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Can-Do Attitude

We caught up with Sabrina Cantu at the 2023 Pacific Logging Congress Demo. She was one of several operators who piloted Tigercat equipment during the demo. Sabrina operated Tigercat’s newest harvesting head model, the 573, mounted on an 875E carrier, processing at roadside.

— Paul Iarocci

25-year-old Sabrina Cantu’s journey into the world of heavy equipment and timber harvesting operations began in 2019, when she enrolled in the Heavy Equipment Operations Certificate program at Shasta College. “I originally was going to school for an Ag business degree,” says Sabrina. “But due to some life changes, I went after what I was truly passionate about – running heavy equipment.” Sabrina excelled in her course work, graduated with a University Ag Science Degree, Industrial Technology Degree, Heavy Equipment Logging Operations Certificate, and a Heavy Equipment Operating Certificate.

Sabrina grew up in Burney, a very rural logging town in Northern California. Choosing mountains and trees as her daily office view was an easy choice. “I have always been at home in the woods. Instead of fighting traffic and stoplights every day on my drive to work, I just have to slow down for the occasional deer and wild little timber tigers [chipmunks] that cross the road.”

Sabrina’s great grandfather and grandfather were both timber fallers and equipment operators and her great uncle John owned a logging business. “By the time I was born my great grandpa and grandpa had passed away and my great uncle John had long retired, so I wasn’t raised in the industry. But clearly logging was in my blood.” At 21 years of age, Sabrina found herself as the only member of her family to follow in their bootsteps.

Everyday I strap my boots on, I am so thankful for the old timers who took the time to teach me and guide me over the years.

— Sabrina Cantu

Over the years Sabrina has gained experience with many different types of machinery in a variety of applications from winch assisted forwarding on a CTL operation in Oregon to steep slope shovel logging. She has even run equipment on wildfire operations. These days, she is an accomplished processor operator employed by Skyline Alterations, a California based harvesting company owned by Jody Sherman and Brian Parnell. “I like loading trucks, but processor is hands down my favorite,” says Sabrina.

Aside from the regular challenges – knowing the log lengths, understanding the requirements of the various mills, keeping a close eye on stem form – running a processor in fire salvage operations poses its own set of problems. “You have to know your species, especially in burnt wood. It’s really difficult because the bark’s gone, the limbs are gone and there are no needles. Nothing.”

Sabrina treats it all like a game, working quickly and efficiently, always trying to stay ahead of the skidders. “It makes it fun. And it’s like a video game. It’s just a bunch of buttons and muscle memory.”

Motivated to make a difference

A typical week for Sabrina starts with an early (super-early is how Sabrina phrases it) Monday morning alarm. She carpools to the worksite with her co-workers, starts up her Tigercat LH855E harvester and loads Louis, her dachshund into the cab. “Then I’m just making logs all day long. At the end of the day, we go get fuel and food.” Sabrina sleeps in a tent at the harvest site from Monday to Friday to avoid a lengthy daily commute. “The hours are not the best when you’re not a morning person and let me tell you I snooze my alarm quite a bit at two in the morning. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. Every morning, I see the sunrise and the world wake up around me. I get to see wildlife every day.”

Sabrina is motivated by a strong belief that what she is doing – managing forests – is having a positive effect on the world around her. “I get to be a part of conserving our forests and helping to thin and manage them correctly so we can get a better handle on wildfires.” She explains that without forest management, undergrowth and deadfall becomes excessive. “It’s all fuel for the fire.”
“Right now, we’re doing a lot of clearing for the burns, so we do a lot of clean up,” Sabrina continues. “We work for the California Deer Association and the National Forest Service. During the summertime when I’m not logging, I go out and I work fires. So much land has burned. A lot of my friends have been affected by the fires in California and have lost their homes.” The thinning operations that Skyline and other California contractors are involved with are crucial to maintaining long term forest health. “Each tree is fighting with other trees to grow. When you thin the forest, they become bigger, healthier trees. There is more sunlight to come through, so there’s more growth for the wildlife. A lot of people don’t understand that. I wish that they could come out and see what we do. We don’t just kill trees to kill trees. People in the cities are not really understanding how everything works, and I think that’s why our fires have gotten so bad. Everybody wants to save the trees and take care of the trees,” she says. Perhaps it’s a case of loving them to death.


