The Key to Success Wagenfuhr Timber Falling Los Molinos, California

Work hard and play hard is a philosophy shared by most successful people and certainly a habit firmly established in the heart of loggers, partly instilled by their family upbringing if not an internal component of their personality. For Jaime Wagenfuhr it surely was both nature and nurture, something that’s apparent from the moment you meet him.

The Wagenfuhr family immigrated to America in the 1850s settling in the Galveston, Texas area. “They were wagon masters,” he explained. His father, Graham, was born in 1917, and after WWII returned to Texas until 1961 when he pulled up stakes for greener pastures in California, where ultimately, “...he opened up a business of making tombstones, and concrete enclosures (for coffins) in Eureka, sandblasting the etchings on the tombstones.”

Jaime Wagenfuhr was the last of nine children (born in 1964), “...the caboose,” he said with his characteristic smile. He was raised in and around Shasta and Trinity County, “... moving back and forth quite a bit,” and was always looking for a way to earn a buck. “When we lived in Redding, I’d cut firewood using a Poulan chain saw from when I was 11 to feed the cook stove. We lived up on a gold mine surrounded by oak trees, and Manzanita. We’d knock one down then skid that to the house,” using his stepdad’s Cat seven. “I’m not sure why he had it,” he explained noting that he’d worked in the woods prior. “That’s where I got to liking equipment was with that Cat seven.” He found he could also sell firewood, with a ready supply and a lot of willing clients, continuing on through high school.

His stepdad was also a millwright. “I went with him when he went to the mill,” Wagenfuhr explained. “My first job was sweeping up in the sawmill, sweeping under the rollers of the machinery,” as well as lending a hand to his stepdad for equipment repairs, learning a bit about machinery as well.

With time the mechanics background grew into a job, “...working at a Volkswagen shop in Weaver­ville during school learning and applying his wrenching skills further, which grew into “...a hobby. I’d pick up old cars, work on them and sold them,” he smiled and added, “It was fun! I should have kept them all. I’d be rich now!”

He graduated from Weaverville High School in 1982, enrolling at Shasta Community College for 18 months taking, “...welding, and diesel heavy equipment repair,” while continuing working for the repair shop in Weaverville.

An opportunity to live and work in Los Angeles presented itself, and he took the leap to the city for three months before he’d had his fill of it returning home. He then took a job roofing in the Lake Tahoe area, which went well for four months until that slowed for the winter as well, again returning home that August of ‘84 when he was 20.

Working in the woods

“Then I got my first real job in the woods bumping knots,” for R&R Timber (owned by Clarence Rose). “I knew how to handle a chain saw, so I was doing all the chasing for two Cats and a skidder,” using a Pioneer P41 with a 32-inch bar. While working there the next few years he was a loader operator and Cat skinner. The company purchased a TL6 yarder, “which he ran in the winter, and I’d bump knots chasing for the yarder that winter as well,” Wagenfuhr explained.

The best break for Wagenfuhr in this time came from helping at a grocery store and meeting Jamie, his wife to be, while working there. He asked her for a date horseback riding in February, and ten months later they (Jaime and Jamie called Mr. Jaime and Mrs. Jamie by friends) were happily married in 1985.

Their family grew in 1989 with birth of their first daughter, Amanda, followed by their second daughter Kirstin in ‘92, then adding son Graham in ‘93.

In ‘86 Wagenfuhr joined Cheek’s Skyline Logging (owned by Joe Cheek) operating a 966 Caterpillar front end loader, then three months later moved to a Cat D6D line machine, “...because I could run on steep ground.” When Cheek later bought a GT3 tower, Wagenfuhr first ran bull line in front of the yarder, then as winter set in, went to the tower side full time.

The following spring (‘88) Wagenfuhr returned to work falling timber for Cheek’s falling contractor, Lee Meecham. “I had a P62 a Pioneer with a 36” bar,” Wagenfuhr explained. “Meecham said that’d be fine, but it was HUGE timber. I remember I couldn’t get a big sugar pine down on the ground. I had a huge hinge but couldn’t reach it. Finally I had another guy with a 42-inch bar came, touched it and it went down. It was 6 ft. 7 inches at the butt. I got a 42-inch bar that night, and that solved the problem.”

