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Mississippi Logger Randy Martin Meets His Match

Martin Lumber started out as a contracter hauling pulpwood and has become a successful logging operation years later.

By Diane Calabrese
Date Posted: 11/1/1999

SHUQUALAK, Miss. — Start a business. Stay with it. Make it successful. How? There are as many answers as there are businessmen. For Randy Martin the answer was just to get going. When Randy graduated from high school, he got a truck and started hauling pulpwood. That was 28 years ago.

Randy owns Martin Logging Company in Shuqualak, located in Noxubee County, Mississippi. The company’s east-central Mississippi location is a good one for a contract logger.

For starters, western Noxubee is a flatwoods region. Commercially valuable tree species such as loblolly and short leaf pine, red and white oak, sweet gum, yellow poplar, elm and hickory predominate. There are more red and white oak and sweet gum to be found in the eastern part of the county, which is prairie; also rooted in eastern Noxubee are ash, cottonwood and hackberry trees.

Most of Martin Logging Co.’s jobs are within 75 miles of Shuqualak. Along its outer reaches, that 75-mile radius sweeps across an area of upper coastal plain where black gum, longleaf pine, magnolia and sycamore mix with the trees that are also common in the interior flatwoods.

Mississippi’s pines and hardwoods are big and heavy. Looking for a loader last year that would be a match for the big logs that Martin Logging handles, Randy bought a Barko Hydraulics 295.

Choosing the Barko 295 loader was an easy decision, he said. "I’ve been using Barko equipment for 15 years. I like [the Barko representatives]. They work us. And the equipment holds up."

Holding up to the combination of high production and big pines is precisely what the Barko 295 is designed to do, according to David Sanders, an account representative with Waters Truck & Tractor Co. Waters, with offices in Columbus, Meridian and Kosciusko, Mississippi, is a distributor for Barko Hydraulics.

"Heavy duty" is what Sanders calls the Barko 295. The loader couples strength and reach with maneuverability. For example, at a radius of 10 feet, the loader has a lift capacity of 35,250 pounds; at 30 feet, 13,010 pounds.

The Barko 295 loader is powered by a 166 hp Cummins 6BTA diesel motor and has a 130-gallon fuel reservoir. The machine’s hydraulic system operates at a pressure of 3,600 psi. Pistons and glands of the heavy-wall steel hydraulic cylinders are fitted with wear rings to extend life. The boom has a horizontal reach of 32 feet, and, on a six-foot high truck frame, a vertical reach of 38 feet.

Randy’s crew recently was working in dry, dusty conditions when he talked with TimberLine, and he was hoping for rain. The dry conditions "are hard on equipment," he noted. Fortunately, the Barko 295’s 117-gallon hydraulic oil reservoir has a return line filter. "It’s doing a good job," Randy said of the loader. "It’s a smooth-operating machine."

The loader’s swing torque contributes to its even performance. The system has a theoretical swing torque of 56,000 foot pounds. It is capable of continuous rotation, thanks to the 54-inch internal tooth turntable bearing.

The features of the Barko 295 make it a good fit at Martin Logging. However, Barko manufactures a number of different loader models, each designed to function in specific niches. The company even offers a model with a stationary mount that can be controlled remotely.

Founded in Duluth, Minn. in 1963, Barko Hydraulics (now a subsidiary of Pettibone) has shipped more than 20,000 knuckleboom loaders since the company’s inception. The company moved its main plant to Superior, Wis. in 1978.

As it happens, Randy has the first 295 model loader that Barko built, which also makes it the first 295 to see service in the Magnolia State. (Mississippi not only tapped the magnolia for a nickname, it also is the state tree and state flower.)

On Martin Logging jobs, the loader works in conjunction with another Barko loader (a 275B), two John Deere skidders and a Hydro-Ax 711EX feller-buncher. The company usually harvests big timber, and chain saws are used for removing limbs. On a typical job, there are three saw hands in the woods and another at the landing. In small timber, the company uses a Hudson delimber for hardwoods and a stand-up limbing gate on pine. Five tractor-trailers keep the wood moving. The company has about nine employees in all, not counting truck drivers.

Production varies, given the logging conditions and other factors. "It depends on the type of timber," said Randy. "We cut 25 to 30 loads a day on decent tracts."

Martin Logging works mainly for Shuqualak Lumber Co. these days. Besides manufacturing lumber, Shuqualak produces poles, pilings, fencing, scaffold planks, and ladder stock. In years past, Martin Logging also has worked for Gulf States Paper Corp. in Mobile, Ala. Like Shuqualak, Gulf buys several pine species. Last year, each sawmill reported an eight-hour shift capacity of about 300 million board feet.

