By Justin Doble
The Doble family began its Timber Roots working the logging camps of Maine in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, where John (Jack) Doble was working before hopping a train with his wife Emma and heading west. Jack and Emma jumped off at the little town of Harlem, Montana. A little less timber in this country than they were used to. Here they would stay for a few years, working horses before heading further west. They finally decided to settle in the Tobacco Valley, where Jack would spend the next several years working in the sawmills and cutting ties for the growing railroad.
In the late 1930’s, Jack purchased a ranch west of the Kootenai River with plans of raising cattle and growing Christmas trees. Christmas trees have always played a large role in the Doble family heritage and the history of the Eureka area. Aggressive timber harvesting practices to produce ties for the growing railroad left the Tobacco and Flathead valleys in a sea of second-generation Douglas fir. A shortage of Christmas trees in the midwestern states drove the tree market out west. They needed trees, and Northwest Montana had them. By the late 1940’s Eureka had shipped 300 rail cars totaling 1.8 million Christmas trees east. This gave Eureka the nickname, “Christmas Tree Capital of the World”.
Jack died not long after buying the ranch on the West Kootenai and his three sons Sam, Johnnie, and Harry picked up where he left off. Sam W. and Johnnie worked cutting ties, hauling slabs, cutting Christmas trees, and working cows, continuing the work their father had started. This continued into the 1960’s when John bought a Chevrolet Logging truck from Gibbons Garage to add to his growing logging operation. This same truck ended up making it into a General Motors ad with a picture of John pulling logs up Douglas Hill, west of Eureka. During this time John bought his first skidder, a John Deere 440. By this time John was already buying good sized sales and with the addition of the new skidder, things really started to pick up. Keeping on with the family business, John’s 5 kids started helping with the dragging and stacking of Christmas trees.
As the boys grew older, they started to help John more in the woods. Both Jay & Mark would regularly buck logs and run a pair of John Deere skidders. In the late 1970’s John bought his first John Deere 850 Dozer. The father & sons’ team would work the next couple of years logging salvage sales, clearing private land, and road building. Tough times would lie ahead for John, and he would later park his dozer for a time. In 1982 John started working for Gwynn Lumber Co out of Eureka. Here John hauled lumber out of Canada down to Eureka to be loaded on rail cars at the reload yard. During this time, Mark took a Job for Truman Logging, running their skidder, and eventually working his way into the seat of a clipper.
By 1988, John was tired of the trucking life and decided to get back in the woods, where his passion had always been. He sold his JD 850 dozer and got a new JD 850B dozer, guarding it up and heading for the woods. John was piling brush, clearing homesites and driveways, even fighting fire. Doing whatever it took to keep himself and his dozer working.
When the summer of 1989 rolled around, John's youngest son Kirk, was graduating high school. Watching his dad growing up, all Kirk had ever wanted was to be a logger. As a kid he would cut small saplings with a pair of garden shears, skidding them with his toy John Deere skidder. After he got a couple of drags decked up, he would prune off all the limbs and cut the small trees into log lengths. And by log lengths, I mean small enough to fit on his toy international flatbed farm truck. Or now it would be considered a log truck. Just like today, a good log truck is hard to find. Kirk was always careful about planning out all his sites. Even as a young logger, Kirk was using these skills from his childhood to follow SMZ guidelines. He would regularly take John’s empty V8 cans and install them as culverts crossing them with his fresh built logging road. Like his dad and granddad before him, the woods are where Kirk wanted to be. So, the Monday after graduation, Kirk laced up his work boots and hit the woods.
That summer Kirk got a shot at working in the woods full time for Truman, with a little help from brother Mark. Kirk started working with a 518 CAT skidder and bucker, pulling tops out of brush piles and working them up to haul for pulp. After some time, he would get an opportunity to run Truman’s delimber, an old Drott telescoper. Kirk jumped at the chance. By this time the skidders were really piling up the wood, and Kirk n’ crew were hustling to stay ahead. At one point the crew was working multiple shifts, putting out 20 loads per day.
