On any given day you can find men like Will Coleman and Bobby Goodson deep in the pines of the Carolinas.
They can look at a stand of trees and know exactly how to clear-cut or thin it. They know exactly where to position the loaders, the skidders and the feller-buncher equipment, and they know where paths need to be to move cut trees and where the deck needs to be to load the trucks.
In an instant they can tell you where a log is headed – the crooked ones to the pulp mill, the straighter ones to mills that saw them into boards.
There are a couple of differences between the two loggers, however.
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Goodson, a fourth-generation logger, is featured on the Discovery Channel reality show “Swamp Loggers.” Coleman and his brother, Wesley, are first-generation loggers in their 20s from Richburg.
When Goodson needs help he turns to a tight-knit crew of 17.
When Coleman needs help, he turns to his brother Wesley. When Wesley needs help, he turns to Will. They make up Coleman Brothers Logging, along with co-owner – and office staff – Katherine Suaso.
Logging is one of the most perilous jobs around. Aside from the physical risks, there are the fiscal challenges. The equipment and fuel are costly, and the payouts vary by demand, mill inventories and the weather.
The obstacles mean that most new loggers enter the business via their family. First-timers like the Colemans are unusual.
But Will, 26, and Wesley, 25, figure they are generation-and-a-half loggers. Being a logger is all they have ever envisioned. Logging, says Wesley, is a God-given blessing.
As children, their home was on the highway that led to the Bowater plant off S.C. 5 in York County. Trucks full of logs passed daily. Even though it is now officially the Resolute Forest Products’ Catawba plant, the Colemans still say “Bowater.”
After graduating Lewisville High School and taking some classes at York Tech, they went into the business. Tommy Barnes of Ideal Logging in Edgemoor saw they had what it takes. They were dedicated, had pride in their work, and had a “willingness to commit to getting things done.”
Quite simply, Barnes says, “they have pine resin in their blood.”
Two years ago they formed Coleman Brothers Logging with Suaso. They purchased used equipment. About a month ago they upgraded that equipment with a loan from the Natural Capital Investment Fund’s Logging Initiative. All told they owe about $150,000 for equipment.
To hear Will and Wesley talk about the equipment, you wouldn’t realize it’s used. But it’s new to them and is top notch, made by industry leader TigerCat. It allows them to be more efficient, increasing the number of trucks headed to the mill.
To watch them, you would think they have been logging for a long time. The two have an almost unspoken choreography once the trees are cut. Wesley hauls them to deck with the skidder, Will picks them up with the loader and swings them onto the logging truck. When the deck gets a little messy, Wesley uses the blade on the front of the skidder, pushing logs into piles for Will, one pile for pulp, the other for saw logs.
Once you talk with them, you understand how they work. Ask them a question, and Will starts the answer and Wesley finishes the sentence.
Efficiency affects their bottom line. The more tons they send to the mill, the better. The more logs they saw, the better too.
The landowner gets $9 a ton for pulp wood and about $30 a ton for saw logs. It is critical for the Colemans, if they are thinning a track, to cut down the bad trees as well as enough good ones so that what remains can grower even bigger.
The Colemans are paid by the ton, usually between $15 and $18. It can be higher, however, depending on how far they are from the mill.
It’s sunup to sundown work, but there are few complaints from the Colemans. “We have gotten through the hardest part,” Will says. “Hopefully it will get better with the new equipment.”
It is not all work and no play, however. There’s time for TV – and the logging shows. The Colemans, along with others, are waiting for new episodes of “Swamp Loggers,” and “Ax Men” on the History Channel.