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North Carolina Logger Relies on Versatility
T.K. Ellis Trucking and Logging Has Strong Ties to John Deere, R.W. Moore Equipment Co.
By Carolee Anita Boyles
Date Posted: 11/1/2007
DELCO, North Carolina — When the kind of equipment you use makes your business more efficient, you stick with what you have. Such is the case with T. K. Ellis Trucking and Logging and John Deere equipment. The efficiency that John Deere has brought to his operation has made Tim Ellis, owner of T. K. Ellis Trucking and Logging, a loyal John Deere customer and added dollars to his bottom line.
Tim has a long family history of being in the logging business. His father, Bobby, started the business in 1970, and Tim worked for him at a young age.
“My father worked with my grandfather, Elton Malpass, on my mother’s side until my grandfather passed away in 1975,” Tim said. “Then he and my two uncles ran Malpass Logging Company until 1987. Then my dad went out on his own.”
Tim graduated from high school in 1992 and started out going to college, but he decided that he wanted to work in the woods instead of sit in a classroom. “I started running a crew for my father in 1994,” he said. “I also bought my first truck in 1994 and started as trucking only. I drew a salary from my father then.”
Bobby had a chipping crew and a round wood crew. Another son, Bobby Jr., ran the chipping operations, and Timmy oversaw the round wood crew.
In 1998, when it was time to replace some equipment, Tim bought it and put it in his name. “My goal was to build my credit so I could eventually go out on my own,” he said. “I was finally able to do that in 2004.” At that point, Bobby Jr. took over the round wood operation, and their father continued to run the chipping operation.
“We’re now three separate companies,” Tim said. “The chipping company is Ellis Enterprise, and my brother’s company is E&E Inc.”
Today, Tim contracts almost exclusively to Canal Wood, which supplies wood to various mills throughout the Southeast. He generally works with Canal Wood’s John Conner, who has an office in Riegelwood, N.C. Tim’s company cuts timber for Canal Wood and hauls it to a number of mills in the region.
“We’re very versatile,” said Tim. “We’re able to do thinning, clear-cuts, and residential thinnings for places that are going to be developed. We can do just about anything that comes up. About the only thing we don’t do is swamp logging.” Tim prefers to cut pine but will harvest any species Canal Wood assigns to him.
Most of the wood his company produces goes to the International Paper mill in Riegelwood. “Our bigger timber we take to the West Frasier mill” in Armour, N.C. said Tim “We use a few other mills, but those are the ones we use most often.” Those two mills make hauling wood very convenient because Tim’s company rarely has to drive more than 50 miles to the nearest mill.
Eastern North Carolina supports an active forest products industry. “It’s a pretty big industry around here,” Tim noted. “Most of the businesses have been handed down through families just like ours has. Within a 10-mile radius from where I live, there are either seven or eight logging crews working.”
The biggest challenge is not the competition from other loggers, however. It is the quotas set by mills. “Because I work for Canal, they give a certain quota for each mill,” said Tim. “They only have three loggers in their office right now. At one time they had seven. So right now it’s good for me because of the quotas. My other competition is the weather!”
Young trees harvested from thinning usually go to the paper mill. “For the saw timber mills, the logs have to be 6 inches at 25 feet,” said Tim. “That’s older timber. On clear-cuts, we usually take about 90 percent to the sawmill and 10 percent to the paper mill.” Thinnings are nearly the opposite, with about 80 percent pulpwood and 20 percent chip-and-saw or saw timber.
Merchandizing the wood is an important aspect of the company’s operations, Tim observed. “Sometimes we have eight different log sorts on a job. It’s all about merchandising.”
Since he first began working in the woods, Tim has used John Deere skidders. “In my opinion, John Deere has the best skidder on the market,” he said. “We’ve had a few other brands from time to time, but John Deere has always out-performed them. I’ve also changed to John Deere loaders, although I haven’t changed to a John Deere cutter yet.” His loader is a John Deere 437C with a CSI delimber. The company is equipped with two John Deere skidders, both 748-GIII models.
One of the things that makes John Deere superior, Tim said, is fuel economy. “They’ve been working hard on that for the past few years, and that means a lot,” he said. “I also like the variety of sizes of equipment that they offer.”
One of the main reasons he originally started using John Deere equipment, Tim said, was because of Tommy Cook, a sales representative at R. W. Moore Equipment Co., a John Deere dealership.
“Tommy used to work for another company where I purchased my Tigercat cutters,” Tim said. “He’s had a hand in selling me every piece of logging equipment that’s on my job right now except for one used rubber-tired cutter that I purchased this year. The only reason I didn’t buy it from him is that he didn’t have one.”
Tim’s consistent investments in John Deere equipment have led him into a strong relationship with the company and the dealer. “I’ve been on two trips with R. W. Moore Equipment Company and John Deere,” he said. “When John Deere bought Timberjack, they carried me to Canada so I could see one of the factories up there. Then last year, we flew to Moline, Illinois to see two different factories out there. We even went to the John Deere headquarters and their test facility.”
