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“Swamp Loggers” Ply the Woods In North Carolina

Jul 21, 2010 - 9 years ago

By Supply Post

“We buy equipment to work it, and work it we do.”

It’s a subtle, but telling statement by Bobby Goodson, owner of Goodson’s All-Terrain Logging. His logging operation and equipment is so specialized, and worked so hard, there are only a handful of operators who even attempt to do what his company does. It’s called shovel logging, where Goodson’s crew of 10, including his son Justin, work land that’s flooded with water – cutting and delivering wood that no one ever thought possible to harvest. If you watch the Discovery Channel you’ll know these woodsmen as Swamp Loggers. The reality show, depicting their work in the swamps, has helped propel the Discovery Channel to near the top prime time cable network ratings – averaging close to 2 million viewers per episode.

Working his operation from Jacksonville, N.C., Goodson said swamp logging began around 1995 in Georgia by an ambitious logging crew. “And before that, loggers took wood out of swamps with ‘steam donkeys.’ They would winch the logs to rivers and float them downstream. But, with the Clean Water Act, and logging restrictions within 50 feet of rivers, that all went to the wayside.”

That left the new technical type of shovel logging – which Goodson adopted in the late ’90s. How does it all work? After negotiating a royalty with a landowner for logging the land, it’s up to Goodson’s crew to get the wood cut and to the mill as soon as possible. Using Google(TM) Earth to map out a swath of land to log, Goodson then puts his $425,000 feller buncher, piloted by Simetrio Ruiz, to work. The machine’s grapplers hold the tree while its 61-inch diameter rotating blade glides through the lumber like butter. Fallen trees are then placed by a log loader, “or shovel, as we call it,” said Goodson, in front of the feller buncher.

“The downed trees – Ash, Cyprus and Tupelo – limbs and all, then make a 50-foot wide road to go further into the swamp,” Goodson explained. “Sometimes we’ll have to put two or three trees down on top of each other in real boggy areas. As the process moves forward, we’ll create a log road of up to 1 mile, but generally we’ll go about a half-mile in. Simetrio works down and back twice before the first wood can be loaded and hauled to the mill.”

The logs go on the company’s six trucks – five of which are Kenworth W900s (two owned by Goodson, and three by his son, Justin), and they load to the max – a gross combination weight (GCW) of 84,000 pounds.

“To make money we need to average 20 loads a day to the mill,” said Goodson. “So the reliability of our equipment and Kenworths are critical. It’s really why we bought them, that along with keeping our drivers happy in a premium rig. I’ve been around log trucks enough to know what stands up in tough conditions and what log trucks start to fall apart. We don’t run chain saws out here. Everything is mechanized and dependent upon each other. If one piece of our heavy equipment goes down, or one of our trucks, then it hampers everything.”

Spec’d for ruggedness, the newer Kenworth W900s are equipped with 475-hp engines rated at 1,850 lb-ft of torque and driven through 10-speed transmissions. The gear ratio is 3.70 and differential locks on both drive axles, plus Kenworth’s power divider, help provide equal power to the heavily lugged 11R24.5 drive tires. Dual exhaust and dual breathers, air ride suspensions and a central tire inflation system help complete the package.

“We bought the trucks through Cooper Kenworth and they’ve been great to work with,” said Goodson. “That goes for parts support as well and any emergency repairs we might need.”

Kenworth’s quality products, combined with excellent dealer support from dealers such as Cooper Kenworth, contributed to Kenworth receiving the 2009 J.D. Power and Associates award for “Highest in Customer Satisfaction for Heavy Duty Dealer Service.” A third generation logger, Goodson said he had 11 family members involved with their own logging companies at one time.

“Now we’re down to four. My brother, cousin and uncle all have logging operations in place. Traditional logging. They leave the swamp life to me and I love it. Every day and every tract of land is different and each has its challenges. And we have challenges with the economy – last year was the worst we ever had due to the mills not wanting much wood. About 40 percent of the loggers around here quit or went out of business. But there is an upside too. We get a premium for our wood and pulp from the mill. That’s because we can deliver in any weather condition. When other loggers are down because of the weather, we’re in the swamps cutting and delivering. Sometimes we’ll be the sole provider to the mill, and they know they can depend on us. It’s a win-win.”

So is the show Swamp Loggers. “When I first got a call from the producer of the show, who had heard about us from an American Logging Council member, I thought someone was playing a joke on us. It took me a while to figure out they were on the level and they wanted to do a documentary show. We agreed, really not thinking it would go anywhere beyond a few episodes.”

Goodson said it takes around 135 hours of filming to create one 50-minute episode and he and the crew have gotten used to having cameras on site during the filming season. “It does slow things down on occasion, but for the most part, we work like we normally do and they capture what happens.”

Fans of the show seem to love it and the down-to-earth nature of Goodson and his crew. “We’ve gotten hundreds of letters and emails and not one note has been negative. Last week we even had a woman from Ohio bring her family down to meet us in the woods. We gave them a little tour of our operation and they were thrilled. It made our day too. It’s pretty neat to see so many people enthused about what we do,” Goodson said.

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