, in this case stumpage or logs. So we have bidders who pay more for the standing trees than we can hope to get for some of the logs in those trees after we have built the roads, logged the timber and hauled the logs.
So we yelp and we cuss and we get on the Forest Service, the B.L.M. and the State and anyone else that has us bidding against each other for the timber. Yet Sale after Sale after Sale goes for as much as triple the appraised price. How can we blame anyone else but the timber bidders for that?
Then when the price is too high on the timber we are forced to put the squeeze on the logger, the trucker, the road builder and everyone else whose business it is to get these logs out of the woods and to the market.
You and I have heard it said time and time again that we can’t afford to pay the wages in this industry that other industries pay. Yet, we seem to be able to afford to go out and pay stumpage that amounts to 75% of the finished product.
It appears to me that ten dollars less stumpage could heal up a lot of the troubles we have in this racket.
“How’s it to be done?” you ask. “I haven’t the slightest idea,” is my reply. We are going to have to get smarter and use more sense and who starts it and where it will start is hard to figure.
It has long been my opinion that we in any group or industry cause the troubles. We are many times our own worst enemies. Timber cutters bid too low on cutting jobs and then bitch and bitch and bitch. They weren’t blind when they took the bid. Working men will undercut each other and take jobs away from each other. It happens all the time and it has happened many times in the past. Logging contractors will take jobs too cheaply in order to work, to keep their machinery busy and to keep their men working. Log haulers will cut the throats of each other in order to get the job. The mill owners will bid against each other till the stumpage price is so high no one is going to make a dime on the sale.
When anyone pays too much for the raw material; or when anyone bids a job too low they then are forced to put the squeeze on who they hire and do business with. Get the timber cut cheap, get the logs hauled cheap; that is the necessary order of the events.
Who can blame the logging contractor when he takes the cheapest timber cutting price he can get? Who then can blame the timber owner for taking advantage of the cheapest contract logging price? Thus it seems plain that the cutting contractor has no grounds to blame the logging contractor, nor the logging contractor to pt the blame on the timber owner. Actually, this is the result of our free enterprise system. If you feel you can cut the timber, get the logs, haul the logs, build the roads, or whatever, for less than someone else is doing it you are free to jump in and try it. And who would want to change that?
I guess we are all for competition when it is other people competing. It is harder to believe in it when we are the victims of competition that sometimes gets unfair and downright foolish.
There is no place to quit talking about it because there is no end. The dollar factor is a great leveler, and thus, the profit margin is the big boss.
Perhaps the only answer is the competitors getting together and discussing some of their problems, so all of them tackle these problems in a less suicidal manner.
A short time ago we were lucky enough to procure a fine automobile to use in the business and drive around and about in. This car started out being a Ford Mustang Fastack and then was re-built into a Shelby GT-350. Thus it was a competition car with the steering, suspension, disc brakes, air scoops and the competition stripe. Later the hot engine was taken from out of this car and a stock Ford 289 cubic inch engine inserted under the hood. So what we got was an automobile with adequate horsepower, but an exceptionally good car for handling, cornering and safety. Happy with it and bought it from Berglund Motors.
On Tuesday morning January 16 was driving down the Columbia River highway on the Oregon Side about eight miles east of Clatskanie. Was pushing along within the legal limit when a bread truck, Norwheat Whole Grain Bread truck, pulled onto the highway from a side road in front of me. This was about a ton and a half truck with a van body. The road was quite twisty with quite a few corners labeled 35 miles an hour. I followed this truck for about seven miles in a rain storm with some snow. He literally ran off and left me and I didn’t catch him until he got to a big hill. The pilot of this bread truck is a real driver and that bread should arrive at the stores still hot from the ovens.
How things happen!
It is strange how some things happen, the string of events that bring them about. Everyone has had a string of accidental happenings which took place that ultimately had a great effect on their lives. Perhaps the way you met your wife or the way you got into the business you are in.
Last July I was fortunate enough to meet Byron Fish, who is a staff writer for the Seattle Times, at the Albany Timber Carnival. This Byron Fish is a good writer with quite a lot of fame and has written books in addition to his daily column in the Times. He and I got to talking and I gave him some copies of Loggers World.
Later on he used Loggers World as the subject matter for his column in the Times. Because of his article we received some requests for papers and subscription orders. One of these orders was from an ex-logger named Art Mackey who mentioned that he had written the book; “Logger Life Love & laughter.” Now that book is one of our best sellers and many people have bought it and have told us how well they have liked it. We get many letters here at headquarters from readers discussing that book and we have received six unsolicited book reviews. It has made an impact, and above all, it is a book of logging and loggers as they used to be. The only book that truly records this logging activity. It is true because Art Mackey was a logger during these times and he wrote the book.
It all came about as the result of a five minute conversation with Byron Fish and for that we are properly and sincerely appreciative.
I met my wife because her dad’s barn burned down, but that is a different story. Strange how it happens sometimes!
There is a group known as Curry Country Timber Operators. They have meetings once each month. They had a meeting of sorts in Gold Beach, Oregon on Friday night, January 26 this year. They have a Social Hour where everyone that wants too has a drink, or more, and sits around and gets acquainted. Forest Service people, Loggers, Lumbermen, Tradespeople, Bankers, Finance people, Foresters and almost everyone was in attendance, and most of the men were accompanied by their lovely ladies. South Coast Lumber Company of Brookings sponsored the Social Hour, which meant that they picked up the tab for the drinks, and I’m here and now thanking them for the pair I enjoyed.
Then after the Social Hour everyone retires to the dining room to enjoy more companionship and a good dinner. Paul Stallard is the President and Lester Hill is the Program Chairman. Lester Hill had invited me down to talk to this group of people—-which means he’ll likely be fired as the Program Chairman at the next meeting.
Anyhow, we enjoyed the dinner and then I got on my feet and stammered and stuttered until most everyone had got up and sneaked out.
To keep the evening form being a total loss Charlie Ames had phoned in and said he’d buy everyone an after dinner drink. Charlie wasn’t able to be at the meeting himself.
And that’s about all there is to tell except that it was a good thing and that there is a lot of benefit for all to get acquainted in a social way. To think of a room containing Forest Service people, Mill owners and Contract Loggers, is to think of running blood. Actually, they got along first rate and probably get along better and understand each other better because they have meetings such as this.