I was recently asked by Frank Bastardi, head of Tajfun USA, what some things I wished I had known when I started logging almost twenty-five years ago. After all these years, I’ve had to stop and reflect on that question as I now take a lot for granted as common knowledge. When I started, I was a first-generation logger.

My parents and grandparents were dairy farmers who had been farming in Virginia since the early 1600s. My great-grandfather had been a timber cruiser and buyer, but that knowledge passed with him before my time. I didn’t know any “real” loggers when I started. They were just some “tree guys” who did small jobs in people’s yards, more like urban loggers. I started doing residential tree work right after high school and working with other guys doing urban logging. That started me down the path of HKU, Hard Knock University!

1. Bigger is not always the better!

One thing is that bigger is not always better. My introduction to logging was helping a friend who owned a tree care company take down and log yard trees on rural properties. I liked it so much that I also started doing that and purchased a used John Deere 5210 4×4 tractor with a loader and an Igland 4001 winch. I made pretty decent money with that setup doing small jobs even though I didn’t know squat about properly merchandising my logs, much less how to market them.  I got bit by the bug that bigger was better.

Within a year of logging with the tractor, I purchased my first skidder—a 1967 Franklin 130B and a 1980 GMC 7000 single-axle log truck. From there, I just kept expanding and getting bigger. Within four years, I had multiple skidders, trucks, dozers, and log loaders, and the payments to go with them.

I was blessed to have a terrific group of men (all experienced loggers) to work for me, but the stress and headache of keeping that all going was exhausting. I also noticed that I was not satisfied with the work anymore. We were high-grading the timber and doing conventional select cuts, taking everything above a specific diameter. We were taking the best trees and leaving the worst. That’s not what I wanted to leave behind. I went from working by myself at my pace and doing single tree selection to high production to get it out fast. So, after six years of chasing production, I decided to return to my roots and sell all of my big iron. I went back to logging with a farm tractor and winch. I purchased my first Tajfun winch two years later, an EGV 65 AHK SG.  Bigger is not better.

2. You don’t know what you don’t know!

The second thing I would be more of what I would do differently than what I wished I knew as starting, you don’t know what you don’t know! If I could do it over again, I would find someone who would do the style of logging I was interested in and see if I could mentor under them. That would have saved me a long learning curve. There were so many things that I didn’t know. I was utterly ignorant. Back then, the internet was in its infancy, so you didn’t have as much information online as we do now. My 18-year-old son likes to point out, “Dad, you’re older than Google”!

“If I could do it over again, I would find someone who would do the style of logging I was interested in and see if I could mentor under them.”

3. Know your market

Point three reflects upon point one after a fashion. There is more money to adequately make in merchandising and marketing your logs than cutting an extra load. KNOW your markets!! If you don’t know how to buck logs for grade and yield properly, find someone who can help you. A log buyer is ideal if you can find one that will take the time to show you what he is looking for. Also, markets change. What’s the hot species today? It may not be tomorrow. Just look at the current red oak markets.

4. You can’t beat experience

This next one ties in with number two. Working more efficiently is far easier and more productive than working longer hours or more physically strenuous. It’s best learned from someone who has been doing it for a long time. I had been in the business for about four years and thought I had learned much about working in the woods. I could almost always drop a tree with a saw where I wanted. I could make quick turns to the landing with the skidder and had gotten pretty decent at properly bucking and merchandising logs. Then I ran into a friend at the local gas station who had just retired a few months before in his early sixties, and he asked me if I needed someone to run a loader. He had logged since he was 15 years old. I said, “Well, I guess so,” and didn’t think any more about it. That was on a Friday afternoon.

Monday morning, a couple of the guys were riding into the job with me, and we noticed lights on at the landing. Enter my real education. When we got to the landing, Mr. Wade had all the equipment warmed up and ready to go. He showed me so many seemingly little things that made my work safer and easier. We would work together for the next few years even after I sold all the big iron. When he was sixty-eight, he and I cut a boundary of timber (white pine and poplar) on excellent ground for our area, the mountains of southwest Virginia. We cut, logged, and hauled 14mbf in one day, just the two of us with a tractor and winch. You can’t beat experience.

5. Versatility in equipment

Last but not least would be versatility in equipment. The tracts of timber in the east are getting smaller and smaller, while the conventional equipment is getting larger and larger and more expensive. I may not get the same production as the big guys, but I don’t have the operating costs. My wife and I log together and farm cattle using regenerative methods with my tractor and winch. We can cut small tracts that the big guys can’t move. In our area, getting someone to push for much less than twenty acres is hard, and they prefer fifty-plus. We can move for a couple of trees if the quality is good. We can haul our tractor behind our one-ton dually and then haul the logs on the gooseneck after we load them with the tractor.

We have two New Holland tractors equipped with heat and air cabs, making life much more enjoyable. One is a TN75, 75hp, and the other is a T5050, 100hp. We have loaders with a third function on both to run brush grapples on them. That allows us to not only move brush and debris out of our way but also safely load logs and clean up as needed. We currently run a Tajfun EGV 55 AHK SG on either tractor. If we had the T5050 when we purchased this winch, we would have gotten another EGV 65, which would be a better match for the bigger tractor. I can also use them to run a firewood processor on the log grade and pulp wood to increase value. We also use them in our farming operations. I can’t do that with conventional logging equipment. This ability is a novelty in the US, but it has been mainstream in Europe for decades.

In consultation:

In wrapping up, my journey in logging has taught me invaluable lessons that extend far beyond the forest. From the humbling beginnings at Hard Knock University to the wise counsel of seasoned professionals, each step has shaped my approach to logging and life:

Bigger isn’t always better, and efficiency often trumps brute force. Seeking mentorship, understanding the value of your resources, and adapting to changing markets are critical skills in any trade.

But most importantly, I’ve learned the significance of working in harmony with nature and preserving the legacy of our lands. Much like life, logging is a delicate balance of strength, wisdom, and respect for the environment. My advice to aspiring loggers? Embrace the journey, learn from every tree you encounter, and never underestimate the power of experience and adaptability.