Fourth generation logger Blake Sandlin talks about family history, motivation, and the steps he took toward running two harvesting crews of his own.
— Chris McMillan
The beginnings of Sandlin Logging with Blake’s great-grandfather, Joe Sandlin.
When they say that logging is in the blood, Blake Sandlin is a textbook case. At 33-years-old, Blake is the sole owner of Sandlin Forestry Products based in Statenville, Georgia. From the time he started walking, Blake has been around machinery and logging operations; able to fell, skid and load timber by the time he was eleven years- old. Blake admits, “It stuck with me. Boy, has it stuck with me.”
In 1942, Blake’s great-grandfather Joe Sandlin started Sandlin Logging and began by supplying short wood to a pulp mill in Lake Park, Georgia. Back then they were cutting trees with chainsaws or wheel saws that they pushed around in the woods. “They had upwards of eight to ten men – several tractor drivers and men with axes and chainsaws running two trucks a day. Times sure have changed since then,” explains Blake. In the early eighties, Blake’s father and uncles took over the logging business from his grandfather who was then running the business. Blake worked every Saturday helping his uncles drop belly pans, blow out tractors and grease them. It allowed him to buy his first pickup truck when he was fifteen.
When Blake graduated high school, his family wanted him to go to college. “They begged me to go to college, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it. I had to go to the woods and work.” And that’s exactly what he did. He ran a skidder from the time he finished school until he was 24. Then he started hauling as well. During a long 100 mile (160 km) haul from Sylvester to Valdosta, Blake decided that he wanted to do more.
Blake took out a loan against a farm tractor he owned, and in 2014 bought a 2005 Western Star logging truck and hired a driver named Randall Booth, who is still with him today. A couple years later he bought a second truck, and another one a year after that – all the while still running the skidder for his uncles. “I was contracting three trucks to any logger in the land that needed a load. We’d haul it day or night.” says Blake.
‘Joe Sandlin has a lot of pull with Ford.’
An old Ford Tractor ad from the late 1960s.
Starting a logging operation was what Blake really wanted to do, and in late 2017 he was given a chance to turn that aspiration into a reality. After managing the trucking business for a few years, he felt the time had come to prove himself. Blake explained, “I had been bugging the manager at Langdale Forest Products, and I finally got under him just enough for him to sit down and talk with me. I had been bugging him for a long time about letting me start a logging operation.”
Blake smiles as he recalls that meeting. “So, he asked me what my plans were, and I told him my plan was to put as much wood in your mill as you can stand. He kind of laughed, and I said yes sir, we are going to shoot for 100 loads a week.” As the manager leaned back in his chair and put his hands behind his head, he told Blake that with his limited experience, it would be very difficult to hit the goal he was trying to achieve. Blake laughs, “At that moment, whether he knew it or not, he had lit a fire under me that couldn’t be put out. We signed a contract that day.”
WHEN THESE GUYS ARE OUT HERE AT FIVE O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING, THEY KNOW THAT WHEN THEY TURN THAT KEY, IT’S GOING TO CRANK UP, AND WHEN IT CRANKS UP, WE’RE FIXING TO DO ALL WE CAN DO, ALL DAY LONG, AS HARD AS WE CAN GO.
— Blake Sandlin, owner Sandlin Forestry Products
That was mid-December. On the first day of January, Blake and his crew got started. Their machine line-up consisted of a 720E buncher with a 5600 bunching saw, an old 234 loader with a pull-through delimber, and a brand new 620E skidder. “I felt like we needed to go with a new skidder, just because I feel that the skidder works harder than anything else in the woods,” adds Blake. “So that first week, we were ironing everything out and I think we did 83 loads. But the second week, we put 127 loads in the mill. We were working day and night.” Blake pauses, visibly overcome by emotion, and then continues. “It can choke me up thinking about how hard me and my crew worked. We were working day and night, as hard as we could go, six days a week.”
630H skidder operator Chad Kelley pulls a full load to the landing.
Sandlin Forest Products
Sandlin Forest Products has doubled in size since 2018 and the company now runs two crews, with seven machines in total – all Tigercat. “When these guys are out here at five o’clock in the morning, they know that when they turn that key, it’s going to crank up, and when it cranks up, we’re fixing to do all we can do, all day long, as hard as we can go.”
Blake purchased that first 720E with 5,500 hours. He ran it to about 8,000 hours and then purchased a new 724G from Tidewater Equipment in Thomasville. “We decided to buy the larger 724G, because at the time we were cutting a lot of bigger wood. But, my 720E is still working here today. It’s got almost 15,000 hours on it and it’s still cutting 25 loads a day. I mean if that isn’t a testament to a machine or product, I don’t know what is.”
SALES AND SERVICE IS WHAT SOLD ME ON TIGERCAT. YES, SIR. THEY STAND BEHIND THEIR PRODUCT.
Blake now runs a pair of 234B loaders equipped with pull-through delimbers. Loader operator Jessie Maine has run many loader brands over the past sixteen years and says that he prefers the Tigercat 234B to other brands, hands down. “I don’t have a complaint about anything,” says Jessie. “It’s agile and stable. As far as the cab, it’s comfortable in there. You don’t feel like you’re getting into a machine; it almost feels like you’re getting into a nice pickup truck or something.”
(L-R) Blake Sandlin with crew members Cole Thornton, Lee Hutto, Marlin Powell, Robert Thornton.
Blake acknowledges the responsiveness of Tidewater’s service department. “When we bought our 234B it was a few days old and there was a small issue. The service guys took care of it right away and we experienced very, very little downtime.” Most recently Sandlin purchased two 630H skidders from Tidewater. “We are impressed,” says Blake. “We like the length on it. It moves the load a lot better in wet conditions and it drags a lot more wood. That’s what we’re shooting for – efficiency. I want him to bring as much wood as he can to that loader.”
Blake’s next move will be to further upgrade his felling capacity. “Our next machine will be to replace our older cutter. We’ve got two 720E cutters. We want to keep them as spares. But our next machine will be another 724G paired with a 5600 head. In thinning wood, when you’ve got that machine paired with a 5600, you’re putting as much pulp wood in the head as you can. In this area where the land is low and wet and the beds are sometimes knee high, the counterweight on the back of the 724 keeps the back of that tractor down to back over those beds and it can lay good drags for the skidder man.”
(L-R) Crew members Bobby Pittman, Chad Kelley, Jessie Maine with Blake Sandlin.
Blake credits his Uncle Buck as one of his greatest influences, a man who helped him get where he is today. “Uncle Buck was my hero. He taught me to use my head, and work with my hands, and just treat people well. It will come full circle if you treat people well. It may take some ups and downs, but he instilled in me to work hard and appreciate everything you can get. So, I would say he is my biggest influence in my career. He is a true hard worker, and they are few and far between.”