In Tim’s opinion, John Deere also offers the best logging equipment for operator comfort. “They have nicer radios, roof liners above your head, and controls that are operator friendly. They have air-ride seats in the skidders. It’s a lot of little things all together like that.”
Tim has eight employees who work in the woods and drive trucks. In the office, his wife, Roxann, is the secretary, does the banking and filing, and pays the bills. Tim does the payroll.
Tim gives his employees a week of paid vacation. “I used to offer health insurance for the employees, but I had to cut that out this year. It just got too expensive.”
He also offers safety training. “We have our monthly safety training meetings that we’re required to have,” he said. “If we get a new employee who doesn’t have any experience, either the foreman or I will take the time to ride with him or be near him and in radio contact with him to help him along and help him learn. Every logging job has different procedures for how the owner wants things done, so we have radios on everything so we can talk to each other.”
Although the logging operations are mechanized, one man works with a chainsaw. “His primary job is to trim up top wood and to keep the trucks trimmed up so they can go to the mill,” said Tim. “Plus, I have a mechanical de-limber to cut limbs off timber so they can go on the trucks.”
The disposition of logging slash and debris is usually specified by Canal Wood or the customers for its wood. “If we’re cutting a tract for International Paper or some landowners, they’ll want it put in a pile so they can eventually burn it or have someone come in and grind it up,” said Tim. “But most of the time we scatter the debris over the cut area so it turns into mulch.”
Having the John Deere equipment has helped enable his company to operate efficiently, according to Tim. “Part of it is having a personal relationship with my salesman that goes back to when my dad bought equipment from him,” he said. “So if I have any kind of problem with something, I don’t have to argue with anybody. I just call him, and he comes up with an answer to my problem.”
Another benefit of doing business with R.W. Moore and John Deere is that John Deere has a service center in Wilmington, which is less than 30 miles away. “That means a lot,” said Tim. “And the reliability of the John Deere equipment has been a plus for me.”
Tim has children, but he is not going to encourage them to work in the forest products industry when they become adults. “This industry is struggling,” he said. “Between the increase in prices of fuel, insurance, tires and everything else, we have to fight to get a raise for our products. Contractors always want you to make more production; that’s their answer.”
Tim’s son, 12-year-old T.J. loves the logging equipment and looks forward to going to the woods with his father. His daughter, 16-year-old Tiffany, a junior in high school, understandably has other interests.
The rising costs of doing business that loggers face has been the biggest challenge in recent years. “Equipment has gone up so much in the last two or three years, with the increases in steel and rubber, that it’s getting harder and harder to make ends meet because of equipment payments,” he said. “Right now, the cost of trucking fuel is more than $3 a gallon in our area. Even the price of the trucks has gone up. Day cab trucks — not sleeper cab trucks, but the kind of trucks we use out here in the woods — are running $90,000 to $95,000 in our area. Log trailers are over $20,000. Everything is crazy, and the prices that we’re working for aren’t keeping up with the prices of everything else. The mills need to recognize that people are struggling. They’ve raised some allotments, and most of the time that’s passed on to the consumer.”
Tim’s employees usually work from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. “Some of my help lives 45 minutes away, so they start at 5:00 to 5:30 in the morning and don’t get home until 7:00 to 8:00 at night, depending on where we’re working,” he said. “That makes for long days.”
Despite the long hours, Tim does not have trouble keeping good help. Five of his eight employees have been with him for more than five years.
“I have good help, and I take care of them monetarily,” he said. “I pay my men based on tons produced because that’s how I get paid. And I always make sure that they are well paid. If we don’t produce what I think it takes for a man to have a decent week, I add money to their paycheck, and they know I do that. My men also like the week of paid vacation. Some of them take it a day at a time; some of them hunt, and they’ll take the whole week at once and go hunting.”
“Everybody follows the rules, and we work really well together,” Tim said. “I respect my help, and I ask that they respect me. I don’t ask anybody to do anything that I haven’t done or that I don’t get out and do right beside them at the same time. And they respect that.”
Over the next few years, Tim doesn’t see a lot of changes in his operation. “I just see myself going to work every day, knowing it’s going to be a tough struggle,” he said. “But I love what I do for a living. I love being outside, and I love the freedom of it.”
One advantage of being in business for himself is that Tim can take his dog to work with him. “I have a boxer-English bulldog that goes to work with me every day, and his name is Mack because I run Mack trucks. I couldn’t do that in most jobs.”
Being outside and working with heavy equipment is what Tim likes best about being in the forest products industry.
“We take pride in our residential thinnings, and in the first thinning we do on International Paper Company land,” he said. “We go in, and on a thinning we typically cut every fifth row of timber, and then we thin to each side of us, taking out the worst looking trees. When we’re done, we’ve left a pretty-looking stand of trees. It’s just like pulling the weeds out of your flowers.”
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