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James A. Slack, Inc. Timber Roots

By Tim McEntire

The Slack family has a long, deep history in the timber industry and the Flathead Valley that starts over 125 years ago.  Ezra Slack was born in 1850 and grew up on the family farm and worked in the mercantile business in Ubly, Michigan.  At the age of 48, he moved along with his wife Catherine and their three sons and five daughters to Kalispell.  Ezra was the founder of Slack, Miller & Robinson real estate firm where he specialized in timber and farm lands.  Ezra would spend the rest of his life in Kalispell and passed in 1918.

Catherine and Ezra’s son George would become one of the most prominent lumbermen in the Flathead Valley.  George would spend his early years working for Somers Lumber Company as timber cruiser and woods superintendent.  In 1913, he accepted a position of railroad contractor for the Great Northern Railway.  He held the contract for two years to supply the railroad with 300,000 ties annually.  For several years he was in the pole and cedar post business and logged many acres in the Coram and Nyack areas. 

Shortly after the United States entered into WWI, George enlisted in the U.S. Army as a captain in the Corps of Army Engineers.  He was sent to France where he was in charge of logging, saw-milling and in the construction of warehouse buildings and bridges.  He served in this capacity until he was honorably discharged at the end of the war in 1919.  George would return from the war to a building boom and would see a great demand for wood lath which was used for plaster and lath walls and snow fences.  Up to this point, lath was traditionally been cut from slabs and waste materials from large mills.  George set up two dedicated lath mills, one at Coram and one where Martin City is now.  George also purchased property at Belton which he later developed into the Belton Mercantile Company, Belton Cottage Resort and a gas station that would sit next to the newly aligned highway and railroad overpass at the entrance of Glacier Park.  Belton would eventually be renamed West Glacier and George’s business dealings would shape how the entrance to Glacier Park still looks today. George eventually retired to Polson and passed in 1967.

George’s brother Alvin was also active in the industry spending several years as a mill setter and sawyer at State Mill at Half Moon near Columbia Falls.  Alvin’s son John would follow the family into the timber industry.  His story includes running steam shovel to help establish Glacier Park, Kerr Dam and Fort Peck.  John purchased and logged USFS timber in his later years, contracted for different mills in the valley.  He owned and operated a fleet of logging trucks and a lumber mill.  John and his wife Phloris would give birth to three boys, twins James (Jim) and John, and Jerry.

Jim’s first job in the woods began in 1952 where he pulled slabs in the Wollen and Drollinger Mill which his father previously owned.  The following year he started working for Orville Parker in a mill pulling on the green chain.  By the summer of 1954, Jim started loading logs for his dad and Mel Olsen running a A-frame jammer.  In 1955, he got his first opportunity to drive log trucks as his dad put him in a 1952 Chevy with a 270 gas engine with vacuum brakes. 

Following high school graduation, Jim returned to the woods to drive full time but his summer was cut short when a log caught him, breaking his leg in three places.  He was laid up until December when he was finally able to jump back into a truck.  This was short lived as he would rebreak it soon after his return.  This time he was laid up until June of 1957. 

On April 12th, 1958 Jim married his high school sweetheart Patti.  Together they found a friendship, raised a family and built a beautiful marriage.  They had two sons, (Jamie and Dave) and two daughters, (Laura and Debbie).

Shortly after getting married, Jim took the big step and bought a 1955 Mack with a 200hp Cummins for $15,000 and was in business for his own.  He would haul for his dad and other logging companies and would update in 1963 with the purchase of a Peterbilt.  Over the intervening years, his fleet would grow to twelve trucks including two lowboys.  Jim purchased a couple log loaders to help compliment his trucking business and in 1980 would update to a 225 Caterpillar.  Jim also purchased a crawler and a skidder that would be leased to other loggers.  Jim kept the logs rolling and Patti made sure the books were in order.

Jim’s oldest son, Jamie started working in the company in 1976.  Coming straight out of high school, Jamie’s duties included piling brush and running the company’s loader loading logs for Royal Logging.  Jim noted that the years of sub-contracting loading that Jaime did for Royal would pay for the new machine.

By 1987 it was getting a little slow for some of the logging contractors so Jim started his logging side of the business.  Jim’s first job as a logging contractor would be for Plum Creek on a sale called “Brown Bottle”.  The company would consist of crawler, skidder, loader and seven sawyers.  Jim also hired two gypo skidders.  Jim’s second son, Dave joined the crew bumping knots on the landing.  They ran like this for a year until they bought their first slide boom delimber.  Jamie moved into the delimber and Dave to the loader.  Jim purchased a couple grapple skidders and hired a feller buncher to contract cut.  In 1990, Jim purchased his own feller buncher, a Caterpillar 227 with a rotosaw.

Over the years, Jim updated his equipment adding a newer buncher and slide boom delimber.  In 1997, Jim decided that having a fleet of trucks and a fully mechanized logging operation was a little much and liquidated the trucking fleet.  In 2000, the time to retire had come and Jim sold operations to Jamie, Dave and Rob Miller.  After retiring in 2000, Jim and Patti would travel and enjoy being grandparents.  Jim would be occasionally be called back to the woods to snowplow or fill in when needed.  The two enjoyed 61 years of marriage until Patti’s passing in 2019.

 In 2005, Dave left to start a new career with Modern Machinery.  The company continued working for Plum Creek until 2012.  The logging company would pick up and move out of the valley for a few seasons working for Tri-Con and R-Y Lumber, eventually coming back to the flathead focusing on private ground.  In 2018, Rob Miller would exit the company leaving Jamie as sole owner.  The company now does private jobs, wildland fire fighting and is still working on the old Plum Creek holdings now under different ownership.

The Slack family has been very engaged in the direction of the logging industry.  Jim helped start the Timber Haulers Association of Montana in the 60’s, later the Log Truckers Association and then the Montana Log Truckers Association.  He was the President of all these Organizations and also on their respective boards.  James A. Slack Logging has been a long-time member of the Montana Logging Association and Jim served a season as a chapter director.  Jim, Jamie and Dave are all Past Presidents of Northwest MT Hoo-Hoo and Jim was the Lumberman of the year in 2009.  Both Jamie and Dave were early attendees to the Forest Stewardship Workshop with Jamie attending the very first one.

Since the Slack family first stepped foot in the Flathead Valley over a century ago, their timber roots have grown and are firmly planted in this profession we call logging.

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