After a couple of years with Truman Logging, Kirk was ready for a change of scenery. After contemplating different options, his dad, John approached him with a proposition to join the family business. In the spring of 1992, Kirk and John joined forces to carry on the family legacy and continue Doble Enterprises “together”. They were busier than ever whipping through salvage sales left and right. By that fall, Kirk approached his brothers Jay and Mark about coming aboard. Both Jay and Mark liked the idea of working for the family business. Doble Enterprises was now stronger than ever. Mark would later buy his own log truck to haul for the company, and Jay would move up from running a 518 choker skidder to a new 518 swing grapple.
In the summer of 1994, Kirk would marry Trudy Burgess. With Trudy came 2 children and a heard of horses. The couple would later add two more sons, Brenden and Brad to the ever-growing family tree. Trudy had also grown up in a logging family based out of the Flathead, giving the family’s Timber Roots even more depth.
When 1997 came along, Border Lumber, who the Dobles were logging for, closed its doors and work began to slow. Jay went back to work for another logger and the Dobles had to get back to what got them this far, salvage sales and private ground. That next year they bought an excavator to help with road building and brush piling, but with the lack of small sales and high stumpage prices, they were looking for other work. In 2001 they started working for Owens & Hurst and would continue to supply them with timber until the mill closed in 2004. During all this they continued to keep themselves busy piling brush and building some road and homesites for private landowners in their spare time.
The family would then go to work for Plum Creek, traversing the country from the Flathead to Lolo. By the spring of 2013, John was in his 70’s, working 14-hour days and still loading trucks. Kirk felt John might need to slow down, but John would always reply “It would take 2 guys to replace me.” Kirk knew that was true. Finding a guy with that old school work ethic was becoming more and more difficult. In 2015, the decision was made to sell some equipment and Kirk would head north to Alaska, working in a silver mine out of Juneau. There, Kirks’ many years working in the woods would come in handy, running dozer, excavator, and driving truck. But nothing would match the excitement of working in the woods. Sadly, a year later, older brother Jay would tragically pass away from cancer in the winter of 2016.
In the summer of 2017, the Caribou Fire would rage through the West Kootenai, scorching nearly 25,000 acres. Many homes were lost and lives turned upside down, including the Dobles ranch. The years of selective thinning helped lessen the damage, saving 60 acres of timber, which was the last to be thinned a couple of years prior. John, Kirk, & Brad (Kirks son) would log the ranch together, 3 generations of the Doble family working the same ground where it all started nearly 80 years ago.
Kirk came home in 2020 amidst the Covid era, tired of working away from family and traveling with all the new restrictions. Kirk still had a few pieces of equipment and put them back to work, piling brush and doing some small jobs. He purchased a salvage sale, and soon after would add a skidder and loader. Kirk and Brad would log the sale, with John coming up to scratch in a stretch of road. This would be the last time the 3 would work together before John’s passing in the fall of 2021.
Today you can still find Kirk working in the woods of the Tobacco valley, carrying on over a hundred years of family tradition. Logging private ground, digging utilities, building homesites and even a little roadwork. A family whos’ heritage started with Christmas trees and logging seemingly a century ago, still finds itself working some of the same ground generations later.
As you can tell this story hits close to home, as these are the stories that tell my family’s history. Kirk’s great-grandfather, Jack, was also my great-grandfather. Kirk’s grandfather Johnnie and my grandfather Sam were brothers, growing up in the tobacco valley together as brothers and best friends. Kirk’s dad, John, was my father Sam D.’s cousin. My family still has ties in the logging community, as my father Sam D. hauls logs for Dupuis Logging and I’ve worked in the timber industry in western Montana for over 12 years. Kirk and I pass down a century of timber roots to our families. Me to my boys and Kirk to his sons and grandsons, Arturo and Forrest. They now play with their skidders, just as Kirk and I did, and just like the generations of Dobles before us.