For Edgemoor loggers, work is a way of life

David Cox Jr., left, and David Barnes stand in front of a large logging truck at Ideal Logging in Edgemoor. The business was recently named this year's National Outstanding Logger.
David Cox Jr., left, and David Barnes stand in front of a large logging truck at Ideal Logging in Edgemoor. The business was recently named this year's National Outstanding Logger.

EDGEMOOR -- Tucked away in the countryside of Edgemoor, down a gravel road with holes filled by the afternoon's rain, two loggers return to a small office with no computer, dusty calculators and a pile of magazines they haven't had time to read.

Their day began more than 12 hours ago on this Tuesday, and it hasn't ended yet. But that's the life that comes with owning the business recently named this year's National Outstanding Logger, a title represented by a golden ax-head trophy that leans against the wall of the tiny office. Tommy Barnes and David Cox Jr. haven't had time to hang it.

Barnes, 54, and Cox, 44, own Ideal Logging. They work some 14 hours a day, six days a week, in the Carolina woods.

They talk about being simple, family men, who value their industry benefits of "fresh air and sunshine," and will work from the time they wake up until they sleep, except on Sundays, when they toil only when "the ox is in the ditch."

But suggest that loggers are a group of burly guys speeding down the highway with their axes and chainsaws, and they bristle.

They'll say their hands haven't touched a piece of wood in years because of mechanization. They'll talk about the need for new forms of energy at a time when diesel fuel costs are running high. They'll talk about wood-based ethanol, bio-mass and the need for rural preservation.

So much for the lumberjack image.

"This is an industry that you almost have to live to understand," Barnes said.

A natural career path

Both men took different paths to the woods. An Edgemoor native, Barnes started helping his father work timber when he was 12. The logging was sort of a side job to raising cattle and farming, a task to be done after the crops were harvested.

His family turned to timber in the late 1950s when the milk industry switched from shipping its product in cans on trucks to tankers. The extra trucks had to be used for something.

They chose wood.

Born in Columbia, Cox went to Clemson University with the goal of earning a degree that would allow him to work outdoors.

With options of agriculture or forestry, he chose forestry because he didn't have any family land to farm. Cox was working for a Richburg company when he met Barnes, who already owned his own logging business. The two joined forces in 1988.

Making a living in this field isn't easy. These guys get out of bed and don't linger.

"We don't tarry for coffee and breakfast at home," Barnes said.

No, the goal is to be on the job site at 7 a.m., so the men hustle to make sure the crews are coordinated, the water barrels have ice and between 400 and 500 gallons of fuel is pumped into their equipment.

In its simplest form, logging involves clearing and selling timber. Loggers pay a property owner for the wood, harvest the trees and are paid by companies that use it for a variety of products.

The job means long days. Fortunately, the men said, their spouses know what they're up against.

"We have very understanding wives," Cox said. "They know what it takes to get the job done. Sometimes, they get aggravated, but they still let us come home."

Teaching others

Although the loggers say their industry is often stereotyped as one of ax-wielding bumpkins, they maintain they're the opposite.

"Your loggers probably care more about the land," than some environmental groups, Cox said. He remembers going to his 10-year high school reunion and talking to a former classmate about their careers. When the man asked Cox what he did for a living, he said he was a logger.

"Oh, so you're the one that's ruining the environment," the guy told him.

"I just walked away," Cox said.

Ignorance about their work worries them.

"A lot of our nation is disconnected from their rural roots," Barnes said. "Nobody knows where their natural resources come from. Paper comes from Wal-Mart, and eggs come from the grocery store."

The two men have tried to educate others. Barnes is board chairman of the S.C. Timber Producers Association and seems to serve on every board with the words "wood," "timber" or "logging" in it. He travels to Washington, D.C., every March to talk to S.C. senators and congressmen.

He's spoken to students as part of a national program that teaches big-city school classes about natural resources.

Cox and Barnes say they were honored when they flew to San Antonio in March to collect the Forest Resources Association's national award for logging.

It's what they know

Talking about work in an industry that demands so much, the loggers admit they've thought about quitting. But that would mean finding a way to kill 80 hours each week.

"I've been in the woods or outside all my life," Barnes said. "What would I do?"

Cox added: "This is all I know."

Until their bodies wear out or they find another way to combine two 9-to-5 jobs into one, they'll leave their workshop six mornings a week and return to the small office with no computer and the stack of unread magazines at night.

But should they ever do the unthinkable and retire, maybe then they'd have time to mount their national award on the wall.