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Whiteside Logging Leans on Forest Equipment;
North Carolina Loggers Forge Strong Ties to the Principal Supplier of Forestry Machinery and Equipment
By Jack Petree
Date Posted: 11/16/2001
GREENHILL, North Carolina — Conditions are tough for timber harvesting companies in the forest products industry as 2001 closes out, noted Scott Whiteside, a founder of Whiteside Logging. Nevertheless, that does not mean that a logging contractor cannot be successful in the difficult economic climate.
Whiteside Logging manages to keep its head above the water, Scott said recently, by doing a great job for land owners so they are encouraged to recommend its services. Scott also is focused on controlling the size and costs of the company, especially labor costs; he pays attention to small details that can bleed profitability if not addressed. And he practices teamwork, both within the company and with the company's equipment suppliers and manufacturers. That kind of close management of a company is critical to survival in tough times and vital to improving profitability in good times, according to Scott.
Whiteside Logging is a harvesting firm operating near Greenhill, a small community in western North Carolina. The company harvests mostly pine, both on plantations and in the natural woods. Whiteside produces chip-and-saw logs, logs for plywood mills, and pulp logs for mills, large and small, in the surrounding region. The company buys nearly all of its own wood and arranges to sell its products to the best markets.
Like so many entrepreneurs in the forest products industry, Scott Whiteside is in the trade not because he has to be but because it is what he wanted for his life. He and his father, Max, founded their company in 1987, shortly after Scott graduated from high school. Scott had a job lined up with a railroad, but he decided not to pursue that career, preferring instead to go to the woods.
He went to work with a contractor, then got together with his father, who had a truck and trailer, and established Whiteside Logging. The two worked alone for about four years and then were joined by two of Scott's brothers, Mike and Randy. "We've worked together as a family ever since," he continued.
The four men — Scott, Mike, Randy and Max — make up the entire workforce for Whiteside Logging with each having an ownership position in the firm. According to Scott, consideration has been given in the past to hiring people and expanding the firm, but he added, "It’s really hard to find people who are as dedicated to getting the job done right as we are, so we've made the decision to do the best job the four of us can do and keeping things at that level."
Success for Whiteside starts with good landowner relations, said Scott. "We've built a good reputation in this area," he said, "and we work hard to maintain it."
The business relationship begins with a discussion about what the landowner wants out of the logging operation. Sometimes a selective cut is desired, and sometimes the landowner wants everything removed from the land. The parameters of the job are discussed so that both Whiteside and the owner have a clear idea of what is desired, and then they negotiate a contract price. Whiteside generally buys wood by the cord, paid in advance, with the price based on what Scott and the landowner believe represents the best possible deal for each.
Before cutting begins, Scott gets together with the landowner and walks the property, flagging property lines and other boundaries and discussing anything special about an operation that might come up. "Whenever possible we also try to get together with adjoining landowners to let them know what is going on and to allow them a chance to see the flagging we've done and make sure it is satisfactory to them," he said.
That kind of care and attention to both the landowner and its neighbors results in recommendations and referrals and future business, as well as helping to ensure that everyone is happy with what is going on today. "We've built our reputation on doing what we say we are going to do, even if it sometimes costs us money," said Scott. "By making things clear and then doing what we promised, we help make sure that people come to us to harvest their land in the future."
Tracts purchased for harvesting generally average about 20 acres, according to Scott. "We generally will cut anything down to five acres or sometimes even smaller." Large projects may include several hundred acres. The three brothers and their father work together on each harvest. Scott is usually responsible for purchasing timber and doing the cutting.
A Hydro-Ax 511 E feller-buncher has been the mainstay of the felling operation for the past several years, but the machine recently was sold and the company bought a new Hydro-Ax 570 from its primary equipment supply firm, Forest Equipment Company in Asheville, N.C. While waiting for the new Hydro-Ax, Whiteside rented a machine.
The decision to invest in a new Hydro-Ax was driven by the strong performance of the previous machine, according to Scott. One major change is being made to increase production speed: the new machine will be equipped with a saw head instead of a shear.
