Custom Publication of the Bangor Daily News

Contractor has logging in his veins

Posted Oct. 25, 2012, at 8:36 a.m.
Duane Jordan stands beside a loaded log truck parked in the yard of his Waltham-based company, Elliott Jordan & Son. The company was started by Jordan's grandfather and then owned by his father, Marshal, before he took the reins in the 1980s.
Duane Jordan stands beside a loaded log truck parked in the yard of his Waltham-based company, Elliott Jordan & Son. The company was started by Jordan's grandfather and then owned by his father, Marshal, before he took the reins in the 1980s. Buy Photo
An employee of Elliott Jordan & Son operates a feller-buncher while harvesting trees in Township 16 in Hancock County.
Elliott Jordan & Son
An employee of Elliott Jordan & Son operates a feller-buncher while harvesting trees in Township 16 in Hancock County.
Adapting to the changing times, Waltham-based Elliott Jordan & Son has done contract work for the Township 16 wind-turbine project being completed by First Wind.
Adapting to the changing times, Waltham-based Elliott Jordan & Son has done contract work for the Township 16 wind-turbine project being completed by First Wind. Buy Photo

EASTBROOK — On a quiet weekday morning, Waltham logging contractor Duane Jordan sits by a window and eats his breakfast as traffic whizzes past the Eastbrook Store on Route 200. The store’s a popular local gathering place most mornings; today, long after his work day began, Jordan chats with acquaintances and then talks about logging.

It has changed considerably since he was a child.

His grandfather Elliott long ago founded the family business, Elliott Jordan & Son, which is based in a large new facility about 3 miles away from the Eastbrook Store. Elliott and his son, Marshal, once harvested wood the traditional Maine way.

“We had horses when I really young, maybe 4 or 5 years old,” Duane Jordan recalled. “My dad kept talking about buying a cable skidder.”

Marshal Jordan did so in 1968 by purchasing a Timberjack 205 from Timberland Machines in Bangor and delivering the machine to a Township 16 logging site. “It was painted bright orange, and it made noise, unlike the horses,” Duane Jordan said. “As a young boy watching the machine, it was pretty exciting.

“This was a machine built from the ground up … to skid wood,” he said. “We kept it a lot of years” before selling it.

“The last I knew, it was still running,” Jordan commented.

Today Elliott Jordan & Son employs 25 people involved in logging, trucking, road-building, and, surprisingly for a business long focused on wood harvesting, blueberry harvesting. “We do a lot of blueberries,” Jordan said, explaining that the company owns and maintains commercial blueberry acreage Down East. The company has also done contract work at the wind-turbine sites constructed by First Wind this year in Township 16, which abuts Eastbrook’s eastern boundary.

But logging remains the heart of company operations.

Logging in his veins

Not long after graduating from Ellsworth High School, Jordan enlisted in the Army for two years in 1978 and then spent four years in the Army Reserve after returning to Waltham. “I think it was the best thing I could’ve done, leaving home and the family business,” he said. “That short time of being gone put my mind at ease” about joining Elliott Jordan & Son after leaving the service.

“If you cut me, I’m going to bleed logging,” Jordan said. He took over the company when his father “retired” in the mid-1980s to focus on cultivating and harvesting low-bush blueberries.

Since then, Elliott Jordan & Son has shifted from cable skidding to “mechanized logging,” using such machines as feller-bunchers and stroke delimbers, Jordan said. In the late 1980s he developed a chipper to process “[tree] limbs and tops for biomass,” a market that “has been up and down over the years.

“We harvest all types of fiber” on private woodlands and on his company’s 15,000 acres, Jordan said. Logging is “the mainstay of what I do,” he stressed.

“We run a lot of Prentice skidders,” purchased along with a Prentice crane from the Oliver Stores, he noted. The company also buys John Deere logging equipment from Nortrax.

The industry has changed

Silvicultural practices have changed during the past 30 years. “We see fewer clean-acre sites,” Jordan said, referring to the modern term for “clear cuts.”

“It’s more just thinnings today. We take out the older trees that there’s a market for and leave the younger trees to grow for another 15 to 20 years,” Jordan said.

While “the [corporate] landowners have changed their names” since the 1980s, “the management teams have stayed pretty much the same,” he commented. “They do a good job of managing the land.”

He believes that logging “is more sustainable today than in the ’70s and ’80s. We’re growing a lot of wood. I think there is actually more wood growing in Maine than is being harvested.”

Just as silviculture and harvesting equipment have changed with the decades, so have Maine loggers, according to Jordan. “The quality of loggers today, the ones who are left, they do a good job,” he said.

Loggers adhere to strict environmental regulations designed protects Maine woods and streams. “Water quality is important. We build skidder bridges now rather than go through the water,” Jordan said. “We put skidder bridges on all our job sites. We set down mats.”

For Maine loggers, winter is the best time to work; when snow lies feet deep in the woods, logging equipment can cross wetlands without damaging the forest floor. The spring mud season usually slows operations; a dry summer speeds them up.

“Winter passing to spring: That’s my favorite time of the year,” Jordan said. “We’re pushing to get the maximum harvests in winter. For a short period of time, maybe 8-10 weeks if you’re lucky, you’ve got to ensure it’s happening.”

Like other loggers, Jordan expects mid-autumn rains to impact company operations. “The rainy season is from the 15th of October to the end of the year, when it freezes,” he said. “We’ve noticed [that] the rains seem to be getting heavier; it concerns us.”

“The paper industry is under a lot of pressure financially,” Jordan said. “We’re going from paper to an electronic age,” and the consumption of paper declines as “more people get their news online.

“Energy costs is the first thing that comes to mind,” he said. “We spent just around a million dollars last year for diesel fuel.”

Elliott Jordan & Son pays full insurance coverage for its employees. The company’s insurer has already proposed a 30-percent increase for 2013, “an unacceptable amount,” Jordan said. “The health insurance cost is extreme.”

Federal environmental regulations will soon increase the cost of doing business. By 2015 new diesel-engine emissions technology will affect logging, not only that done by Elliott Jordan & Son, but by loggers across Maine.

Jordan explained that most new truck engines will clean emissions with an urea additive; besides in-reasing the prices of new trucks, this technology will require truck owners to pay for the urea consumed as a diesel engine runs. Jordan estimated the rate of consumption could be up to 20 gallons of urea per truck per week, depending on an engine’s operating time.

“They’re planning on the technology appearing in new logging equipment by 2015,” he said. The new diesel engines could raise equipment prices “about $10,000 per unit.

“It’s an interesting thing we’re going to have to deal with,” Jordan said. “There’s going to be a lot of trial and error, making this work. Urea freezes, so there’s got be a way to keep it warm. We fuel the trucks at the shop, so we can add the urea at the shop.

“I’m guess I’m willing to do my part to make the environment cleaner,” he said. “But it will be a big expense.”

The future

Now 50, Jordan knows that he will not manage the company forever. “I’ve got two of four children who seem to have an interest in the business,” he said, shifting position in his chair. “They do good work in the company. You have to be interested in working in the woods to do it; they’re doing it.

“I think logging was in its heyday” when he was young, Jordan said. “Back then, you could make a mistake, maybe buy equipment that didn’t work out, and the margins were such that you wouldn’t get hurt bad.

“Today business margins are so tight, my young fellows can’t make mistakes. It will be harder for them to run the company with the margins so tight,” Jordan said.

“My goal is that I need to work with them in the next 10 years to transition the company. If it has a chance of surviving, it’s in the younger generation,” he stated.

Until then, “I still like to get up every morning and make logging happen,” Jordan said, a smile playing across his features.

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