Recently our Logging Division, Cypress River Logging, was featured in the spring 2020 addition of the Texas Logger Magazine. Read Article Below:
CYPRESS RIVER LOGGING
By Dave Duren
Most articles about logging jobs are all the same. XYZ company runs ABC equipment and hauls X number of loads to mills 123. So, when I asked for a snapshot of Cypress River Logging, I told them I wanted to make a departure from the norm. This is a top shelf company that has occupied a place on that shelf for decades. Logging is a tough business; maybe some of this company’s ideas will be of benefit to you.
Many logging jobs excel in the way they harvest timber. These jobs all exhibit the same care and attention the crews give to their work while adhering to SFI’s BMP principles. This is a good thing because its “all good in the woods” whenever BMP’s are practiced the way they should be. It’s good for the environment, for Texas, and for the public image of the logging industry as a whole. This also is why Texas’ compliance scores are in the mid to high numbers. As a whole, you logging professionals who log responsibly are making a difference in the environment, so does Cypress River Logging.
I sat down with Gary and Graham VanDusen on January 21, 2020. Any logging company that has lasted for over 40 years is definitely doing things right. Cypress River Logging of Hallsville, Texas is such a company. From the man who started the business in 1980, Gary VanDusen, to his two sons that represent the next generation of loggers, their business has withstood the test of time and change, and they will hopefully be solid for another 40 years. I say “hopefully” because the business environment loggers have been and will continue to be in gets tougher every day. As a forester told me over twenty years ago, “a logger better be innovative if they want to be in business in the future.”
Gary grew up in Malvern, Arkansas where his grandparents and parents owned and operated Van Veneer saw mill in the 1930’s and 40’s. A post card displaying several rail cars of giant hardwood logs destined for Van Veneer speaks of the high quality of hardwood timber the mill would buy. However, Van Veneer was forced out of business by the invention of flake board veneer. This was around 1967 or 1968 when Gary was about 12-14 years old. Upon graduating from high school, Gary entered Louisiana Tech University and received a forestry degree in 1977. He then went to work for Ward Lumber in Malvern.
Nothing stays the same in the business world. Mr. Ward advised his son, Bill, and Gary to find opportunities on their own. Gary moved to Jefferson, Texas to work for a logging contractor for two years before starting a business of his own. Coincidentally, unbeknown to each other, Bill and Gary moved to east Texas on the same day: Bill moved to Atlanta as Gary moved to Jefferson. The two of them are still close friends today.
Gary knew trees and forestry, but admits he didn’t know much about running equipment. From the very beginning, he set out to learn about the cost associated with running a logging business. He very meticulously examined the cost of each ton of wood produced for his new logging business. “My theory was you can make anything look good on paper, but the cold hard fact is if you have to stretch the numbers on paper they will never work in real life,” Gary said. They know how much each piece of equipment costs to run on any given day from the time the key is turned to crank until the time the key is turned off. “Your true profit is not what the IRS says, you better know what the cost is for each ton of wood produced. A positive number in your bank account doesn’t necessarily mean you are a profitable business. Each machine used to produce that ton of wood has depreciated in value and knowing all of these facts is crucial,” Gary added.
Successful 21st century loggers, like the VanDusens, will have to change with the times. This was the thought in my head when Graham, Gary’s oldest son, told me his dad said “You will get your forestry degree from the VanDusen School of Forestry; you need a degree that teaches you how to operate a business.” Graham has a bachelor’s degree in Finance and Entrepreneurship from Baylor University, graduating in 2014. Hal, Gary’s youngest son, graduated from Baylor in 2019 with a degree in accounting, and their forester/timber buyer, Dane Blount, received his forestry education from Panola Community College in 1991. Cypress River Logging’s officers are: Gary, president; Graham, Vice President, oversees all operations, but points out the Buck Stops at Gary’s desk, adding that he is a major player in the decision of when and what equipment to buy. Hal keeps the books and takes care of the administrative work.
