Seeing the Opportunity
Herman Bros. Logging and Construction
Port Angeles, Washington
From their 1958 entry into the logging business with the purchase of a used front end loader for their firewood business the Hermann Brothers (Bill, Fred, and Steve Hermann) have been both customer and solutions oriented, always open to new methods, new technology and pushing the edge of the business envelope, a tradition which continues to this day.
Bill Hermann credits the attitude on two factors: the first being their parents. “What my dad always said: ‘Do what you do, do well boys,’” Hermann said adding, “...and ‘Talk is cheap, but it takes money to buy whiskey,’ and that fits us perfectly.”
The second factor: the business, competitive and logging environment the Hermann’s were a part of on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state once they started their professional logging careers both from other loggers and from Pope and Talbot logging supervisor (for their area, out of Port Gamble) and forester Milt Philbrook, who inspired and encouraged not only Hermann Brothers, but that entire generation of Peninsula loggers. “He helped and encouraged us to be probably the most creative on thinking in our logging techniques,” Hermann explained with a smile. “Never, when we came up with these hair-brained ideas did he discourage us. Old Milt was good for the industry,” and still an inspiration decades after his death in 1989.
“We started doing firewood in 1958,” Hermann explained. “I fell the trees (because I was the only one who could start the 30-lbs.(four-horse-power) 430 McCullough saw), Fred ran the tractor and Steve marked the firewood,” which continued from when they were in middle school through high school. In the beginning, their father, who farmed and had logged after arriving from North Dakota in 1937 for Glen Corning, would lend a hand, “...splicing cable, or how to cut a tree, he’d help,” Hermann said smiling. “Then we started doing it,” adding, “...we do ok with figuring things out.”
Following high school both Bill and Fred served in the Navy, “...and Steve went to college.”
“We knew this is what we wanted to do from the start,” Bill Hermann emphasized. “Other than that time in the Navy, I’ve never had a paycheck from someone else.”
Upon returning from the service, “we had enough money we bought a skidder, then shortly after found another (skidder) and just like that we had two,” and began the logging business full time in 1968.
Hermann’s expended from ground based to tower logging in 1971 buying a 78 Washington skyline, then added additional towers as the opportunity presented itself. “We had three or four high leads at one time,” Hermann explained, “in addition to a couple of skidder sides.”
Around 1976 their operations were busy enough that Bill Hermann was in the offices full time handling the business side of operations, while brother (and company president) Fred ran the woods operations along with youngest brother Steve.
A hallmark of the Hermann Brothers is their willingness to new equipment, a new method, or new approach both in relationship to changing markets and to maintain a competitive edge. Their vision is consistently looking towards the future.
“We had our first feller buncher in ‘78,” Hermann explained, “a Drott 40 with a shear head.” Their willingness to try new approaches brought a call from Caterpillar to see if they’d help test their prototype Cat 227 feller bunchers. “They brought us two, serial numbers one and two, and wanted us to put as many hours on them as we could,” Hermann smiled. With a few modifications to the original design, they eventually purchased the machines. Over the years, their inventory included feller bunchers from Madill, Timberjack, and Allied (whose four-track steep ground feller buncher was highly innovative at the time) in addition to an array of bar saws then rotary felling heads to hot saws.
In 1989 they took another innovative step into thinning operations as a better approach to land management. “To get started,” Hermann explained, “we took a Timberjack feller buncher and added a (dangle-head) processor to it,” which worked very well, and as they learned they expanded further into cut-to-length harvesting systems. “We used the Timberjack clam bunk skidders,” at one point he explained and, “...eventually we took the grapple off and put on the bunks, so we worked gently into that. We thinned for a lot of years with those things.”
Their ongoing willingness to explore different options and approaches has kept them on the leading edge of a vastly changing industry through the history of the company, such that over the years we (Loggers World) could have done a story on their company every few years and had an entirely new look, but always with a constant vision towards the future.
Hermann Brothers has been both creative and diverse in their operations from relatively early in their history. They’ve been “...making chips for Port Townsend Paper since 1984,” Bill Herman explained, and had moved to the present site 13-years ago in 1990.
