The wisdom of logging timber

J.A. Bolton Contributor

			
				                                Photo courtesy of J.A. Bolton
                                A feller-buncher gets the job done.

Photo courtesy of J.A. Bolton

A feller-buncher gets the job done.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been having my timber clear cut. It’s been about twenty years since it was cut. Up until then most of our farm was in cultivation. When you harvest your timber, you should soon replant it. I’m planning to replant with longleaf pine even though I doubt I’ll ever see them mature.

Things have changed in the logging business since I was a kid. When our ancestors moved here, they cut the trees with axes and saws. Oxen and horses were used to pull the timber out of the woods. Sometimes the timber was just piled up and burnt to make room for crops.

Some of the timber was used to build log cabins, barns, and corn cribs. Some was used to build large trade ships or mighty warships for several countries. The logs were loaded in large wagons by use of ramps and kant hooks, or, in some cases was floated down rivers like the Lumber River. All this was back breaking-work and it was mostly jobs done by young or middle-aged men.

In the 40’s, chain saws came on the logging scene, but a few loggers continued to use axes and crosscut saws. Large farm tractors, like the Farmall M, were used to snake the logs out of the woods, using high wheel log carts. This type of logging replaced horses in most cases. Also, about this time a man, a bow bladed chainsaw, and his pulpwood truck came on the scene. They were paid by the cord and most of it was loaded by hand until later when winches were placed on top of the truck bed.

Back then, just about every large logging operation owned a portable sawmill. The mill was moved each time a tract of timber was cut. The saw operator at the mill would square up the log by cutting off the edges (slabs). Then the log was run back though the circular saw and cut in different sizes of rough lumber, such as 2X4 or 2X6. It was then stacked in appropriate stacks and later hauled to the planer mill.

I can tell you from a summer’s worth of experience, working on the green end of an old sawmill was hard and hot work. The green boards came down a metal conveyor and then was stacked in piles. All the sap in the wood planks made them sticky and they were very heavy. Why, this job would either make a man out of you or kill you.

As time went on, the old sawmiller either died, or turned the logging operation over to his kids. Why, it seems logging and sawmilling run in your blood sorta like farming does in my family.

The younger generation of loggers were dealing with labor shortages. About that time, newer and larger logging machinery came on the market as well. Most loggers bought at least three pieces of logging equipment: a skidder, a loader, and what is called a “feller-buncher” (equipment used to hold timber while cutting and then lay the log down in a stack for the skidder to move). Most loggers also owned their own log trucks and trailers.

With the coming of larger log trucks and larger fixed mills, almost all portable sawmills went the way of the dinosaurs, although a few are still used today for small or hobby operations.

As time passed the logging equipment got bigger, and so did the price. Why, it’s nothing today for a logging operation to own millions of dollars’ worth of equipment. This equipment can cut a logging crew operation to about three or four men and they can cut a good tract of timber in just days or weeks; whereas, in times past, it would take months.

The new equipment has enclosed cabs which allow loggers to work in almost any weather condition. The cabs are air-conditioned and have heaters and radios as well. The seats are built to be comfortable for the long days a logger must put in. Logging machines are equipped with heavy hydraulics that can lift most logs. The large tires allow the equipment to go just about anywhere, although they do occasionally get stuck. The heavy metal cabs are built to help protect the operator from rollovers or falling trees.

Another new piece of logging equipment that’s being used on the logging deck is a chipper. This allows a logger to sell wood chips by the ton directly to the paper companies and to the new wood pellet plants like Envina in Hamlet, N.C.

With good money to be made in the logging business, a lot of folks have bought in. More wood products are on the markets like lumber, paper, plywood, pressboard, hardwood pallets, and even wood pellets, are being shipped all over the world. The business is wide open. With good management and the right breaks, a man can make a good living. But beware! Like any job or business, there are pitfalls and a lot of worries. Also, logging is classified as one of the most dangerous jobs on the planet.

With competition from so many other logging companies, the available timber tracts to cut are always in the back of a logger’s mind. A lot of the logging crews are contracted out to cut timber for the larger companies. It takes pine trees eighteen to twenty- five years to mature. Hardwoods and longleaf pines take a few more years before they can be fully harvested. On average, a tract of timber can be cut twice in a lifetime. The high payments on logging equipment come every month, and therefore, it needs to be kept running as much as possible, sometimes from sunup to sundown.

In closing, trees provide us with the raw materials needed for our everyday life. The good Lord provides us with this precious commodity. Hardworking loggers are the ones who cut it down and get it to market. A good rule of thumb a logger will tell you is; “When you cut a tree down, replace it with two more.”

J.A. Bolton is author of “Just Passing Time,” co-author of “Just Passing Time Together,” and recently released his new book “Southern Fried: Down-Home Stories.” Contact him at [email protected]