Cory Schlitter, the founder and owner of Schlitter Logging, was born and raised in Dubuque Iowa and logs throughout the Midwest tri-state area. Dubuque is on the junction of the states of Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin, and is a popular tourist destination due to the city’s unique style of architecture and its proximity to the Mississippi River.
Dubuque is named after Julien Dubuque, a Spaniard who arrived in 1785 to mine the area’s rich lead deposits.
The area was then known as the Louisiana Territory and remained under Spanish rule until 1803, when the US took back control following the Louisiana Purchase. The region became the Iowa Territory in 1838 and the State of Iowa was created in 1846.
After the lead resources were exhausted, Dubuque became home to numerous industries including boat building, brewing and the railroad. It was also a hub for the timber industry due to its proximity to the forests of Illinois and Wisconsin. Iowa has 2.1 million acres of woodland – approximately 5.7% of the total land area – and this is the state’s most valuable resource.
Its value includes the beauty of the woodlands, the wildlife habitat, site protection for hilly landscapes, and a significant contribution to the Iowa economy via the production of high quality veneer and sawlogs.
Almost all the woodlands are privately owned – the majority by farmers – and they are generally 30 to 150 acres in size. There is no National Forest or Federal ownership and the only state-controlled forests are state parks and country parks, which account for just 8% of the forest industry.
There are more than 60 sawmills in Iowa and over 350 woodworking industries ranging from small individual cabinet and furniture producers to large manufacturers. While the state’s wood industry is not a large one, it is a major contributor to both the economy of the state and the beauty of the finished product from their renewable and diverse woodland species.
The forests mainly consist of high value hardwoods, particularly White and Red Oak, Black Walnut, White Ash, and Black Cherry. Some of the other hardwood species include Birch, Maple, Cottonwood, Sycamore, Hickory, Aspen, and Willow.
There are also some Conifers spread throughout the state and these consist of less valuable Red Cedar, White Pine, and Balsam Fir.
Generally loggers working throughout Iowa, buy the trees standing from the landowner to harvest and then market themselves.
Iowa’s Bonded Timber Law states that: “A person who engages in business as a timber buyer without filing a bond or surety with the commission (DNR Forestry) is guilty of a serious misdemeanour.”
Here, a “Timber Buyer” is defined as a person engaged in the business of buying timber from the timber growers for sawing into lumber for processing or resale.
This does not include those individuals who occasionally purchase timber for sawing or processing for their own use and not for resale. The term also includes those who contract with a timber grower on a share-profit basis to harvest timber from the grower’s land.
Trees are usually 80 to 120 years old before reaching maturity for harvesting; at this age they typically reach around 16” in diameter and are sold by the landowner, usually on a stumpage basis or per stump. Stumpage is the price paid to the landowner to harvest timber on a given land base.
To determine stumpage prices, the trees are assessed for value and volume by the contractor and a price for the total volume of timber to be harvested and submitted to the landowner is determined. Many landowners who are unsure about this process will seek the services of a forester, who will have the requisite knowledge regarding the market value of timber to be harvested and will manage the bids and oversee the work carried out. A successful bidder will enter into a contract agreement with the landowner and this will clarify what is expected from each party.
Early Life & Training
Although Cory grew up in the city, he was a country boy at heart. From the age of 13 he spent weekends and school holidays helping his stepfather Lawrence Carroll – aka Bohrman – in the forest. At the time, Bohrman had his own logging company and ran a 1971 Timber jack 225 cable skidder; Cory enjoyed nothing better than running chokers before eventually manning the seat of the skidder himself. Cory left school at 17 years old without graduating as he was desperate to get started with a logging company. Cory laughed while explaining that:
“I didn’t do my homework properly – in my rush to leave school and start logging I hadn’t realised that you had to be over 18 before you could start working professionally in the forest.”
Skills are passed down from one generation to the next and employers keep a close eye on new employees – better known as ‘Greenhorns’– making sure that they are confident and have the right skills for the tasks they are carrying out.
Cory considers this a good way for young loggers to learn their trade as they are learning from people who have a wealth of experience in the industry.
“It is important that they know how to work safely and fell the trees properly so that we all get to go home at night and valuable timber isn’t ruined by inexperience. We have to pay the landowner for the trees whether they can be used or not, so companies using unskilled or cheap labour soon go out of business.”
“In Iowa we don’t need certificates or licenses to run chainsaws and skidders; there is a school up in Wisconsin that offers courses, but personally I think our way of training works just fine. We are working with mixed hardwood species and this can be quite challenging as each species reacts differently during felling, so being able to identify and risk assess each tree prior to felling is vital.”
