Back in the early nineties, my Dad had a timber sale in the Big Hole off of the Thompson River. Because of the two hour drive from home, we spent that summer living out of a camper. I was just sixteen at the time so most of my duties were branding logs and greasing after everyone went home. After dinner one night, Dad took me up to meet a group of loggers staying in camp down the road. Upon pulling into a very large collection of campers, I commented on the size of the operation. Dad quickly replied, “This is a family operation and most of these guys are brothers”. This was my first time meeting the many faces of Roberts Logging.
Ray Roberts was born on June 5th, 1929 in Kalispell. Ray’s roots stayed in the valley and with his wife Doris by his side, he started a long career in the woods. After a few years of sawing and working for other people, Ray wanted more out of his logging career and started his business in 1955 with a brand-new Auto Car log truck and a couple dozers for skidding. The truck proved itself to be a long-lasting member of the Roberts Logging fleet as it is still in possession of the company to this day. Ray was sub-contracting for the Anaconda Company in the Thompson River area. He built a little cabin and the family moved in so that they could be closer to work. When the Anaconda Company went on strike, Ray did some salvage logging and eventually sold the dozers. He was hauling logs full time now. Ray hauled logs steady for Royal Logging, E.J. Hursoge and Orvale Parker.
In 1964, there was a need for someone to salvage blow down and Ray saw an opportunity to expand his business. Ray needed $6000 to purchase a D6 dozer. Adjusted for inflation that would be almost $50,000 today. Ray approached D.C. Dunham about the situation. D.C. Dunham was the founder and at the time President of Plum Creek Timber Company. After listening to Ray’s proposal, D.C. took a chance on Ray. Roberts Logging took off with Ray and his boys joining the company as soon as they could, starting from the oldest to the youngest.
As the years went by, the company slowly grew. A couple crawlers were added and a P & H Heel Boom. One of the very first Cat 518’s in the Flathead Valley found it’s home with the Roberts. Its serial number was 177. In 1971, Ray took his first step into line logging. At that time, there wasn’t a lot of competition in the line logging world. Royal Logging was putting together a couple of sides, but there was a void to fill for steep slope logging. The Roberts put together a machine and by 1973 they were full fledge line loggers. They worked for several different companies during the seventies and in 1987 were working for Plum Creek Timber full time. The company now consisted of three yarders and 25 men.
Ray was not alone achieving this growth in the company. Ray and Doris had 7 children. Danny was born first, followed by Ron. DeeDee, the only girl, was up next, then David followed by the twins, Gary and Larry. Last but not least is Kevin. All of the boys followed their Dad to the woods and soon were working side by side with him. Ray was not afraid to start his boys young and they all learned the value of a hard day’s work.
On March 13th, 1995 tragedy struck Roberts Logging. Ray was on his favorite dozer, a Caterpillar D7, when it slipped off the road and he lost control down the steep hillside. Sadly, the crash was bad and Ray lost his life. Needless to say, this was a huge blow to the family. When most families would have thrown in the towel, Doris and the boys in true fashion of the grit and determination it takes to make it in this industry, incorporated the business as soon as the dust settled and went back to work.
The dynamics of the business has shifted some, but at the end of the day logs are making it to the mill. To some, the thoughts of working with their siblings seems like a daunting task, but the Roberts are different. In tough times the lean on each other and get through it. It’s been 25 years since Ray’s passing and the brothers are still working together. Danny has now retired but is always ready to strap on the boots and head to woods to give his brothers a hand when needed. Kevin runs one side and also handles the processing. Both Ron and Gary handle the loading and hauling. David and Larry have gone out on their own, but the family still relies on each other. David hauls logs for his brothers when they need help and Larry often sub-contracts to the business. The timber industry is now onto its third generation for the Roberts. David son Tim is working with St. Onge Logging based out of Kalispell and has many years of experience under his belt for his young age. Every morning David heads to the woods with his log truck to have Tim put a load on him, carrying on the tradition of working with your son.
The Roberts commitment to doing the right thing on the ground has always been a part of the business. Planning for the next generation is very important part of the industry and the Roberts are doing their part. Several of the brothers have attended the Forest Stewardship Workshop and participate in the Accredited Logging Professionals program. A testament to how they treat their people, several members of their crew have been with them for many years.
I met up with the Roberts at the original homestead where Kevin now lives with his family. We sat outside the company’s shop that Ray built in 1962. On one side of the shop now sits Ray’s first truck with a log loader that Ron and Ray built sitting on it. I sat back laughing with the family as the brothers recounted many stories of the past. One of the more entertaining stories was of how and who’s fault it was that a 518 skidder was parked wrong and ended up over the bank. Nobody wanted to take full credit for the mistake. One thing was very clear, they all loved working with Ray and each other. Through the good times and the bad times, to be able to sit with your brothers and share the memories of decades of working together is a very special thing. Ray and Doris have both passed now but through six brothers that have found a way to work successfully together, Roberts Logging timber roots continue to grow.