When Meecham retired the following spring he joined Tom Bruce. “I was straight falling and the rest of the crew of six was bucking for my cutting.”

An ad for a hook tender in the Redding paper landed Wagenfuhr with S&L Skyline (George Sheldon, owner), where “...I cut for him at the same time I tended hook,” Wagenfuhr noted. While there he met Tom Jones, who was doing the contract cutting for them operating as Topac, Inc., and when work slowed for S&L, Wagenfuhr went back to cutting for Jones. “It paid better and George had no work at the time.” That worked so well they formed a partnership in the fall.

Contract logging

Jones and Wagenfuhr Logging was established in September 1990, initially with the two partners. Wagenfuhr also formed Wagenfuhr Timber Falling in addition to the partnership.

The logging demand was strong enough, “...we bought some equipment,” and started a single logging side. “It was him (Jones), his son and myself. We bought a big 50S Cat grapple skidder, then went to Oregon and bought a self-loader and a set of bunks for it that were set up by Whit-Log (in Oregon),” which they coupled to a truck they had purchased in California. “That gave us a self-loader, and two pieces of equipment.” They kept busy logging that winter, changing the company from cutting to full time logging.

The next few years they expanded and upgraded equipment, adding a John Deere 944B wheel loader, a Cat D6B crawler, then another D6C and Barko 450 mounted on a three axle carrier, explaining that “a couple land owners we worked for had tight landings and we bought that for landing purposes.” The company continued with a single side and had a crew of seven including the two cutters, all operating under the Jones and Wagenfuhr company name.

One of the more interesting jobs they encountered came a flood in early 90s, which led to their logging Lake Oroville, that involved salvage logging from the lake. “The big logs were just too big, so we bought two pond boats, brought them down from Idaho and logged the lake with that.”

“Most the logs were floating,” said Wagenfuhr. “We set chokers, and drove spikes in them and drug them to the side, then just grabbed them with the skidder. Fifty-two inch was the largest we hauled out of the lake.”

From that sale they logged half a million feed of good logs, and 250 thousand feet of culls, “... a lot of that we cut into firewood and ended up selling 10-15 loads to a power plant as well.”

“That was fun,” he said smiling.

Yarder logging

To add some diversity and flexibility they purchased an older 32-ft. Berger tower, mounted on “...an older 1958 International cab over,” in 1997 said Wagenfuhr, noting it was a very experienced machine. “I’m not sure what year it was made, late 40s maybe, with wood brakes and everything. All levers and stand on the brake,” he smiled, “and a gas motor.” In spite of its age, “...the tower helped. We had little corners and it worked real good for us. It went out about 1,100 ft,” and they used a Christy carriage that came with the tower. Soon after purchase they added a hydraulic ram to raise and lower the tower, which improved the moves a lot.

Wagenfuhr’s years of tower experience, and hook tending worked well he explained. “I was mostly involved in the set up, hooking, putting the tower shows together.” The tower was a nice addition to the company.

The work available in ‘99, and a good buy on a three or so year old Christy yarder, gave them a second yarder side that year, which worked well enough that when consolidating to a single side they went to using the Christy full time and let the Berger sit.

The next few years kept them busy as well.

In 2003 Wagenfuhr explained, “I’d been blacking out,” prompting a quick visit to the doctor’s office. “They found that I had a brain tumor.” In typical fashion, Wagenfuhr took the diagnosis in stride, the scheduled surgery, and while concerned he never felt he would perish from it. “It was removed a month after diagnosis, in early October,” he said then continued noting, “...I was back in ten days. We were still trying to finish up a job. We buttoned it up that winter and packed everything out right before Christmas.

In ‘04 they added a GT3 tower to the operations, and had a crew of about 10 guys by that time working on two logging sides.
October of that year Jones bought out Wagenfuhr and they ended the partnership. “I took my chain saw, set of jacks, all the hand tools and he had the operation.”