Cory owns two skidders: the aforementioned 1971 Timberjack 225 (Cory purchased from his mother after his step father Bohrman’s passing) and a Cat 525B Grapple Skidder.
The latter is the main skidder used for extraction and is a good, robust all rounder. It has plenty of power with a 179hp motor and four-speed push button transmission which is extremely easy to use.
Given its hydraulic frame steering and generous 527mm clearance, it is highly capable and manoeuvrable in thinnings. The cab is comfortable, well laid out, and has excellent all round vision. Spare parts are also readily available off the shelf. The grapple has an Auto Grab feature which constantly monitors and adjusts tong pressure as needed to securely hold grapple loads while skidding, and there is an 18-tonne cable winch with up to 86m of cable for gathering trees from inaccessible areas.
As the company has two dealers in Iowa, most parts are kept in stock.
“There isn’t a lot of CTL equipment working in Iowa – the trees are felled with chainsaws and de-limbed down to a 10” diameter before being cross cut. I then skid the trunks to an area where the logging trucks can load them. Unless otherwise specified in the contract, the tops that are cut off are the landowner’s responsibility.”
Cory will only carry out thinnings as he doesn’t like to see large clearfelled sites; his only exception is when areas of diseased trees have to be removed to protect the surrounding woodland or when storms have ravaged a forest. One such event took place last August; a severe storm known as a derecho hit the Midwest with winds of up to 110mph. A derecho is not quite a hurricane; it has no eye and the wind direction is consistent.
The damage it causes over such a large area is similar to an inland hurricane as opposed to a quicker, more powerful tornado. This one lasted several hours and brought devastation by flattening trees, bringing down power lines, and tearing off the roofs of buildings.
The wind and hail destroyed a third of Iowa’s agricultural crops, with 10 million acres of corn and soya beans ruined. Logging has to be planned around the weather to allow year round work. Winter months offer the best logging conditions with temperatures dropping as low as -28°C, and the driest months are January and February. Snowfall is common and northern Iowa averages around 28” each year.
The weather in the spring can be quite severe with frequent tornadoes and, although the summers are extremely hot and humid, the region experiences frequent thunderstorms. Most of the rain falls between May and September and the wettest month is June.
Cory logs a substantial amount of Black Walnut. This is ideal for harvesting in the fall and winter months as it tends to grow more in hilly areas and the sap slows down and the bark stays on. Walnut has a beautiful grain and is famed as much for its medical values as its timber uses.
These medicinal uses include its capabilities as a mosquito repellent, a dermatological aid, an anti-diarrhoeal medication, a laxative, and a treatment for parasitic worms.
It has also been used to relieve the symptoms of fever, kidney ailments, gastrointestinal disturbances, ulcers, toothache, syphilis, and snake bites. Black Walnut trees contain juglone – a compound that inhibits bacterial and fungal growth and may be valuable in controlling infections in humans.
It is also being tested for its cancer-fighting properties. The juglone, however, means that Black Walnut is not a sociable tree as it is poisonous to Pine and Birch trees as well as tomato vines. Tolerant species which can be found growing alongside Black Walnut are Poplar, Ash, Cherry, Basswood Maple, and Hickory.
Black Walnut’s timber has many uses. Particularly high value logs will be used for veneer and may be shipped outside Iowa, in some cases exported to European veneer mills. Iowa has one single veneer processing plant in Grundy Centre which produces sliced high-grade veneer. Other uses of the best quality timber include high quality furniture and trim lumber, flooring, and decorative gun stocks.
Once dried, it holds its shape well and has very little seasonal movement Another advantage is its natural resistance to decay and insects. The grain is generally straight and can be easily worked by hand or by using power tools, meaning it is especially popular with wood turners. The other species that Cory generally harvests are White and Red Oak, Hickory, and Silver Maple.
He sells most of his timber to Wieland & Sons Lumber Co, a large family owned sawmill and hardwood lumber company which manufactures 18 million board feet of lumber each year.
Located approximately an hour West of Dubuque, the company was established in 1948.In addition to the milled timber, Wieland offer their customers hardwood flooring, hardwood plywood, and log siding.The drier winter months are ideal for logging wetter flatlands and river bottoms.
Cory is proud of the standard of work he and his fellow loggers carry out.
“Us loggers, land owners, and foresters all work together to avoid disrupting the land and nature; we stop working if birds are nesting and do our utmost to look after and care for the forests for future generations. We plan our work with the seasons to minimise our impact on the environment.”
I wanted to know if there were any nasty animals or snakes lurking about the forests that you had to watch out for.
“We are seeing fewer timber rattlers these days; I figure they must be in decline in Iowa. They are extremely venomous but not usually aggressive to humans – they would rather get out of your way than bite you. They grow up to six feet long and are nature’s system of pest control as they feed on mice, rats and squirrels, which are common vectors of disease.”