— Sabrina Cantu

The machine

The Tigercat LH855E is an ideal processor carrier for Sabrina. “My gosh I love it. It’s such a good machine. It’s powerful. I have the leveling cab, so I don’t have to sit there and fight when I’m trying to make logs. That machine is very comfortable. Heated and cooled seats and all the fancy stuff.”

A lot of Sabrina’s friends ran Tigercat machines well before she ever did. They talked highly of the brand. Over the years, I’ve heard loggers make various analogies about the brand – ‘the Cadillac of logging machines,’ that sort of thing. I’ve never heard anyone put it quite the way Sabrina does. “You just look at Tigercat and it’s kind of the Louis Vuitton of the logging world. It’s the fancy stuff and I just wanted to get my hands on it.”

When Skyline Alterations was in the market for a new processor, Sabrina appreciated it when Jody and Brian asked her preference. She didn’t have high hopes, knowing that her choice would be at the top end in terms of price. “I took a day off work, and we went to Bejac in Anderson, California. And I got to actually climb in my first Tigercat and walk it around. I didn’t want to try anything else after that. I was sold, I loved it. And now I’m lucky enough that I get to run it.”

Career satisfaction

It was a drastic change for Sabrina to complete two years of schooling toward an ag business degree, only to change her mind and enroll in a heavy equipment program. It was a scary decision at the time, “Kissing away two years of schooling,” as Sabrina puts it. She started off in construction equipment. Later on, the program received funding to purchase an entire logging side. Sabrina’s class was the first to benefit from the acquisition. “So I got a little bit of a taste for it. I graduated top of my class and got hired in the industry before I graduated. And ever since then, it’s never stopped.”

What is Sabrina’s message to young women contemplating a career in the forestry sector? “Don’t be scared,” she answers. “It can be intimidating but ask questions and don’t give up. When I first started operating, I always asked questions – even when people told me that I was asking too many questions. They’re going to push you and they’re going to see how much you can take. If you’re confident in your operating and what you can do, I think you can go far.” Sabrina also speaks about taking advantage of opportunities. “Every door that opens, take a step inside and see what it’s like. If you get an opportunity to jump in a piece of equipment, take it and run with it.”
She stresses that technology plays a big part in the industry and makes the industry more accessible to more people. “You don’t have to be rough and tough. Physically, I’m not very strong, but I don’t have to be. The machine is my strength. It is my muscles. It picks up and does everything that I wish I could do.” Sabrina says her long term goal is to own her own equipment. She would like to be a female boss with a partially female crew. “It would be cool if women wanted to come work for me. It would be super welcoming and accepting but I would still have a bunch of my rough and tough guys that I’d want to hire too. I want my own stuff and it might be pink, it might not be pink, I don’t know yet.”

Sabrina is quick to give credit to others for her success and job satisfaction. “Every day I strap my boots on, I am so thankful for the old timers who took the time to teach me and guide me over the years. This job isn’t for everyone. It’s for the ones with free spirits and a little bit of a wild side. The ones that aren’t afraid of a little dirt and pitch. The ones that see the beauty in the tall white firs and appreciate the smell of the fresh-cut pine. We might be a little rough around the edges, but a logger is who I am and who I am proud to be.”

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Women in Logging: Sabrina Cantu

Sabrina Cantu is an inspiring and motivated processor operator from northern California. We caught up with her at the 2023 Pacific Logging Congress. She was one of several operators who piloted Tigercat equipment during the live demonstrations. Watch the video to learn about her journey into the forestry industry and how her passion for heavy equipment and the outdoors has lead to a fulfilling career in logging and forest management.

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