Mill and Logging Tour

Forks, WA

For many years the local economy in this area was based on the timber industry (today it’s tourism and staffing the two nearby state prisons).  While automation has eliminated the need for large numbers of men working in the forest, the timber industry is still important.  To highlight that importance, each Wednesday the Forks Chamber of Commerce has a tour of a local mill and an active logging site led by a retired timber worker.

 

Tribute to Timber Workers outside the Chamber of Commerce

The tour is free but they do encourage donations to help with the van expenses.  We signed up for the tour earlier in the week and were told to be at the Chamber of Commerce at 8:45 AM on Wednesday morning.  We were on the small van by 9:00 along with four other people and our guide for the day.

Chamber of Commerce van

Our guide, Harv, worked in the timber industry all his life and was very knowledgeable about all aspects of the industry.  We could tell that he was very proud of his work as he patiently answered all questions posed by our group.

“Tour guide” Harv

Our tour group

Our first stop was at a small mill just south of town where they made cedar shingles and shims.  The mill is supplied by a local company who goes into an area that has been logged and cuts down the cedar stumps.  They split the wood into blocks, load them into steel containers, and deliver them to the mill.

Containers filled with blocks of Cedar

A conveyor belt takes the blocks up to the second floor of the mill where a worker stands at a saw all day cutting the wood into shingle size pieces.

Once cut, the shingles are thrown down a slide and a young worker on the first floor sorts and stacks them.  The mill is a pretty low budget operation.  There is no sign outside identifying it so we have no idea what it is called.

Ready for shipping

After visiting the mill we drove about 20 miles to the south, then about 10 miles east up into the mountains to an active cutting area.  Our guide, Harv, knows everyone out here, and he was in contact with the site by CB radio.  They said for us to pull off on a side road as a logging truck was just finishing loading and would be headed down the road in a few minutes.

Full load headed for Port Angeles

We have noticed that in the center of an area that has been logged they always seem to leave a small copse of trees near the center.  We often wondered why that happened.  Harv told us that it is a “habitat area.”  Apparently some species of birds can’t fly all the way across the cut area, so these trees act as a resting spot for them.

Habitat area

A call on the CB said we could now drive up to where they were moving freshly cut trees.  We drove a quarter mile up the road, parked, and walked up into the work area.  The piece of equipment that actually cut the tree down was too far up the hill for us to see.  But we watched with fascination as the other two pieces of equipment moved the logs down the hill, trimmed each one and cut off most of the bark, and sorted them into piles.

This machine drags the logs down the hill and into piles

 

Below is a Harvester-Processor that grabs the tree in its jaws, pulls it through the jaws to cut off limbs and bark, then cuts it to the correct length.  All this happens quickly as the machine rotates and puts the log in the correct pile.

The unit that grabs, trims, and cuts the log

Grabbing a log in the jaws

While a computer measures the log and stops where the cuts are to be made, the operator needs to be very dexterous and have the ability to make quick decisions as he moves the logs around.  This was the most interesting machine to watch.

Focus, focus, focus

Sometimes the cut trees are on a hillside that is too steep for the equipment above.  In that case a cable system is used to drag the logs up to a road where they can be processed.  Below is a mobile tower yarder with a suspended skyline carriage.

Cables are run down the hillside from the yarder and attached to either another machine or strong trees.  The skyline carriage is then run down the cables to a spot over the trees they need to haul to the top.

Choker cables are then extended down to where they are wrapped around logs by chokermen waiting on the ground.

The logs are then dragged up the hill where a Harvester-Processor prepares them for loading on to a waiting truck.

 

One of the many things that impressed us about the logging process was the lack of manpower.  At the first site, where the hillside wasn’t very steep, three men were able to cut the trees, carry them down to the road, remove all limbs and bark, cut each in proper lengths, and load the trees on to a truck.  Imagine the manpower needed to do all that a hundred years ago!

After returning to the Chamber of Commerce, we walked next door for a visit to the Forks Timber Museum.   The museum does a good job in telling the history of the logging industry in the Olympic Peninsula.

Logging the old fashion way

We found the logging tour to be one of the highlights of our stay in the Forks area.  It answered many of those “I wonder why they . . .” questions we have had while driving through logging areas.

Our stay here is quickly coming to an end but we still have two adventures to write about before we head south.  More on that later . . .

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27 Responses to Mill and Logging Tour

  1. exploRVistas says:

    Habitat trees! We always wondered why those trees were up there by themselves! Thanks! 🙂

  2. Great post! I love it when a travel blog teaches me something about places and people, and makes me want to go there.

  3. Larry says:

    As an ex manufacturing guy, I’m always fascinated by how things get made so I would have enjoyed this.

