by Tim McEntire
The timber industry has always had a strong presence in the Flathead Valley. As the railroad came through the valley, the need for ties and lumber for new construction fueled the industry that is still providing good jobs to this day. At one time, 150-man logging operations were a common sight. As the industry has changed, smaller contractors operating millions of dollars of equipment is now dominating the landscape. An ability to adapt and change are the hallmarks of a successful business. St. Onge Logging navigated the ups and downs of this profession we call logging for over fifty years and are still getting logs to the mill.
Ron St. Onge was born in Michigan to Roy and Gertrude. Ron spent his first five years in Michigan and then made the move to Montana. The St. Onge’s had family living in the Trego area and Ron’s father soon purchased a ranch near them just west of Edna Creek. Ron spent his childhood in the area and went to high school in Eureka. He met his soon to be wife Caroline at school and shortly after graduation in 1959, they were married. The young couple soon grew their family with children DeAnna, Bob, Brian and Kevin.
After graduation, Ron found himself working on Forest Service hand crews. This lasted only a short time before Ron started sawing for local logging contractors including Royal and Canyon. After a few years went by sawing, Ron struck out on his own in 1971 and formed St. Onge Logging.
Ron’s first purchase was a used Allis Chambers dozer that needed rebuilding. Ron started working for C & C Plywood as a one man show. Ron did it all, from felling, skidding and bucking. This lasted for a couple years until he purchased a John Deere 440 skidder and started hiring employees. A big boost to the company happened in 1972 with the purchase of a 518 skidder and D6C dozer from Charlie Keller. As the years clicked by, more equipment and employees were added.
Plum Creek who had absorbed C & C Plywood had lots of work for Ron. In 1987, Royal Logging shut its doors and the gypo loggers working for Plum Creek were expected to fill that void. Getting mechanized was one way to up production and St. Onge Logging was not afraid to embrace this new way of logging. St. Onge Logging was not afraid to embrace this new way of logging. Mechanization came early to St. Onge Logging with a Drott 40 clipper showing up in the mid 70’s to tackle a patch of lodgepole. A delimber and Timber Jack grapple skidder was added to the mix by 1988. The slide boom delimbers eventually were replaced with dangle head processor. To this day, the company is still evolving with the recent purchase of a state-of-the-art TigerCat buncher. With all this equipment a new shop was built south of Kalispell in 1989 that the company still calls home base to this day.
As with most logging companies, St. Onge Logging was a family affair.
Bob and Kevin started earning their keep at a young age. DeAnna would eventually become a critical part of the company doing the books for over 10 years. After high school graduation in 1980, Bob enlisted in the Air Force. He spent two years in Nebraska and two years in Germany. He came home on May 10th, 1984 and on May 11th, still in his fatigues, was bumping knots for the family business. Kevin went onto University of Montana and graduated in 1987 with a business degree.
After many years of working together, Ron decided it was time to retire. On January 1st, 1995 St. Onge Logging now belonged to Bob and Kevin. At the time, the company consisted of a road building, conventional and 2 mechanized sides with over 25 employees. Bob and Kevin would hit the ground running as much of their iron was tired and was in need of replacing. Eventually the company was able to replace equipment on a fairly regular basis. St. Onge Logging worked mainly for Plum Creek at the time. There were a lot of moving parts to the company and it took both brothers to keep things going in the woods and DeAnna taking care of the paperwork. As employees became harder and harder to find, the company would eventually downsize to two mechanized sides with each brother running a side. If you visit either side today you find the St. Onge brothers processing logs.
The big land holdings of Plum Creek would be sold off to Weyerhaeuser, then to Southern Pine Plantations. SPP would chunk up the ground into smaller pieces with the largest piece being sold to Green Diamond. St. Onge Logging continued to log for all these different entities during this transition period. Today Bob’s side mainly works for American Forest Management who continues to manage a large portion of the old Plum Creek Ground. Kevin’s side works on private, Green Diamond, Stoltze and agency sales that the company purchases. St. Onge Logging was one of the first companies to complete a Good Neighbor Authority sale near Hungry Horse Reservoir.
The St. Onge’s dedication to the logging industry started from the beginning. Ron was an MLA chapter director from 1994 to 1996. Kevin spent his time on MLA’s executive board and eventually was president in 2013. Kevin also served on the Intermountain Logging Conference board for several years and was president in 2007. Bob was also a MLA chapter director from 2005-2007 and is currently serving his second term on the Associated Loggers Exchange board which has been over a 10-year commitment. All three became Accredited Logging Professionals almost from the inception of the ALP program. Both Bob and Kevin are long time members of Northwest Montana Hoo-Hoo #187.
It takes a team to be successful in the mechanized logging world and this is such the case for St. Onge Logging. Both Bob and Kevin credited their success to their crew and sub-contractors. Many of their current employees have been with them for several seasons. To be a logger you need to be a jack of all trades and Kevin and Bob are lucky enough to have a crew of talented men.
After five decades, there is little doubt that St. Onge Logging has shown that it can weather the good and the bad that this industry can throw at a person. With Ron building the foundation, Bob and Kevin continue to be an important piece of the timber industry. With their dedication to their crew and to spending valuable time volunteering with the MLA and the ALE, there is little doubt that St. Onge Logging’s timber roots will continue to grow.