René van der Merwe (Logging Equipment Sales)
LOGGING EQUIPMENT SALES - Modern Machinery Co.
René van der Merwe sells heavy equipment to loggers primarily in an area extending from John Day, Ore., to Tonasket, Wash. That
said, this passionate South African, now residing in Coeur d’Alene, contributes far more to the forest industry than simply selling
state-of-the-art feller bunchers, forwarders, harvesters, etc. for Spokane-based Modern Machinery Company.
She’s facilitator, educator, forest advocate and full-service sales representative all wrapped into one. She also goes the
extra mile, often literally, to develop a strong sense of loyalty with her customers in an industry which she believes
represents the core values of America and pure capitalism. René loves her work so much she figures she’ll never retire.
“It’s the inspiration of my life,” she says. “Work is that. It’s how you express yourself.” Admittedly walking to her own
beat, she loves the freedom given to her by her employer.
“If you don’t perform, you’re out of a job,” she says. “They don’t tell me what to do. I take care of everything a
customer needs with Modern. We are given all the freedom in the world to be the best that we can be.” With each
new day after her morning run, René can head off any direction—maybe to the Pend Oreille River to study biomass
removal on a job or off to the woods to deliver parts to a customer or to a forestry office to visit while
employees are having lunch.
“I’m always stirring the pot . . . .” she says. “I love being part of changing the face of forestry through students,
teachers and even my friends here in town.” The latter are never surprised with a typical René ploy.
“Hey, it’s a beautiful summer day,” she’ll say. “Let’s head out so I can show you the woods, ” Such a junket often
includes a healthy sprinkling of her philosophy regarding forests, which she believes should be everywhere and
should include all kinds of species, all ages.
She also loves the science of forestry and the people associated with the industry who hail from all over
the world. Her career began somewhat unconventionally after she earned a theology degree from
Helderberg College in her native South Africa. With plans to return to school, she interviewed for
a job with Bell Equipment Co., where her education took a different turn. René learned about
heavy equipment and the practical aspects of selling from owners Gary, Peter and Paul Bell.
She fell in love with the company.
Bell Co. sent her to the southern United States in the late 1980s. Applying strategies learned in South Africa,
René met with great success, selling equipment by having logging company employees learn the machines
and then turn into the sales staff. “We didn’t employ traditional sales people,” she recalls. “We would use
the operator.” The company also trained support technicians to be pilots of fixed-wing aircraft so they
could get to remote areas quickly to repair equipment. “They would fly and land, give a customer a part
or help repair—and we had the best service reputation for the next five years.”
The Northwest has been her home since 1993 when she began working with Totem Equipment Co.,
later taken over by Modern Machinery in 2001. These days, as part of her job, she assembles leaders
in the logging industry and takes them on visits to Scandinavian countries to view forest practices where
rocky surfaces with little topsoil add to the challenge of growing trees. “For them to be so successful
with forestry is extraordinary,” she says.
René speaks highly of innovative heroes she’s met during her years of working within the forest
industry. From each, she’s gleaned additional knowledge for her mission in life. There’s Pend
Oreille Fiber Mill founder Steve Herman from Usk, Washington, and Priest River logging
contractor Mike Reynolds whose name appears on a log-splitter patent. She also admired the
late forester Steig Gabrielson.
Gabrielson’s philosophy toward uneven-aged forest management continues to inspire her.
“If we could take drainages along Interstate 90, Highway 95 or Highway 200 and achieve this
uneven-aged management philosophy,” she suggests, “and the citizenry could feel a part of it,. . .
buying our lumber from a local store, produced right here . . . wouldn’t that be wonderful?“
Want to know more?
º Information Rene has posted on her Facebook group site
º Information about logging equipment
º Logging Equipment