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Still Swamped – Goodson’s All-terrain Logging Relies on Bandit Chippers

Many people have enjoyed watching the Swamp Loggers on television. Goodson’s All-terrain Logging relies upon Bandit chippers to grind its wood slash into useable biofuel.

By Staff
Date Posted: 10/1/2012

                The cameras might be gone, but Bobby Goodson and the Swamp Loggers crew are still famous, still extreme, and with the help of a new chipper in the fleet, busier than ever.

                At first glance, the recently constructed logging road in rural Southeast North Carolina seems like any other. But then you come upon a sign informing people that a work zone is ahead, safety gear is required, and visitors are not allowed. Normal logging operations aren’t typically sought-after destinations for travelers, but of course the crew at Goodson’s All-Terrain Logging from Jacksonville, North Carolina isn’t exactly normal. Aside from wielding the special equipment needed to traverse and successfully log tracts in swampy terrain, the entire operation has been the focus of the popular reality TV show Swamp Loggers, which first aired in 2009. The show was officially dropped in early 2012 after 36 episodes, but the fame it brought to Bobby Goodson and the whole crew is definitely ongoing. The show left an indelible mark among loggers throughout the industry, many of whom identified directly with the daily challenges Bobby and his crew faced, all while admiring their camaraderie and team spirit. Bobby showed the world that nice guys don’t always finish last, and as a result, Bobby, his son Justin, Dave, Bo, Joy, Simitrio, and the rest of Goodson’s All-Terrain Logging have a very loyal fan following. And with reruns still in occasional rotation on television, new fans continue to find the show.

                Hence the no visitors allowed sign at the beginning of their logging road. But Bobby Goodson personifies the term southern hospitality, and though visits aren’t encouraged, friends and fans that do happen to catch the swamp loggers in action are greeted pretty much the same way Bobby greeted people on the show—with a smile and a handshake.

                “Just yesterday I had people that came out from Ohio, drove out here three, four hours just to meet us,” he said, smiling while standing in a muddy clearing where all the familiar faces from Goodson’s All-Terrain Logging were hard at work. “Sometimes, people will come out, and I guess they’re excited; they’ll just say ‘how are you!’ and then I’ve got to try and make the conversation. I guess what it is, they’ve got a lot to say but they just forget everything when they get here.”

                 He speaks with the sincere modesty of someone unexpectedly elevated to the spotlight, but grateful for the unique opportunity to meet and help others. For many professional loggers he has become their unofficial spokesman, putting an honest face to a tough industry where multi-generational family operations like his are as common as cornbread and sweet tea in the south. It’s not a role he sought, but as a devoted Christian and family man, it’s a responsibility he aspires to live up to.

                “I’ve met so many good people doing this show, and there’s a lot of good I can do,” he said. “For a 44 minute show it takes 200 hours of filming, so there were a lot of things that didn’t make it in, but there were many good things that did. A lot of reality shows are like train wrecks, with everybody arguing or fighting. We are just a group of people trying to get along and do a job, just trying to make a living.”

                That’s why visiting Goodson’s All-Terrain Logging at the worksite is just like the television show. The focus of the program was the work being done, and with the exception of a new Bandit chipper in the fleet, the work hasn’t changed. The terrain is still tricky, the equipment can still be finicky, and their goal is still to hit 100 loads a week.

                The new machine is a 22-inch capacity Bandit Model 2590 whole tree chipper, outfitted with a 540-horsepower CAT C15. He picked it up last August, not long after filming stopped so it never made it into the show, but he’s already racked up plenty of hours chipping the slash he used to leave behind.

                “We have so much waste and slash on our job, and there’s a market coming on now for biofuel so I knew we’d have to go in that direction,” he explained. “I knew Bandit had the best machine out there; I’ve seen guys around me running other machines, and then they’d switch to Bandit so you figure it’s got to be a good product. The 2590 has done a really good job for us, saved us a lot of money.”

                Bobby’s first encounter with Bandit was actually chronicled during the second season of Swamp Loggers. The episode titled “Growing Pains” featured a Model 4680 Beast horizontal grinder that was brought in to wipe out some large piles of chunk wood. He ultimately decided a whole tree chipper would be a better fit for his operation given the local market, and he turned back to Bandit for a solution.