They run and man, and operate a debarking operation in downtown Port Angeles for Monroe LLC who owns the ring de-barker, “...but nothing else,” Hermann explained. “He’d seen us work and we’ve known him forever. He asked if we’d consider running his de-barker operation for him,” and they have ever since, using some of their own loaders, and such to facilitate operations. “...we handle it, we take care of it.”
The Interfor sawmill in Port Angeles has chip bins that need to be monitored and cleared on a regular basis as well, which can vary. “They don’t want to be down due to full chip bins,” Hermann explained. “We put in radar measuring systems in the chip bins that tells the chip levels in the bin, and that information transmitted to us over the Internet. Our truck dispatcher knows the status of those bins, full or partial. We don’t let those bins fill up.” Each of their trucks is GPS equipped, thus “....we know where the trucks are and we handle those bins,” keeping the mill running smoothly.”
Where they’d been out of the log trucking business for a number of years, all of the chipping, and lumber hauling brought them back into hauling chips and lumber.
Thus when the economy began to seriously stutter and the mills were closing in 2008, Hermanns found themselves well positioned for transition.
“When the economy slowed down and the mills slowed down, we were already in the chipping and truck business,” Hermann explained. “The mills didn’t slow down, but their supply of raw materials did, and the saw mills weren’t producing the residual chips they had been.”
At the same time, logging had slowed considerably as well, “...so a lot of our guys from the woods retired and/or some would go to work making chips, hog fuels, or driving trucks for the mill, so we filled a void that occurred because the economy slowed down. There was a lot we were already set up for us to fill (that void). Chipping, trucking, making the hog fuel,” he said smiling, “It just kinda worked out for us this time around.”
Their logging operations have scaled back to a single logging side, with two biomass sides, which are identical: Peterson 5710C grinders, and two shovels.
“We do a lot of fuel management,” Hermann explained, noting “...we have a process we go thru making hog fuel, prepping it at\head of time, puffing brush piles to dry out best we can, so when we’re ready the shovel, the feeding machine (loading the grinder) is not holding things up. They get loaded and away they go.”
When taking care of the brush piles they handle them all, large and small, handling materials efficiently and methodically. “Some of the best fuel we get is from the landings (brush piles) up on a mountain. Its position gets it dried naturally,” Hermann said. “We’d take one shovel on top for the grinder, while the second shovel starts half way down the brush pile handing material up to the higher loader. When it’s clear around the hill he’ll then take the bench he’d logged on top of and clear that out too. On that one landing we removed 100 loads of fuel. It would have burned otherwise, and had it burned so close to town would have been a lot of smoke. This way.. the material was gone, it was good fuel, and we got back a lot of trees (from planting ground that would have been left fallow).”
He explained noting, “...we found that brush piles cover 2-4% of the ground after logging. And while burning is ok, it’s just a waste of a resource. The benefit of using it and the 2-4% of the ground being planted is like 2-4% (additional) return on that investment.”
‘We’ve also done some log butt recovery,” Hermann explained, noting they were not the first to do that, and that they’d bought the first truck for this from Joel Olsen out of Clatskanie, Oregon whose done that for some while. “We found out that, tonnage-wise, each one of our chunk trucks recovers the equivalent of two-million bf of lumber in a year’s time. We haul 14,000 tons per truck load per year, and those chunks go to the yard, we split it up and make chips. There’s good value to them.”
The “natural transition” by Hermann Brothers from logging to chipping and related operations, came at a very opportune time given a dramatically changing economy. “It turned out to reduce the competition for the few logging jobs there were, which let some loggers who’d been our competition have places to work,” Hermann noted, “And it worked nice for us to vacate that (part of the market) and fill a void. It was a good set of events that happened unintentionally, unplanned, and it worked out.”
