Bull Creek Forestry - Timber Roots
By Bryan Lorengo Leelyn Cahoon, as with a lot of loggers, got his start at an early age working with a family member. His first opportunity started in 1987, while he was still in high school, working for his Uncle John Cahoon. After school he couldn’t get out of the parking lot fast enough to go run skidder for his uncle John Cahoon (Cahoon Ranch & Logging). This job was on the family ranch and at the time earning around $100 a day for an after-school job was a dream come true. This logging job also paid him by the piece and the start of true independent GYPO logger was formed.
Leelyn continued working for his uncle after high school and in 1989 he became a fulltime logger until 1992 when John moved to South Dakota. Leelyn went to work for Neil Meyer logging for a few years and in 1994 he decided it was time to find a job with benefits as he and Teresa were starting a family and he went to work for Pyramid Mountain Lumber primarily running Letourneau in the log yard.
But after a couple of years the thought of being an independent log hauler presented itself to Leelyn. So, he bought a Kenworth log truck and a brand-new self-loader from Bill Jones. Leelyn chuckled telling me the story. “I just spent $80k on the truck and loader and I could barely afford the $100 of fuel to get it to Seeley Lake and in the back of his mind he thought how in the hell am I going to pay for this?” Not to mention he didn’t even have a CDL, thankfully all the logs he hauled were off the family ranch and the back roads to Pyramid Mountain Lumber were utilized.
Leelyn is very grateful to Bill Barlett of Seeley Lake Trucking for mentoring him by helping him getting a CDL and showing him the ropes of truck maintenance. Bill even went with Leelyn to get his CDL in Kalispell. For roughly 10 years Leelyn continued loading and hauling logs in and around Seeley Lake and the Swan Valley. At one point he had three log trucks and a Daewoo track mount log loader and the two employees at the time were brothers Curtis and Warren Gehrke. Leelyn hauled for about 5-7 small local loggers at the time and logs were sent to Plum Creek, Pyramid Mountain Lumber and pulp to Smurfit Stone in Frenchtown.
In 2005 Leelyn and Teresa decided to sell off the log hauling assets and purchased the original Seeley Lake Rovero’s from his dad. At the time Cahoon’s focus was on seasonal rentals including boats, canoes and wave runners. Business was going fairly well for the first couple of years but the challenges of dealing with the public and the demands of working every day and not being able to enjoy a summer day with the family was getting old. Then the fire season of 2007 hit Seeley Lake hard and it virtually shut down all tourism businesses and the rental business was no exception. So, in the fall of 2007 Leelyn and his dad, Martin, bought a Cat processor and a Timbco 425 forwarder.
The first job was a nice patch of lodgepole in Condon. In the spring of 2008 Leelyn bought out his dad and he and a business partner Doyle Vonheader from Dixon entered into business together and Bull Creek Forestry was formed. The business partnership lasted less than a year as Doyle wanted out of the logging business. In 2009 Leelyn traded Rovero’s back to his dad in exchange for the processor and forwarder. At this time Jim Skelton and Seeley Lake Trucking were subcontracting hauling logs for Bull Creek Forestry and most of the jobs at this time were private landowners. Leelyn’s brother, Martin Jr., worked for a brief time with his brother before Leelyn’s boys entered the logging business.
The first of the boys, Joel, joined Leelyn and Bull Creek Forestry in June of 2009 right after high school graduation. Joel primarily runs the Tigercat forwarder but also runs processor to keep enough wood in front of the forwarder. Levi joined Leelyn in 2010 and Joel and continues to operate Tigercat 822 processor. Tyler joined the business in 2013 after he finished linemen school in Butte. At the time Tyler needed to be 21 to be employed as a lineman and he was only 19, so he went to work for the family business and hasn’t looked back since. A few things have changed in recent years as both Levi and Tyler have bought skidgines and lowboys for fire along with Tyler becoming a realtor.
Bull Creek continued solely as a cut to length logging contractor until about 2018. At this time, they added a whole tree logging side. The reason for this addition is to give flexibility to bid on sales that have whole tree skidding and piling requirements. This same year came another opportunity for Bull Creek Forestry as they entered into an agreement to be the sole contractor responsible for road maintenance including snow plowing for Double Arrow Ranch Home Owner’s Association which has 32 miles of roads and over 400 homes.
In 2017 Bull Creek Forestry was honored as Logger of the Year not only by Montana Wood Products Association but also Western Region Outstanding Logger of the Year. While Leelyn was honored to receive the recognition, he will tell anyone that the recognition belongs to his wife, his three sons and his employees and subcontractors.
Visiting with Leelyn and his wife Teresa it seems like yesterday when their
logging careers started. With a smile Leelyn admits he realizes that he is
very fortunate to continue working alongside his wife and boys in this noble
profession and admits 35 years working in the woods is something he has