Lugging Longer Logs

By Benny Westcott
Of The New Era

Trucks hauling large logs around the Sweet Home area are a long-familiar sight. However, even casual observers can’t help but notice that sometimes those logs are even bigger than usual.

According to Cascade Timber Consulting president Milt Moran, most locally transported logs are about 40 feet in length. But some are so long – in the 60-, 70-, 80- or even 90-foot range (120 feet being CTC’s current maximum) – they require a caravan of a truck and “steering trailer,” plus one or two flag cars.

Predictably, these logs can be a bear to haul. Sheridan-based driver Doug Hamill noted the road skills required.

“I have to steer the trailer from inside the truck, driving the truck and steering the trailer at the same time,” he said. “I’ve trained guys that lasted a week, but they didn’t make the cut. It’s definitely not for everybody.”

A feller buncher operated by Marshall Arndt of D&S Logging works on land owned by Cascade Timber Consulting.

Kelsi Spencer, who supervises production at the Brownsville branch of the national Stella-Jones pressure-treated wood products manufacturing firm, spoke in awe of drivers like Hamill. In certain instances, she said, “they can literally be going down the highway and have the trailer clear in the other lane.”

So what becomes of these larger logs once they’ve completed their journeys? Poles, according to Moran. Telephone poles, light poles, transmission poles. He estimated that these represent 5 to 10% of CTC’s sales. (Saw logs comprise 60% of the company’s product, he noted, while another 30% is devoted to peeler-type logs for veneer and plywood).

“We’re almost always selling some poles,” he said. “That’s a pretty steady market for us. It pays well. It’s a good market for us. We do well on that.”

CTC delivers the future poles to yards in Brownsville, Eugene and Sheridan. Moran added that a lot of the timber then gets shipped by rail to the Midwest. Stella-Jones barks the trees in Brownsville, then sends them to Eugene, where they’re put into pressure-treated canisters to absorb a chemical so they will last. And they’ll often last quite a while.

“Douglas firs are really strong wood for that kind of thing,” Moran said. “They’ll take a lot of wind and a lot of stress.”

However, not just any Douglas fir will do.

A tree on land owned by Cascade Timber Consulting is marked with blue paint to be cut by CTC Director of Engineering and Log Sales Kevin Van Cleave.

“They don’t want a tree that’s super-old and not growing,” Moran explained. “They want something that’s still kind of growing so it has the sap that’ll absorb. It’s got to be a little bit sappy to absorb the pressure-treating they put on poles.”

When selecting trees, harvesters are on the lookout for defects.

“There are a lot of trees that you would think would make a pole, but they’ve got something wrong with them,” Moran said. “They make great lumber or plywood, but there’s some kind of a defect in them that throws them out of a pole.”

Care must then be taken to fall a tree and move it onto a log truck without sustaining damage. “We don’t want to break it when it falls,” he said. “We’re careful with how we fall them, and sometimes we’ll make a bed for them to lay in. We’ll take a bulldozer and make a nice flat spot in the ground with no rocks in the way or a big boulder to bust them.”

He also stressed that the grapples on log-loading machines shouldn’t pinch their cargo.

“They’re really heavy, and if you pinch it then you’ll tear the sap up, and then there’s a defect and they won’t want the pole,” he said. “They want it to look really good when it’s all done.”

Transporting these logs off a mountain can also present a challenge. Moran, who has been with CTC for 50 years, recalled that when he first started, roads were temporarily built straight downhill to move trucks with super-long logs out of the mountains, because the vehicles couldn’t maneuver roads with corners.

Long poles are loaded on a truck on Cascade Timber Consulting property by a log loader operated by Jared Brown of DandS Logging.

The longest CTC-sold pole during Moran’s tenure was 150 feet. That happened in the 1980s, he said, when a Portland buyer was custom making a mast for an old-time sailing ship. A mountain road had to be straightened in a few places to transport that log, its tail sweep was so great. Signposts went up at every junction, and sometimes traffic was stopped to allow for passage.

Although that behemoth has yet to be equaled, Moran has seen an increased demand for more run-of-the-mill long logs.

“There have been times when there’s not been much of a need,” he said. “But it seems like in the last couple of years we’ve had a need and we’ve kept pretty busy with poles almost all the time. I think for probably the last 10 years we’ve had real good calls for poles.”

Moran believed that this uptick could be attributed to the advanced age of many county-road poles, which need replacing as a result. One-off events like vehicle damage are also contributing factors.

“I think a lot of the infrastructure in the country is getting old,” he said, “so that’s probably why it’s been a pretty popular product for us.”