“The Future Looks Really Good”

D.E. Metlow Logging, LLC
Valley, Washington

by Mike Crouse

The woods “business” has always been a part of life for Darren Metlow, in part because his father worked as a woodsman, in addition to driving truck, and the rest because their firewood the family cut, “...it wasn’t a business that they had, it is just what the family did to support themselves and honestly for fun. It goes clear back to his grandfather (and his boys, including Darren’s father Ewel) cutting wood into 4-foot chunks, using a sled, drawn behind a horse, and hauling it from the mountain down into the town of Valley to the hospital and whomever, across the Valley flats which had logs decked up to make a road across the wet land and river.” That was carried on into the next generation as well, “‘...cutting and delivering firewood carried on to Darren, his dad, Butch (Darren’s older brother), cousins continuing on to Darren and his two kids.”

Ewel Metlow was born in Valley, Washington in 1924 (celebrating his 90th birthday this year) and started his career driving trucks for the silica mines back in the 1930s. “He made a career out of driving truck for Silica,” hauling the raw rock off Lane Mountain six miles above Valley, which is milled in Chewelah, yielding a high quality silica sand, which is then shipped up to the mail plant in Canada.

“He kind of just did gypo stuff,” explained his youngest of five offspring, Darren Metlow, “and did that off and on his whole life, in addition to a number of other part time jobs,” which included their firewood, that every member of the family was traditionally involved in. When Darren (who joined the family in ‘69) was seven, he broke into the firewood enterprise as well, which continued on until the past few years.

While in public schools, the youngest Metlow son, Darren, had a basic idea of what he enjoyed and wanted to do after graduation. “I just wanted to work in the woods and play basketball,” said Metlow. He’d learn to operate a chainsaw working in firewood as he grew up, and worked for various farmers in the valley during the summers.

Following high school graduation in ‘88, he explained, “...there were a lot of loggers (around here) in ‘88, and I just put in an application for all the loggers in the area.” One of his cousins worked for local logger Mike Pernsteiner, “... and he got me on there a few weeks out of high school. I started June 28th in 1988.”

Logging career

Metlow joined one of Pernsteiner’s four logging crews, including two tower sides and two tractor sides, “...running chain saws and bucking logs,” the first two years, he explained, then started operating machinery first on their Caterpillar 518 grapple skidder. “It didn’t’ take long to adjust,” Metlow said on operating skidder. “It was dusty, a bit scary at first,” then he added, “and when I got home I’d be plumb worn-out from sitting on that thing all-day-long, bouncing around and such.”

Following three years on the skidder, Metlow then moved to operating their Caterpillar D5H swing boom grapple, “...working on steeper ground. “It was a better deal,” he explained with a smile then added, “but I’d still rather have been running the chain saw.”

In Fall of 1991, while backing up for a turn, on the D5H a ‘Joepoke’ (small tree limb) “...came in through the back of the cab,” and squarely hit, and entered his right eye. “It was about the size of my small finger,” and broke of within the eye socket requiring surgery for removal. Certainly he lost his eye to the accident but it could have been far worse.

“I was out of work for four months, returning in January of 1992,” Whitlow explained, “and returned to running chain saws for a while, before returning to the D5H three months later, which he continued operating the next several years.

Over the next decade plus the company (Whitlow was a part of) continued updating and improving their equipment lineup matching the innovations and improvements available at the time, upgrading to enclosed cabs, moving into better processors and feller bunchers as technology advanced. In addition virtually all of the crew is cross-trained to operate most if not all the machinery giving the company a lot of versatility to match the requirements of any given job. “We’ve got some young guys we’re bringing into the crew now,” Metlow stated, in continuing the cross-training base. “We have them on their own machines but then we’ll start their training on other machines as well. If someone’s sick there’s always someone that can jump into their machinery.”

In 2006 they updated crawlers adding a Cat 527 swing grapple with six-way blade to the equipment mix, which Metlow has operated since the day it arrived, up to present times as his primary machine, although he can run anything in the company.

By 2011, they were running two ground-based sides “...with a six-man crew on each side, that included a feller buncher on each side,” explained Metlow then noted, “each are Timbco 445’s one’s a 2005 and the other’s a ‘94, both running Quadco hot saws.”

In addition to the bunchers, each side has “...two skidders, a loader, and one or two processors depending,” on the job. “No one’s on the ground,” Metlow noted, everyone’s in a cab.

Changing hands

Three years ago, Metlow explained, “...on Valentine’s Day, Mike (Pernsteiner) walked up on the mountain where I was working. I got out of the Cat (527), and he said he was getting out of it (logging), and asked me would I buy it, was I interested in taking over?” It took Metlow by surprise, he noted saying, “...before this I hadn’t considered it.”

However Metlow had worked closely with Pernsteiner all his career. “He’d more or less trained me, I’d done it all with Mike forever,” he said smiling. And Persteiner was committed to making sure if Metlow purchased, “...because he wanted to make it work. He wanted to keep the outfit together, and is committed to keeping the company working well.”

Metlow and Pernsteiner settled on terms committing to a five year contract, and just completed the third year of that contract a month prior. The transition was smooth and has worked well for both parties. Not only did Metlow purchase the company and equipment, but also was able to retain the crew he’d worked with side-by-side a number of years, and the relationships he’d built from working closely with Pernsteiner a number of years, but also the experience and mentoring from Pernsteiner who is available, “...as a counselor, and mentor 24/7 any time I need him,” Metlow said smiling. “It’s nice to have the experience!”