                “The 2590 has really filled a niche for us, with all the limbs and tops and debris it can process,” said Goodson.  “We’ve picked our production up to about five or six loads a day, and that’s just extra loads we’re getting without having to pull more wood. With the C15 engine it’ll throw a load in about 20 minutes so we’re not burning much fuel.  The only real holdup we have right now is that the mill we’re hauling to only has one dump, so it can be tough to get unloaded in a timely manner.”

                Watching the team in action, it soon becomes clear just how good they are at what they do. The 2590 took material as quick as their Tiger Cat 240 could deliver it, filling the chip trailer in about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, Bobby had jumped into another Tiger Cat to load one of the log trucks. Both trucks left at approximately the same time, just in time for another empty log truck to roll in. Further out in the swamp another crew was hard at it with feller bunchers and another loader. One might think that being on television would dull the edge, soften the work day if for no other reason than because of the fame enjoyed by the crew. But Swamp Loggers was always about the work instead of the interpersonal drama, and that’s what made the show arguably the most “real” reality series on television. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the reasons why the series didn’t return for 2012.

                “We have enough people here to where we have conflicts from time to time, but it’s nothing major,” said Goodson. “One of the hardest things I’ve done in 26 years of logging is to find a good group of people that work well together for a common goal. Everybody is out here to get as many loads as we can because the more loads we get, the more money everybody makes. The major network wanted more drama; they wanted us to start arguing and fighting and I said I’m not going to do that. I wasn’t going to back off my morals for it.”

                Bobby said that the cancellation of the show is something of a double-edged sword. He misses the people and the opportunity to share his ideals and experiences with a large audience, but filming the show was actually very stressful, and not just from a safety standpoint. Having people on the ground with cameras and microphones certainly added a new aspect to keeping everyone out of harm’s way, but the diligence of everyone involved prevented major injuries during the three years of filming. More specific to Bobby, however, was the simple fact that, in addition to running the company and guiding his crew, the production team was always turning to him for direction.

                “I had 12 people looking at me every morning, wanting to know what we were going to be doing,” said Goodson. “With logging you always have a plan when you leave the house in the morning, but you end up reacting to the situation that happens. The first thing the film crew would ask is what we’d be doing today, and I’d tell them I didn’t know, we’d just have to see what happens. And they wanted me on site every minute, which was tough because I had other things to do. The film crew was included on some of that, but where it might take me 30 minutes to run to a parts store, with the film crew it was more like two hours. We’d pull up to the store, the camera guy would get out and then I’d have to go back out on the street so he could film me driving in. Then, since the store didn’t know I was coming, they’d have to go inside and spend time doing paperwork to film. When you have equipment down, you need to get it back up as soon as you can. The show took a lot of my time, and it slowed the guys down a bit as well. It all really put a lot of stress on me. ”

                And the irony in all this? Bobby admits to not liking crowds or speaking in public, at least at first. But the irony goes even further, because the original magazine article that got Bobby noticed by Pilgrim Studios (the production company for the show) was actually supposed to run a year earlier than it did. Had it not been for a mix-up in names, executives at Pilgrim never would have learned about Bobby’s operation.  

                “I came in one evening and I got a call from Los Angeles, a lady from Pilgrim Studios,” he explained. She said they were looking for an extreme logger, and I figured it was a prank, you know? I asked her which one of my cousins put her up to it, and of course she didn’t know anything about it. I told her thanks for calling, but I wasn’t interested and hung up. She called back and explained that she wasn’t some crazy environmentalist; she’d just heard that what I did was extreme. That’s how they found me.”

                So the big question, then, is whether or not being a television star and role model has changed Bobby and Goodson’s All-Terrain Logging. Being a fourth-generation logger, Bobby is still sweating on the job site bright and early, working alongside his son Justin who is poised to continue in the footsteps of his father as the head of the company. He still jumps from machine to machine, working just as hard as the employees that are also his friends. When machines break down, he still runs for parts and he’s ready with a wrench to get things moving again. He still worries about contracts, still had bills to pay. His hands are still dirty, boots still muddy. It’s all pretty much the same as it was 26 years ago, when he struck out on his own.

                “I’m going to shovel log as long as I can,” he said, smiling. “And with logging there are so many moving pieces, so many things going on, there’s no way I can control it all. The Lord has been helping me a great deal out here, helping to keep me and the guys safe all these years. So yeah, I’ll be doing this as long as I can.”

                If that’s not enough of an answer, drop by sometime to see Bobby and company in action. Just remember that, while visitors are not allowed, friends are always welcome.


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