The log yard
While their office remains at the family’s homestead farm outside Port Angeles, the heart of operations is now on the 45-acre log yard established in 1990 and located within the Eclipse Industrial Park just outside Port Angeles. The four primary structures on the log yard including the debarker/chipper, the trucking office (and part owner Mike Hermann’s office), the water treatment plant (See “Log Yard Run-Off” starting on Page 16) and the largest structure on site: their recently expanded five-bay shop building whose expansion was completed this past winter. The eight mechanics, including a full time field mechanic, keep the 40-working, and ten service/shop trucks along with the logging, chipping, shovels and processors operating at full capacity.
Each of the trucks is serviced weekly using Ari-Hetra mobile lifting systems hoists. “The safety part of these hoists is important,” Bill Hermann emphasized. “During the winter in particular,” when it’s cold, dark and wet, the mechanic’s able to easily move in and around the entire machine in relative comfort (far more so than working on a crawler beneath the unit). “I like that brand,” he said, “and we’ve had it a long time. We lift a lot of trucks; each of them is picked up off the ground and serviced every week.” The mechanics can, “...get their tool box, drag it in with you, and everything is right there. With these hoists you can do the height you like, and it’s all so handy.”
Another factor in the Hermann Brother’s shop, “We own every shop truck and every single tool that they use. All they bring is themselves and their gloves,” Hermann said. “And we let the guys stock the tools as if they were their own. If they want a particular brand, we’ll buy it.”
Their newest service truck was just awaiting finishing touches when we arrived. “It’s a tandem axle shop truck,” Hermann explained. “What’s really unique is we had them put a man lift on one corner of box and a crane on the other side, so we do away with a ladder.” Roy Nelson, with Nelson Truck Equipment Co. made the conversion. The dual axle is licensed to haul 65,000 lbs. and with the crane and the hoist on the same unit increases safety and utility.
They have 40 “revenue” trucks and at least 40 chip trailers, which includes “...six live bottom trailers, either shuffle floor or live-bottom,” Hermann explained. They have two heavy haulers, up to 11-axles, two dump trucks, a cab-over live floor truck for beauty bark, hog-fuel, etc., “...for the consumer market,” and one truck and trailer roll-off, for the roll-off boxes used for chunk hauling, and three logging trucks.
“We were down to two lumber trailers, now we have six or seven, just because we can see the mill needs trailers.”
Mike Hermann handles all the truck dispatching, both within the company and hauling for outside contractors. “When a guy calls and wants a truck he’ll either tell him no or ‘I’ll do it,’ so the guy knows right at the time, what the answer is,” Hermann explained.
Seven years ago Hermann Brothers added GPS systems to each of their trucks, which provided an unexpected benefit. “Our insurance company said if we had a system the insurer could see we’d get a discount (which they did),” which yielded “... a 17% discount on truck insurance. It tracks the speed, habits of drivers, and its supposed to track things like maintenance, etc.,” He added. “We use quite a bit of that for route planning,” and taking advantage of unexpected changes and opportunities through the course of a day. “I really like it.”
They also discovered efficiencies in truck mileage. “Last year for driving habits, speeds, and trucks going the right rpms, we’ve increased our fuel mileage 0.4 of a mile per gallon. In cash calculated out to $207,000 for the year by improving driving habits and maintaining 1200-1400 rpms.”
“We have a few trucks with automatic transmissions: two T660 Kenworths with Ultra-Shifts, 13-spd. transmissions but no clutch pedal in the truck. All their new trucks are “kit trucks,” which they install engines in, and all new trucks are ordered with disc brakes.
Hermann Brothers remains a three-way partnership with company President Fred Hermann, Bill Hermann, and Mike Hermann.
Bill Hermann just smiles when asked about the future. “I don’t get up in the morning with a master plan for the whole day. I just enjoy what I’m doing and know there’s enough things that come up to take care of I won’t run out of things to do for the day. It doesn’t make any sense to be so disappointed with a plan that doesn’t work out that way. Roll with the plan, do the best you can, learn from mistakes and successes, then try to make more successes.”
“For the future: it’s a longer vision of the daily operations. The economy slumped and we did something different. We were able to see the opportunity at the time and try to make the best of it. Its kind of the way we are.”
by Mike Crouse