With Scott doing most of the cutting, Mike runs the skidder, Max runs the loader, and Randy does the hauling. Everyone works outside of his primary job though. "We all work together, pitching in wherever we're needed," said Scott. "When one of us sees something that needs to be done that is more important than what we're doing at the time, we'll do it. Our objective is to get the job done and to do it right, so everyone pitches in." For example, Scott cuts on the landing when needed or runs the skidder or drives the truck in addition to operating the feller-buncher. Each of the others may have an equally varied day's work.
Skidding is accomplished using one of two Tree Farmer C7F grapple skidders the company owns, a 1995 and a 1998.
At the landing, a variety of equipment is utilized, depending on the nature of the logs. Forest Equipment Company is not only Whiteside Logging's primary equipment supplier, it is also the manufacturer of several of the pieces Whiteside uses. Scott points to the FEC cradle mount delimber (a pull through delimber) and the FEC hydro saw-buck slasher as examples. A Prentice 280 loader is utilized to feed the machines and to load trailers for the mill. Landing work, road building, and other tasks are accomplished using a John Deere 650 G dozer.
For hauling, Whiteside Logging maintains two tractor rigs, a 2001 Peterbilt driven by Randy as the primary truck and a 1999 Kenworth Scott hauls with when needed. Five Pitts trailers are utilized to transport the wood. To keep production as high as possible, Randy said, trailers are kept parked at the landing so that sorting and loading can be done directly onto the trailers rather than having the wood decked and waiting, which requires handling the wood twice. A six-wheel drive Mack truck is used to transport trailers from the woods to a convenient site for hook-up to the primary hauling rigs in order to save wear and tear on the main rigs.
The attention to detail the four Whitesides pay in fine-tuning their operations for maximum production is demonstrated by their use of a set of MaxiLoad truck scales. Loads are weighed as the trailers are filled. "It's too expensive for an operation to have tickets for being overloaded," he said, "and it's also expensive to have under-loads. By weighing as we load, we make sure we are getting the most out of the expense involved in hauling without the risk of being overloaded." A typical load is 25-26 tons. Depending on the timber, the four men will cut, prepare, and haul between 20 and 25 loads per week.
Properly maintaining the company’s equipment is a high priority, according to Scott. "We do all of our own maintenance," he said. "Routine maintenance is done every day, and scheduled maintenance on the equipment is done at 250-hour intervals. The trucks are maintained the same way with oil changes at 10,000 miles and routine maintenance on-going. We run good equipment, but it doesn't matter how good the equipment is if you don't do the maintenance. You have to keep things up if you want your equipment to last."
As part of their maintenance program, the partners also move all major equipment to their shop two or three times per year for a complete cleaning inside and out. Cleaning is a big factor in keeping the equipment in good condition for the long haul, Scott contended.
Still, no matter how good the maintenance and upkeep, equipment can break down. In terms of keeping equipment up, covering for equipment that does go down, and providing up-to-date technology capable of keeping Whiteside Logging competitive, Scott said he and his partners look to Forest Equipment Company. Just as Forest Equipment depends on loggers in the region to support its business, Scott pointed out, loggers like Whiteside depend on Forest Equipment Company to be there when needed — not only for sales support but also for maintenance and back-up machinery. "We just can't afford to be down for long when something breaks," said Scott. "When that's happened to us, Forest Equipment has been there for us. We buy the majority of our equipment from them, and they've been good to us. There have been times when we would have been shut down without immediate service, and they've given us priority, getting out here right away. They've even loaned us a skidder so that we could be working instead of sitting. That kind of service means a lot to us."
Few in the logging industry disagree that times are tough right now, but ups and downs are part of the history of the business. Survival in slow times and profitability in good requires company owners to streamline their businesses as the four partners of Whiteside Logging have. In their case, the formula for success is careful attention to the wants and needs of the landowners they serve, a streamlined logging operation, attention to details like maintenance and control of weight on the loads they send out of the woods, and a partnering with their equipment dealers and manufacturers. It is no coincidence that the same kind of approach is widely utilized by successful harvesting firms everywhere.
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