Today’s company

The heart of the 10-man is “...a real seasoned bunch,” of cross-trained veterans, combined with a few young guys added the past few years, who together make the company what it is. “Six of us have been together the entire time,” Metlow explained adding, “one (Kevin) has been here longer than me and the rest are right around that 20 year mark.” Replacing some of the crew Metlow’s made a conscious effort to find “...local guys who were ambitious,” which has worked out well in training them essentially from ground zero, which has worked out very well.

They’re learning their main machines,” then they’ll broaden their experience on other machinery when time permits.”

The crew typically works a six day week, Metlow explained, “...working year around for the most part. We’ve not had a break up in the three years we’ve been on it.” He elaborated explaining, “Vaagen (Brothers) sets us up so we have work to do over Spring break where the roads and snow won’t or shouldn’t be a problem.”

Equipment wise they have three John Deere 648G wheel skidders each with Young swing booms and grapples. Two of the skidders are GIIs, one’s a GIII. In addition they have two crawlers: a Caterpillar 527 with swing grapple and Young boom and a Cat D5H also with swing boom and Young grapple.

All their feller bunchers are Valmet 445’s, the oldest (‘94) will be converted mounting their chipper head (brush grinder) they’ll continue using on their Stewardship Contracts, and will replace that with a new Komatsu/Valmet 445 this year, pairing it with their existing Quadco hot saw. They have four Timbco’s total, which includes two that run dangle head processors, and the other two operating as dedicated feller bunchers.

Metlow has three dangle head processors: two LogMax 7000s they’ve had the past five or six years, which they use daily, in addition to a Valmet 380 dangle head processor they have had about five seasons, “...specifically for us in larger timber,” Metlow explained. “It will run up to a 28-inch piece, and has worked really well for us.

They have two shovels: a John Deere 200LC they’ve had the past 10 years, a yellow machine that they’ve rebuilt, “...almost entirely” the past few years; and a ‘99 Link-Belt 3400 Quantum they’d purchased used, which runs very well too.

Routine daily maintenance is handled by the individual operators. “Each guy takes care of his own machine,” Metlow explained. “We do our own wrenching.” If something more challenging comes along they can rely on their veteran mechanic Don Walker, who Metlow explained with a smile, “...had been around forever. He just Knows. Tell him what is going on and he can tell you what’s wrong.” He noted they have several young mechanics that are around to help out as well, “...but the main go-to guy is Don Walker,” who’s a private contractor, “but has worked on our machinery at least 25 years.” If they have major mechanical work they will also go to the local dealers as well, “but we usually go to Don.”

Metlow provides health insurance, including dental and vision for all employees, and available to other family members at their expense. Vacation pay goes into effect after five years with the company.

They update machinery, “...as time demands,” just as they’re doing in adding a new feller buncher in the near future, “... and we’re looking to purchase another loader at some point as well, “ Metlow added.

Most of Metlow’s day is at the controls of the Cat 527 he’s run since it was new, bunching for the feller buncher, and keeping in front of the crew to keep them running smoothly. The past three years of ownership have added a bit more to the day, of course, but he’d grown into the job gradually over time.
He’s quick to credit Pernsteiner’s part in his success and the continued success of the company, “A very important part,” said Metlow.

“He’s not out in the woods a whole lot, but pays close attention to the big BLM sale (Stewardship Sale), the biggest ever sold,” Metlow explained. “He was on because it was his baby. But he also has cattle, and his farm, and he likes to fish and now he has some time to do all that, well deserved. But if I need him, he’ll come out.”

Stewardship sales

A lot of the company’s success the past several years has included Forest Service and BLM Stewardship Sales, since some of the first of their kind were introduced in Region 5 back in the 90s. Pernsteiner was a big part of that, and working through the learning curve of how to put a program new to everyone to work collaborating with and learning together. “Mike overlooked all of that,” Metlow explained, “and things went pretty smoothly.” It requires a lot of trust between the parties as well, and that is fostered by good, concise, and clear communication between all parties. “We worked with the USFS for so long, and the guys we were working with (and have) been with for all this time. Everyone knew each other and trust each other.”

“There are lots of different projects (connected to Stewardship Contracts). You just have to read the contract on each unit. Then they (the agency officials) observe it and then we’re paid. You’re not paid unless the work is done as specified and the Forest Service approves it,” Metlow said emphasizing that, “...understanding the process is key. Do that and all parties are happy. Performance works that way: no surprises, mutual respect, delivering on time delivering on budget and on time. “But stewardship sales have been our biggest overall supply,” Metlow said. “We do a lot of private (timber sales and forestry) as well.”

Beyond the woods is Metlow’s wife and partner Sheila, who works in the office but who comes from a logging background as well, learning to run log loader for her father Randy Klingbeil, who owned Klingbeil Logging. Both she and her sister were shovel operators. “I’d run log loader for 17 years,” she said smiling. Now she does the book work, “...and fill in when a loader operator is needed. I may not be fast but I’ll get the job done.” They use Quickbooks and some Excel spread sheets running the office.

It’s not all work for the Metlows however, and in their spare time they’re also fishing, hunting, and camping. They have a total of four grown offspring, and as noted, enjoy their work and the crew they’ve assembled and worked with the past few decades.

Metlow smiled and added, “...I’m very surprised where I’m at now,” even though its clear he’s earned the position he finds his company in. “Our work is lined up for a few years (ahead). The future looks really good.”