– Samantha Paul
Adam Zepp, owner operator, Fuller Creek Enterprises LLC.
For almost 200 years, the forest industry has played a central role in Washington State’s economy. According to the Washington Forest Protection Association, Washington is the second-largest lumber producer in the United States, directly supporting more than 107,000 jobs.
Owner-operator Adam Zepp is based out of Elma, Washington, which lies within the Chehalis River Valley in Eastern Grays Harbor County, about 50 km (30 mi) west of Olympia and 65 km (40 mi) east of the Pacific coast.
AS A YOUNG BOY I USED TO DRAW PICTURES OF FELLER BUNCHERS. LOGGING WAS ALL I EVER WANTED TO DO.
– Adam Zepp, owner operator, Fuller Creek Enterprises LLC.
Adam’s father and grandfather in 1978 with their HD-6 dozer heading over to Squaxin Island in the southwestern part of Puget Sound. After that job they always referred to that little dozer as ‘Squaxin.’
Adam’s grandparents, Boyd and Wilma Zepp, started logging in the 1950s. Boyd worked the horses and Wilma drove the log truck. “My grandparents experienced quite a few ups and downs in the market as most logging companies do over the years,” tells Adam. “After Mount St. Helens blew in 1980, anybody that had a line shovel went down there to help clean things up, dredging out the big rivers and creeks. That is when Grandpa Boyd’s logging business really took off.”
Boyd started buying state timber sales and logging for the Jorgenson family in the mid-1980s. Adam’s dad and a couple of his uncles were working for him at this time and things excelled from there. “Grandma told me that at the height of everything, he had about 150 people on the payroll – if you included hired trucks and hand fallers.” Sadly, Boyd passed in 1993. “I still run into people in the industry that remember him or did business with him and they always have a good story to share.”
Adam’s father, Albert is the youngest of seven kids. He did all of the road-building for Boyd before striking out on his own in 1984. Albert logged up until 2001 when the market was getting soft and the timber companies went from doing business on a handshake to taking the cheapest bid. “Dad didn’t want to update equipment and work for pennies so he shifted his business in a different direction. He restructured with some different equipment and started chipping and grinding hybrid poplar trees,” explains Adam. “And it worked well. He had planted about 200 acres on the family farm. A company from Canada had heard about him and approached him to harvest what they had planted in the Snohomish River Valley. It was a move that paid off well for Dad.”
Adam’s wife Rachel nicknamed the LX830D ‘The Mistress’ since Adam spends so much time with it.
Fulfilling his dream
33-year-old Adam has been operating equipment since he was seven years old. As a young boy he would draw logging equipment and went to work with his dad and grandpa whenever he had the chance. “I spent a lot of time riding behind the seat of Dad’s log shovel. I was fortunate to have the chance to learn at a young age and to have a dad that was patient when it came to teaching,” states Adam. “Dad’s chipping business was classified as ag so my brothers and I were able to be on the payroll at a young age. We spent every summer and a lot of weekends working for Dad. He ran older equipment and always told me if I could run the old stuff that I’d appreciate and make the new stuff look good.”
At age twelve Adam saw a feller buncher with a hot saw cutting on his Dad’s operation and was instantly hooked. “I told myself then that I was going to run one and own one myself someday.” Adam operated for various logging outfits throughout the area before finally taking a leap of faith and starting his own business.
“My wife and three girls have horses and other farm animals at home. And I’ve got my feller buncher,” laughs Adam.
In June 2014 Adam established his own company, Fuller Creek Enterprises LLC. “My first day working out on my own was Friday the thirteenth. It just happened to be the day the buncher was ready from the dealership.” Adam started contract thinning for Don Painter Logging based out of Eatonville, Washington. He also did contract work for Grose Construction and eventually settled in cutting for Brintech Logging, owned by Jerry Brindle. “I have never had a lack of work,” says Adam. “Once I am done with one job, I am on a low bed and heading straight to the next. I’ve been very fortunate with that.”
Adam continued to run into the same problems with his first couple of machines. That is when he decided he needed to get himself into a Tigercat. He reached out to now retired Triad Machinery sales specialist, Andy Hunter and told him it was time to upgrade to a LX830D. Adam was eager and ready to sign on the dotted line. That night he went home and told his wife Rachel they were getting a Tigercat and she agreed. “Good! I’m tired of mailing out payments for repair bills!”
Adam harvesting a tract for Weyerhaeuser, just outside of Aberdeen, Washington. According to the US Forest Service, more than half of Washington State is forested. Forest coverage is roughly evenly divided on either side of the Cascade crest.
Adam typically contract cuts for Weyerhaeuser. The LX830D is the perfect size. “I can reach just as far as the 870 and it levels more. I can’t pick up as much, but I can get everything I need to out here and manoeuvre around a lot better with this smaller machine,” he says. Adam’s LX830D is equipped with the 5702-26 saw. The saw has a larger saw blade and housing for increased single-cut capacity, well suited to west coast applications. In larger sized timber, the wider housing reduces the requirement for double cuts, improving overall productivity.
Adam is extremely happy with the cab. “It is the quietest cab I’ve sat in. I used to come home and my ears would hurt because the cab was so noisy on my previous machine.” It did take him some time to get used to the new skyVIEW camera system, “I’m pretty in tune with it now,” he says.
“Other people can try, but these guys hired all the right people, and they listen. Grant Somerville, the [Tigercat] president, used to be a harvester operator, so he gets it,” states Adam. “It’s the best machine in the industry,” adds Adam. “There’s no question about it. Hands down, the LX830D is an engineering masterpiece.”
Adam purchased his LX830D from Triad Machinery. “Triad field technician Martin Hinderlie is very knowledgeable and certainly knows how to work on them,” says Adam. “It’s also really nice having the local Tigercat support with Kushiah [McCullough] and Damien [Donoher] running around. They’re nice and close by. It’s made a huge difference. Damien and Kushiah have been out four different times already to update the machine.”
Tigercat factory representative Kushiah McCullough showing Adam Zepp Tigercat’s RemoteLog telematics system.
Adam wants to encourage more young people to get involved in the industry. “Go out and just get the fundamentals of moving a machine around,” says Adam. “With a buncher, the hardest part is knowing how to get around on the ground we’re cutting and lay the wood out. But that’s plenty teachable.”
Adam learned a lot from operators he worked with in the past. “When I worked for Mountain Pacific Enterprises, Craig Chambers and Bob Tomatich really took me under their wing. I rode behind the seat with them. They would walk the units with me and show me how to open them up and how to cut them right. I learned a lot from them.”
Adam plans to grow his business. He believes there is plenty of opportunity in the area. “There are some big players in the industry that will eventually retire and the industry will be looking for young people with experience.”
Adam has come full circle, from drawing feller bunchers when he was a kid to owning and operating his own. “If you’d have told me a year ago that I’d be sitting here talking to you, owning a Tigercat, I’d have thought you were crazy,” says Adam. “It’ what I have always wanted to do.”
WORDS TO LIVE BY
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without the work ethic my parents drilled into my brothers and I when we were little. My Dad always said there aren’t many situations in life that you can’t put your head down and work through and that if you ever take a job and are losing money on it, don’t cut corners and do a crummy job just to get it done as fast as you can. Bad news travels faster than good news. Those are words I live by,” says Adam.
Adam’s wife Rachel, and his three daughters Ashlyn, Shania and Haidyn.