Change is inevitable. Gary pointed out three events that have had a profound effect on the profitability of loggers. Number one-Georgia Pacific shut down Port Hudson Communication Papers and Pulping Operations in Louisiana last year. Evadale is receiving roughly 800-1100 tons of wood daily from Port Hudson’s wood basket. Number two-Georgia Pacific shut down plants in Crossett and Hope Arkansas in October. Graphics Packaging International in Domino is now receiving some of this wood that would go to GP. Number three-Domtar shut down ONE paper machine and the results are, gate wood prices for hardwood dropped 25% in a matter of weeks, all of which came off of stumpage. Again, Graphics Packaging International is receiving some of this wood that would normally go to Domtar. Gary figured the loss of wood demand at Domtar alone would release at least 21 logging operations to look for a new home, not to mention the less need for logging operations in the first two events listed. He made note of the conversation of area wood procurement personnel for various mills who worried about a shortage of loggers. It’s apparent to him that there are too many loggers. Otherwise logging companies would not be on quota the year round, except for when it is too wet to log.
Based on this information I turned to Graham and asked, “What are your thoughts about pursuing a career in a business where you sign your name on a multi-million-dollar investment that can be lost too quickly?” Graham replied, “We have to log efficiently by keeping logging costs down, keeping trucking costs down through detailed maintenance records and safety training, and buying timber that is suited for our logging style.” He said the logging industry is a targeted industry. He made his point by relating a T.V. ad he watched during the College National Football Championship game. The ad, paid for by a law firm, targeted the logging industry by having an animated scene of a loaded log truck crashing into a vehicle. Graham said “I guarantee that everyone within a 150-mile radius of Shreveport, LA. probably saw that ad because it was shown on a local station.” He went on to say “loggers have got to stop griping about truck insurance rates and driver shortages and start doing things that will make trucking safer.”
Cypress River Logging’s plan to maintain a responsible, professional, and safer transportation company is to step up self-management of its trucks and drivers. In order for safety to be priority in an employee’s mind they have incorporated TEAM Safe Trucking’s (TST) driver training program. Once a month, drivers view different TST training modules that demonstrate the safest procedures in the performance of a driver’s duty and responsibility. Drivers are instructed on proper personal behavior should they be involved in an accident. For example, it is of utmost importance what the driver says after an accident. All of their trucks have e-logs to document hours on duty. Graham said they added this even though by law they are not required to have them because “when needed, it is concrete proof that a driver was not out of hours.” He went on to say by the end of March all trucks would be equipped with GPS and front and rear dash cams. They are also being diligent in their daily maintenance and the documentation of that maintenance for each truck and trailer. Graham believes “trucking will make or break a logging company.”
As I mentioned in the first paragraph there are few differences in good logging companies. Suffice it to say, Cypress River Logging moves a lot of wood responsibly, with a lot of modern up-to-date equipment, TIGERCAT, to several different outlets transported on seven Western Star glider kits and two Mack trucks with automatic transmissions. Graham said they would probably go with the Mack automatics whenever the glider kits are no longer equipped with non-deleted engines after 2021. 100% of the wood they harvest is private. They have three separate crews that are capable of cutting all types of tracts. They have the logging capacity to move up to 250-300 loads per week, but typically move 150-200 loads per week simply because of trucking, driver issues, and mill quotas.
Like most companies that have stood the test of time Cypress River has many long-time employees. They employ eleven loggers, nine truck drivers, and one timber buyer. Both Gary and Graham help Dane Blount stay ahead of the crews with timber tracts, but Dane purchases roughly 60-70% of the wood they cut. Gary did say that now he only gets out cruising if it’s good timber and good clean walking. Also, on occasion he might go fishing or bird hunting instead of working, stating that, “It is not fun to go fishing or hunting unless I can say I was skipping work.” I would say Gary VanDusen has earned those fishing and hunting trips!