(There is an interesting footnote to the abundant pine in Mississippi. City of Jackson native Harry A. Cole developed the pine-scented cleaning product, Pine-Sol. Was he inspired by the scent of the pines around him? Probably.)

Shuqualak, a town of about 570 people, lies about 60 miles north of Meridian, the town which is the home of Jimmie Rogers, "the singing brakeman" and the "father of country music." Martin Logging is situated at state highways 21 West and 39 in Shuqualak. The company has a quick path to two major interstates that converge in Meridian. Rail lines also run through the town.

Shuqualak is nestled among many towns made famous by their people and products. For example, author Eudora Welty was born in Jackson, which is about 120 miles southwest of Shuqualak. Other writers also have called Mississippi home, including William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams and John Grisham. Nearby Kosciusko is the birthplace of Oprah Winfrey, and Jim Henson, the creator of the Muppets, was born in Greenville.

Timber producers and sawmills are the biggest employers in Shuqualak, although the community’s close ties to the forest products industry mirror the overall state. According to the Mississippi Forestry Association, about 67,000 people worked in forestry or forest industries in 1995, accounting for a full 10% of all the jobs in the state. The forest products industry pumps $12 billion annually into Mississippi’s economy.

Mississippi has 18.5 million acres of forest, covering 61% of the state’s land area. The acreage of forest has been stable for 40 years and recently has increased: the Magnolia State has 1.5 million acres more of forest than it did in 1987, according to the Mississippi Forestry Association.

Mississippi values its timberlands and aims to keep them productive. Doing so is part of a strong tradition. For example, writing in "The World Almanac of the U.S.A.," Allan Carpenter and Carl Provorse describe Mississippi as a state with "one of the earliest and best reforestation programs." Mississippi now boasts more tree farms — over 5,000 — than any other state. Appropriately enough, the 4-H Club got its start in Mississippi in 1907.

Earlier this year, Gov. Kirk Fordice signed into law the Reforestation Income Tax Credit, which encourages private, non-industrial timberland owners to undertake approved hardwood and pine reforestation efforts. An eligible landowner can claim a lifetime aggregate credit of $10,000. An enticing aspect of the credit, which represents 50% of the cost of reforestation, is that it carries over to future years if it exceeds taxes owed.

The Mississippi Forestry Association promotes the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) of the American Forest and Paper Association. Working with representatives of the Mississippi Loggers Association, the Mississippi trade group encourages private landowners to reforest tracts after cutting and to do so in a timely way, suggesting it be done within two years.

The Mississippi Forestry Commission sells seedlings that have been genetically improved, field tested and adapted for the state’s soil and climate conditions. More than 250,000 acres of seedlings were scheduled to be planted in 1999.

The commission is a member of the Western Gulf Forest Tree Improvement Program, an alliance that brings together timber companies and state agencies with a vested interest in maintaining forests in the state.

Fifty-one percent of the forest land in Mississippi is hardwood while almost 31% is pine. The remainder is an oak-pine mix. Private owners hold 69% of the forest land.

The emphasis on reforestation meshes well with the sort of logging Randy’s company does. "Our main jobs are bigger clear-cuts," he said. "Seventy percent are saw logs, but we do some chip."

Each job offers new challenges, but Randy particularly recalls one high-production effort for Shuqualak Lumber Co. "Shuqualak bought a tract between Scooba and Electric Mills [towns in neighboring Kemper County, which lies just south of Noxubee County]," explained Randy. "We turned volume. We had some several million board feet out of there, big sawmill timber. We probably won’t cut anything like it again."

Randy laughed when asked what he likes to do when he is not working. Most of his time is devoted to the business. When he does have spare time, he enjoys spending it with his wife, Janice, who does the bookkeeping, and his three daughters: Angela, 27, Beth, 24, who recently gave birth to the couple’s first granddaughter, and Hanna, 8. He also enjoys rabbit hunting and has a few beagles.

It is a given that anyone who stays with a business for almost three decades probably is happy with the choice he made. Randy is.

The complexities of a given 24 hours are unpredictable. On the day TimberLine caught up with Randy, one of his truck drivers had swerved to miss a hay wagon. The truck was damaged but no one was hurt.

The best way to deal with uncertainty, of course, is to look at its dimensions as challenges. "I enjoy the challenges," Randy said. "There is something different every day. When the market is good, it’s a lot of fun."

When the market is caught in a "squeeze," the business definitely is not as much fun. Still, Randy was emphatic about the business of contract logging, even with all its uncertainties. "I enjoy it," he said. And liking one’s work might be the best secret to staying with it.


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