  4. Gay says:

    Fascinating…Joe (And me too! ) would enjoy this tour. We both love and have a great appreciation for everything wood. The smell, the texture, the color…
    So happy to learn about the habitat trees for the birds!

  5. What an interesting tour! Wish we had known about it when we were there. One summer we did a fascinating tour of an active gold mine in Victor, CO. It’s always fun to have your questions answered and learn something along the way.

    • placestheygo says:

      I found out about the tour from Lisa’s blog, Metamorphosis. Glad she shared! We, too, enjoy learning how just about anything is made. It was nice to drive around the Peninsula with a new understand for what we were seeing in the forest.

  6. PennyM says:

    Very interesting post, appreciate the positive remarks about logging. My husband and I are retired from a large forestry company that logs responsibly and sustainably. In the south we call the habitat area “perch” trees. Hard working folks putting out the products we all use and enjoy, and that everyone will need in the future.

  7. Debbie L says:

    Great post! I can hardly keep up with you two? How do you write such educational and detailed blogs with amazing pictures???? Great job! We enjoyed learning about the lumber industry in Clinton, Iowa. The saddest thing we learned, though, was that they cut down all the trees and didn’t arrange to replant them, so the mills closed down. They didn’t mention habitat areas, either. So the 13 millionaires who earned their millions had to move on, except one stayed as he had “diversified” a bit! We got to see his “mansion!”

    • Debbie L says:

      I should have said, we got to tour his mansion!

    • placestheygo says:

      Thanks so much, Debbie! John doesn’t like to get behind in the blogging so things are fresh in his mind. I’m so glad there are restrictions now about replanting the area cut within two years. It make such a difference in the landscape.

      • Debbie L says:

        Hummm. Bill just lets me do it at my own pace. Last summer, I was driven to record everything. This summer, we just seemed to be on the go so much more. It was so hot, I think we limited our outdoor time. The weather was so cool and fabulous in Wisconsin, we put in longer days. Anyway, love all your details!

  8. pmbweaver says:

    Beautiful header photo.
    We would have really enjoyed this tour. I would have never guessed there was so much involved in removing and cutting a tree.
    What a caring people to leave the habitat area.

    • placestheygo says:

      Yes, I know you and Paul would really enjoy this tour. It was such a fascinating tour and our guide was wonderful He even ended up adding an hour so we could see the process of bringing the logs up with the chains.

  9. Love the habitat trees! It is a fascinating tour, and you learned different things than we did thanks to different sites being open for tours at different times.

    • placestheygo says:

      Two of the people on our tour have been volunteers at the Timber Museum for the past few summers. This was second time they’ve done the tour and said they learned all kinds of new information this time.

  10. Jim and Barb says:

    Very interesting! There is a lot of active logging in this area and you answered several questions for me. Like, why do they leave a small group of trees like that? Some of that machinery is incredible!

    • placestheygo says:

      As we drove around the peninsula, I had so many questions about the forest activity I was seeing. This tour is perfect to really understand what’s going on. I got all my questions answered!

  11. Laurel says:

    I always feel sad seeing clear cuts, so it makes me feel better that they leave habitat trees. I know we need lumber and wood products, but I’m always wishing that it could be done even more sustainably so that it’s not ruining the earth and the rivers. Sounds like an interesting tour.

    • placestheygo says:

      I felt better after listening to our guide. We should have mentioned in the blog that after an area is cut, the company has two years to replant the area. The area is hand planted in seedlings eight feet apart. As a matter of fact, the area we saw being cut, Harv had cut in the 70’s and it was being recut this year. So the planting really works. So it was interesting to see the circle and know that this truly is a renewable resource.

  12. Jodee Gravel says:

    Hard to drive around Washington and not think there are enough trees for logging and natural habitat. But those clear cuts are just horrible to see 😦 Glad you included the answer on the standing trees – we always wonder about those! Sounds like a really informative tour, thanks for sharing it with us.

    • placestheygo says:

      The clear cutting is terrible to look at. They really do a good job in the Peninsula keeping most of it hidden. I was really surprised to see all the clear cutting in the Long Beach area. The hills are all cut!! If you get to Forks, the tour is every Wed. morning. Don’t miss it!!

  13. geogypsy2u says:

    Methods sure have changed in the logging industry. I remember the museum but don’t think there was a tour like that. It is interesting to know the hows and whys.

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