“You also have to watch out for cougars; again, they are not usually aggressive unless they are hungry and see humans as prey. I had one encounter a while back when all I had on me to protect myself was a tin of spray paint. I just came up on him on a mountain trail and he didn’t look too happy about it. I reckoned my best move was to just continue walking at the same speed and make myself as big as possible. I made sure I could see him at all times in case he thought I would make a tasty lunch.”
“Luckily he wasn’t too hungry or bothered by me and we both carried on walking in opposite directions. The woods round here are a pretty safe place to work and visit with most animals and critters keeping out of your way.”
“I was over the moon when I set up my own logging company but it didn’t take long for me to realise what a difficult industry it is to succeed in. My Cat skidder cost a fortune in repairs not long after purchasing it –almost every week something would happen and some of the repairs took weeks.”
“I am pretty handy with tools and have been able to carry out most repairs myself so it was just the cost of parts and loss of earnings that I had to bear; luckily, I didn’t have to spend a fortune on mechanics.”
“Although much of my work is buying, logging, and selling the timber, I also have been working with the railways Union Pacific and Canadian Pacific Railway and would like to work with BNSF Railway in the future. The projects that we have been doing are timber maintenance of parcels owned by the railways along waterways. We then go in and selectively cut over matured timber and down timber of these parcels. By doing this it helps prevent fully uprooted trees jamming up bridges when the waters are high. Iowa and Illinois deal with flooding every year. These railways appreciate the maintenance program we have presented to them making use of the natural resources instead of just going to waste.”
Find Us On
Cory works with one other employee called Vixen (Amanda Lynn Reeves), who started out as Cory’s housekeeper. It didn’t take long before she was helping with the marketing side of the business and building a portfolio of job sites before and after they had been thinned. Vixen really enjoyed being out in the forest taking photos and watching how the job was done and decided that it was something she would like to do herself.
She has worked along with Cory in the forest for quite a few months now and, despite the cold winter weather and getting her hands bloody and oily fixing stuff, she hasn’t been deterred in the slightest!
“It’s a great career move and I am so glad I decided to give it a go – I love being out working alongside nature in the fresh air every day.”
You can follow Vixen’s adventures in the forest on her Instagram page @timbervixen
Cory has been training Vixen to operate the Cat skidder and has been impressed with how quickly she has got to grips with it.
“Vixen is doing great and is a natural on the skidder. Without sounding sexist, she is far gentler on my skidder than a lot of the guys I have had. She is getting plenty of wood out as careful operators do not experience anywhere near as many breakdowns. I have been training Vixen to cut timber as well and bought her the smaller and lighter Stihl MS 362 as a starter saw.”
Schlitter Logging is a family business and on weekends and school holidays all the family head out to the forest. It’s not all about work as they have a great time riding their quads while getting covered in mud. When he is out at work Cory’s mother takes care of his children: Sierra, 18, Ronnie, aka Big Ron, 14, and Daniel, six. Big Ron is keen on following his dad – he has been operating the skidder since he was eight and is skidding logs at every opportunity he gets.
Daniel is in his element greasing and maintaining the equipment.I wanted to find out how easy it has been to find employees as this appears to be a global problem at the moment.
“Logging is still behind the times and not many young people are prepared to put in the effort needed to succeed. We are competing with places like burger joints where youngsters make $15.00 an hour flipping burgers in a warm, dry environment.”
Cory likes his Stihl chainsaws. He is particularly pleased with his recent purchase of a 500i and uses other models produced by them, including a MS 362.His local chainsaw shop is run by an ex-logger who had a horrific accident when a tree he was felling “Barber Chaired” on him.
He is now confined to a wheelchair but remains a great source of knowledge, drumming into customers the importance of working safely. This has worked with Cory:
“I never log on my own now, if Vixen or my kids aren’t there I have another guy who is 71 years old and I pay him to be my spotter. He is there just in case something happens and can summon for help immediately.”
It’s always interesting to find out why people decide to work in the forest. For Cory, it is “the satisfaction of being your own boss in charge of your own destiny, working outdoors and being able to see what you have achieved each day coupled with the thrill and adrenaline rush of cutting timber.”
Cory cuts around 50 trees (70 on a good day) each day himself, which equates to a million board feet of lumber on an annual basis. His ambition is to increase this total to over 2 million board feet each year in the future.
So when Cory’s not working, what does he get up to?
“I love spending time with my kids and do this at every opportunity, and I also enjoy photography and working on marketing strategies for Schlitter Logging. Ranching is another passion of mine (when I have the time) and I have a vested interest in the Iowa Bison Company.”
You can follow Cory on Instagram @schlitterlogging
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