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Packard Logging more than holds its own in tough times

Aaron Packard of Dalton, right, operates the Prentice 210D loader and slasher on a logging job in Martinís Location on the WMNF, off Rte. 16, south of Gorham. The sawlogs in the foreground will be hauled to Timber Resource Groupís concentration yard in Whitefield; the pulpwood behind is destined for the chipyard on Rte. 2 in Shelburne, which exclusively supplies the NewPage paper mill in Rumford, Me. Russell Lyndes of Whitefield operates the John Deere 640 cable skidder on the left. Eric McVetty of Lancaster operates another skidder on the job that is out of camera range. (Photo by Edith Tucker) (click for larger version)
February 03, 2010
DALTON — Packard Logging & Chipping LLC, owned and operated by Aaron Packard, is more than holding its own, despite tough days in the logging industry.

With seven employees and equipment worth about $1.5 million, the 38-year-old logging contractor is able to keep two woods crews working.

Last summer he qualified for a $336,600 Small Business Administration-backed loan that allowed him to purchase a new shear — a GN ROY 5300 Model sawhead mounted on a 415 FXL Valmet tracked-feller-buncher that he ordinarily alternates using between the two crews.

Danny Wright of Dalton, an experienced operator, runs the costly equipment.

On Thursday morning, Mr. Wright was working too far back in the woods for this reporter to reach with a camera, but Mr. Packard reports that this outfit, purchased in August 2009 from the Oliver Stores in Lancaster, complements his two grapple skidders — a 525 Caterpillar and 450 Timberjack Ė along with his 640 John Deere cable skidder, plus the three log trucks he uses to haul sawlogs, pulpwood and chips to concentration yards, power plants, and chip yards.

Pinetree Power, that operates a wood-burning power plant in Bethlehem off Route 116, helped him finance a new Morbark chipper over the summer.

He also uses both a 1995 Prentice 210D loader and a two—year-old Prentice 210E with two slashers — circular saws.

When things are humming along, Mr. Packard produces more than 35 loads of wood in a week.

At them moment, Mr. Packard is working on one of his jobs as a subcontractor for Timber Resource Group (TRG) of Farmington, Me., in a job on the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF) in the Unincorporated Place (UP) of Martin's Location, that includes a small portion in Bean's Purchase, an adjacent UP.

One of the three log landings in the cut that was carefully laid-out five years ago is in Gorham, although none of the tree harvesting is in that town. The termination date was extended because of market conditions, according to USFS Assistant District Ranger in the Androscoggin Ranger District Jeffery Williams.

Four contractors bid on the cut, and TRG was the high bidder at $179,909. The low bid of $137,982 was put in by Robert W. Libby & Sons of Cornish, Me.

CoŲs County Commissioner Burnham "Bing" Judd of Pittsburg and state Department of Revenue (DRA) timber expert Jesse Bushaw of Warren visited the site on Wednesday to check on job. TRG will have to pay 10 percent of the value of the harvest in timber taxes to the UPs.

TRG maintains a concentration yard in the Whitefield Industrial Park and that is where Mr. Packard is hauling all the sawlogs from this WMNF cut.

Most of the pulpwood is destined for the NewPage paper mill in Rumford, Me., which means that Mr. Packard is hauling it to the chipmill on Route 2 in Shelburne. Occasionally, Mr. Packard said, he hauls wood up to the Verso Paper mill in Jay, Me.

Right now, he is keeping his fingers crossed that either or both of the much-discussed biomass plants will be built in Berlin.

"We need'em," the logging contractor said.

Although the conventional wisdom is that low-grade wood is a kind of add-on product, Mr. Packard explained that he sets the price that he pays to private landowners for sawlogs so that they — and not he — are the primary beneficiaries of the price he receives. He really makes his money on low-grade wood, he explained.

"I only get $200 to $300 more for a load of sawlogs than I do for low-grade wood used for pulp and chips," Mr. Packard said.

The deep downturn in housing starts has pushed sawlog prices down, and this, combined with the 2006 shutdown of the Berlin pulp mill, has made the last couple of years particularly challenging, explained Mr. Packard, who is a member of the N .H. Timber Harvesting Council.

Weather conditions also are also very challenging. Even in good years, a logging contractor can only expect to keep his men and machines in the woods for eight of 12 months. A two-month mud season is expected, and this "down-down" period is always used for needed equipment maintenance.

The recent January thaw, however, virtually closed down both the jobs he has running for two full days.

Mr. Packard is the son of Charlie Packard of Dalton, former moderator of the White Mountains Regional School District, and Ellyn Packard, who works for the District's Food Services Department.

His sister, Patricia, now lives in the Lakes Region.

Mr. Packard is the father of three daughters. Two live at the Littleton end of the street on which he lives: 15-year-old Andrea, who goes to Littleton High School, and 11-year-old Jordan, who goes to Lakeway Elementary School.

He and his wife, Patricia, are the parents of a two-month-old daughter, Olivia. Ms. Packard is the kindergarten teacher at the Jefferson School and also coaches cheerleading at WMRHS.

Mr. Packard marveled, "Patricia is an amazing woman; she also finds time to keep the company's books."

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