Wagenfuhr Timber Falling

November of ‘04 Wagenfuhr revived his earlier company name, and began cutting for a helicopter logging outfit out of Canada. By January the company logging the job, “...offered me the (cutting) job and I took it. They did the logging and I did the contract cutting,” with a crew of nine cutters.

April of that year a Cat logger Wagenfuhr knew, “...bought a Christy yarder (and Christy carriage) and asked me to come over and help him on that, running the Christy, and I did all the timber falling,” in addition to cutting on another site.

With the other side finished, “...and we started running that tower for him, with my crew (it’s the same Christy he owns today). “Production increased,” Wagenfuhr explained. “By the end of the month he asked if I wanted to buy the yarder.” Wagenfuhr did.

“I also ended up buying a Koehring 366 log loader with a 60-inch young grapple, from Crane Mills,” to complete the side. “It’s a pretty good little loader.

Clearly Wagenfuhr enjoys the Christy yarder. “It’s kind of a finesse logging,” he explained. “You have to have lift or they don’t work, and you have to be a finesse logger.” That starts with thorough planning. “You have to pay attention to a good layout to begin with.” In ‘05 he purchased an Eaglett motorized carriage, noting “...it gave us more versatility and speed. We run just one guy in the brush most the time and it’s a life saver for him.”

Parts can be an issue on the Christy, which hasn’t been made in several years. To address that, “...in ‘07 I bought another Christy for a spare,” as a parts machine. “It’s about a year or two older than what I have, maybe a ‘94.” Since that time he’s used it for spare drums. “The only thing wrong with the Christy is the main shaft for the skyline drum. When the drum breaks it messes up the clutch too, and it takes three months to get another. I’ve used it like three times. We take it out, put the new one in and take it up to A&A Machine in Anderson. They’re great! They drop everything they’re working on to fix my stuff,” because Dave and Mark Alward have been loggers as well. “...so he knows what logging is about. They make a whole new shaft and everything and have done it like four times. Otherwise its (the Christy) pretty bullet proof.”
That same year Wagenfuhr added a Cat D7F, “...just to build roads and do layouts for the yarder.”

In ‘08 Wagenfuhr purchased a 188 Washington 50-ft. swing yarder, for a job with Crane Mill. “it had some big wood on it,” and they had a 2,300 ft. reach that called for a larger machine. “It’s a strong machine,” he noted. “We were pulling some 5-footers, tree lengthed some of it.”
“At the same time we bought (the 188 Washington) we bought a ‘98 Link-Belt 4300 on tracks,” which works well with the 188.

Speed and ease in changing settings is important to Wagenfuhr, and prompted him to buy the ‘97 Prentice 410DX loader mounted on an ‘88 International truck in ‘09. He can shift his crew and machinery quickly, get set up and logging within thirty minutes of the move with good planning, just the way he likes it.

Weekends “is time for planning,” doing layouts and keeping the crew working during the week. “I’ve been pretty fortunate,” he explained. “We just had one month off this past year... that keeps everyone happy and keeps the crew together, so I don’t lose them.”

Processing is done by the chaser on the landing, meshing well with the jobs they have and producing 5-6 loads a day on average.­-­-­­
Wife and partner Jamie, “...does all the payroll, all that good stuff, and chases parts,”he said with a smile.

Wagenfuhr is past president (2005-2006) of the Associated California Loggers, and remains a board member, serves as Chairman of the Redding Chapter, and has served on the American Loggers Council board, and attends their annual meetings. “It’s been worthwhile, and makes me more aware of what goes on. 

He still enjoys working on cars, though his time is limited. Sitting ‘til he again has time is a ‘66 SS Nova that’s torn down at present, and has a 327 bored to a 345, that runs the quarter-mile in 12.2 ...Very nice.

He admits what he does for fun is logging. “I enjoy it,” he said smiling.

“The key to success,” he said, “is honesty and doing what you say you’re going to do. You do those two things and you’re going to be successful.” His record, and reputation, demonstrate that advice.

by / Mike Crouse