Ron Kuhlman (Company Owner, Logger)
Owner: Kuhlman Trucking, Idaho Logger
Ron Kuhlman wears a “Pride in Logging” hat when he’s out on the job, cutting trees for Forest Capital LLC near Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Judging from the clean logs being loaded onto a log truck at a recent job site, it’s clear that Kuhlman and his crew truly take pride in doing quality work. It’s a motto that has kept Kuhlman in business for more than 30 years.
Kuhlman and his 5-man crew had won the award for top logging contractor for several years running when Crown Pacific sold its lands to Forest Capital in 2004. Because of Kuhlman’s track record of producing a high percentage of quality logs, Forest Capital retaining the logging contractor to work for them. “It’s hard to make a perfect log, especially with crooked trees, but we do the best we can,” Kuhlman says. “At the end of the season, they add up the total of perfect logs, and you get the prize for being the Top Quality Logging Contractor.”
When Forest Capital bought Crown Pacific’s lands, they cut in half the number of logging contractors that had worked for the previous company. Kuhlman’s emphasis on gleaning the most quality logs from a logging job paid off. “Our jobs counted on being the best at what we do,” he says. “I give all the credit to my crew. They spent the time to do things right.”
A logging contractor is hired to cut trees in a timber sale, remove the tops, de-limb the logs, and load them onto a logging truck, which hauls the logs to a nearby sawmill. Before the loggers start work, professional foresters lay out the timber sales, and mark trees to be cut with spray paint. Loggers cut the trees on the site, according to the directions of the foresters, and follow Forest Practices Act guidelines. When Kuhlman worked for Crown Pacific, the company required his crew to log trees the old-fashioned way, using chainsaws to fell trees and remove the limbs. When Forest Capital took over, they wanted Kuhlman to use high-tech equipment, such as Feller-Bunchers to cut trees, and log processors to remove the limbs and prepare the logs for loading into log trucks.
Switching to high-tech equipment made sense, Kuhlman says. “Our production doubled. We used to move 3 million board feet per year, which is quite a bit for a 3-man crew, but we move twice that now with the same crew and mechanical equipment.” Plus, the logging costs are lower with high-tech equipment, he says. “I’m logging this site for less cost than I did in 1999 by hand,” he says. “Technology is very important.”
Log processing machines make quick work of a fresh-cut tree. “It grabs a log, knocks off the limbs, and measures the log in one stroke,” he says. “It makes huge difference with that kind of technology.”
Kuhlman grew up on a farm in North Idaho. Initially, he wanted to be a school teacher when he
went to college at the University of Idaho. He got his teaching certificate and taught agriculture
for one year in Forks, Wash. After the school day ended at 3:30 in the afternoon, Kuhlman was ready to work more, so he took a part-time job as a mechanic for a logging outfit. “I was used to working long hours — I’m a farm boy — so I needed something else to do,” he says. It wasn’t long
before the logging contractor talked Kuhlman into driving a log truck for them.
“The money was a lot better, and the rest is history,” he says. In 1985, Kuhlman started his own business with his brother, working for Crown Pacific. Most of his logging crew has been with him ever since. “They’re the key to my success.”
Kuhlman takes care of his people. He pays good wages (around $22 an hour in 2011), pays their medical insurance and covers their mileage. He’s found over the years that working an eight-hour day in the woods is plenty, considering travel time from home to a logging project. “Just the travel
back and forth can add up to an 11-hour day,” he says. “If we worked 10 hours, it pretty well burns them out, and takes time away from being with their families. We’ve found that we’re most productive by working an eight-hour day.”
His favorite aspect of being a logger is working outside. The only downside to being a logging contractor lately has been the weather, Kuhlman says. “The weather has been worse on us than the recession because we’ve lost so many days,” he says. “This year, our last day of work was in late January, and we didn’t get started until the first of June. The ground was just too muddy and wet to work in.”
In his off-hours, Kuhlman’s passions include tractor-pulling, four-wheeling and traveling. “My wife and I have a motor home we liked to travel in – that’s my passion these days,” he says. The logging profession needs more young recruits, Kuhlman says, encouraging young people coming out of high school or college to consider the career. “We need new people to come into the logging business,” he says. “Those of us who have been in the business for a long time are an aging group.
“Loggers in Idaho are all professional people. They have to be at the top of their game to make a living,” Kuhlman added. “It’s a great business to be in. It’s fun to be outside, working together as a team. “
Want to know more?
º Learn about logging in Idaho:
º Learn about Idaho’s Pro Logging Program:
º See a video about road building in Idaho:
º Learn about logging in general:
º Learn about Logging Safety:
º Learn about the University of Idaho’s Student Logging Crew: