4th August 2017
The Parnell family has come a long way from their first grant of land from the Government of Alabama nearly 200 years ago back in 1819. In 1960 James Parnell started his own business with just a used truck and a pair of mules.
– Samantha Paul
Incorporated in 1978, the company now has nine logging crews and 34 pieces of forestry equipment. In 2006, Parnell Inc. earned the title of Forest Resource Association’s Regional Logger of the Year and in 2008 Logger of the Year.
“You can’t imagine what I have seen change over the years,” states family patriarch James. When James first started out, he bought an old Pepsi Cola delivery truck from Atlanta. He put a log body on the back and loaded logs by hand. They used mules to skid until about 1963. Back then he worked eighteen hours a day. “He would do it today if mama would let him,” says son Joseph.
Logging was not a big industry in the area in the early 1960s. “We didn’t know we were in a good trade at the time,” says James. “The Riverdale Mill that opened in Selma Alabama in 1966 opened things up for logging in the South. Before that, we didn’t know what we had. When that mill came in, it was like the gold rush out West.” People were calling James at twelve o’clock at night trying to learn about logging and how to get in business.
Brothers, Joseph and Jeff Parnell spent many years in the woods with their now 73-year-old father James. In the early 1980s the family worked on building one main crew and getting that crew as productive as possible. By the time Joseph graduated from college in 1997, the business was doing very well. They then decided to start a second crew in 2002, producing eighteen loads per day with just three men.
“Today, we run a very lean operation with myself, Jeff, Tommy Moore and two ladies in the office managing 500,000 tons per year. We deal with the timber buying, the mill and nine crews but we do it all very lean,” states Joseph. Instead of harvesting on land owned by the mill, the company buys all of its own timber, mainly from private landowners. He feels that relying on the large forest product corporations hinders growth.
Working at full capacity, the company can haul 600 loads per week, but more typically averages 500. Recently, this volume has been cut down to 350 loads per week due to the twin challenges of overcapacity and the reduced demand that the industry is currently facing.
Finding good labour has been an ongoing challenge for the Parnells, so they have been early adopters of the latest innovations with the aim of doing more with less. For instance, James Parnell purchased the first hot saw in the area, the first grapple skidders and the first stroke delimber in the southern United States.
We demoed one of the first 726 drive-to-tree feller bunchers. Not buying that machine may have been one of the worst mistakes we ever made.”
– Joseph Parnell
Parnell Inc. currently owns 29 pieces of Tigercat equipment. The first Tigercat machine was an 860 stroke delimber purchased in 1999. “At the time everyone was saying we can’t buy Tigercat, there isn’t any dealers around.” Joseph responded with, “Well we have never had to call the dealer.” To this day he can’t remember a service call he has had to make for that 860.
The company’s second Tigercat purchase was a T250 loader in 2003. Then came the 630C skidder, followed by a 724D drive-to-tree feller buncher and another T250. “The 724D has cut more wood than most loggers will cut in a lifetime. It cut four times [more] than an average crew would for eight years. We demoed one of the first 726 drive-to-tree feller bunchers. Not buying that machine may have been one of the worst mistakes we ever made,” states Joseph.
Good maintenance has helped the Parnells grow and improve profitability. “We are sticklers about maintenance,” says Joseph. “We always blamed the heat for our breakdowns. When a group of Brazilians came to see our job they opened my eyes,” says Joseph. The Brazilians explained that they were easily getting 20,000 hours out of their Tigercat machines while experiencing the same high heat all year round. Their secret? Having a technician on site every day conducting maintenance checks according to the proper maintenance schedule.
Parnell Inc. quickly switched to daily greasing. They now have everything on a regular schedule. They have two mechanics whose sole purpose is to go around to every machine at least once a week to do regular maintenance checks. They do fluid changes, filter changes, greasing and write a report detailing items that require attention. Head office has good visibility into the status of all machines and can then schedule preventative maintenance ahead of time.
“Preventative maintenance is cheap compared to replacement costs. If it says to grease every eight hours, don’t grease every eighteen hours, you need to grease every eight hours,” explains Joseph.
The Tigercat Fluid Analysis (TFA) oil sampling program works well for Parnell and excessive metal content in the oil is taken seriously and always investigated further.
Parnell Inc. has been a leader in the logging industry for many decades. Visitors have come from all around the world, including India, Brazil, Chile and China to see how the company runs its operations. The company follows market trends, takes timber buying into its own hands, takes preventative maintenance very seriously and hires the best to continue to overcome the market challenges faced today.
“I am not just blowing smoke, the biggest advantage we have had over others is being a Tigercat customer,” says Joseph. “We have been able to grow because instead of having to replace equipment, we have been able to keep it running and move it to another job because of its longevity.”
Joseph Parnell shared his thoughts on the current cycle of supply and demand in the United States: “We are going into the best spring bounce in dimensional lumber since before 2008. The problem is the dimensional lumber mills can’t run because they can’t get rid of their residuals, too many chips with nowhere to take them.”
“We are growing 30% more wood a year than we are consuming so there is a current oversupply in the market. However, long term outlook looks really good. We have an announced 4.5 million tons of increased capacity of dimensional lumber within 150 miles of here [Maplesville, AL] and a lot of universities in the area are looking into how to cut and dry a southern young pine board to get it uniform so it will maintain its integrity, so you can build with it.”
We have always faced challenges and will continue to face challenges. You just have to keep a positive attitude and stay aware of the markets.