Timber Roots – Conifer Logging
By Jason Todhunter
This story starts in the early 1900’s on a Norwegian fjord when the mine shut down and 18-year-old Ole Lucken left for the USA to find some work. He ended up in the Great Falls area working on farms and ranches until he went to work at the smelter in Great Falls. It was a common practice at the time to change your name to fit in better so he changed his last name to Anderson. He met and married Vivian who was an immigrant from the Ukraine and they were married.
George C. Anderson was born in In 1924, he attended elementary school in Great Falls. George was a bit of a wild man and would graduate from high school from Thomson Falls which was a boarding school. He served his country in WWII and when it ended, he came back to Montana. He and his brother bought a ranch in Lewistown and worked that for a bit then sold it. He then went to Missoula and ended up getting involved in the sawmill industry. He met Dorothy and they were married in 1952. George B (Brent) was born and six months later the Andersons moved with their Jackson Harvester portable sawmill to Lincoln, MT. George would saw the lumber and built many barns in Potomac and Bitterroot Valleys.
The Anderson family business soon moved more into logging and farming and less milling and building. Brent grew up milking cows on their small farm and going to the woods. He remembers jumping off the seat of the dozer to pull steering clutches and brake then jumping back on to see where he was going. He also hooked many tongs under the first heel boom yarder in the Lincoln Valley. The first rubber-tired skidder in the valley was at the Anderson place too. Brent attended grade school in Lincoln but had to board out in Augusta for high school as Lincoln didn’t have a high school at the time. Brent graduated high school in 1972 and went to the UM Forestry School. He graduated with a BS in Forestry in 1978.
He had stayed logging to earn his way through school and became a member of the Montana Logging Association in 1980. More important also in 1980, he married the love of his life, Carla. The family business went work for Burlington Northern Timberlands in 1981 just in time for the lumber crash. Brent supplemented his income by building log homes during breakup and the winter. He had learned doing the saddle notch system but later was one of the first to start doing the Swedish Cope method. The log home business helped greatly in the 1980s as there were times when you practically could not give logs away. Brent built houses all over including one that went all the way to Missouri. “I remember doing one big house that I needed 6 loads of premium larch logs to do. I had to buy a timber sale just to get the logs for that one!” he remembers.
Brent had worked logging with his father and brothers until 1983 when he and Carla formed Conifer Logging Inc. Carla immediately became part of the logging business doing the books, running parts and dealing with employee issues with a bit more finesse than Brent! “She could call them “screw-ups” and they still loved her!” Brent chuckles. The business continued to grow and innovate and in 1988 was first to have a Skidgine on forest fires. By the early 1990’s they were fully mechanical and grew to two sides. They worked for Plum Creek, Pyramid Mountain Lumber, and Stimpson Lumber. Brent and Carla were blessed with Tyler and Melody and once the kids were born, they always camped as a family on their summer logging jobs. By the time Tyler and Melody were in high school, they were part of the crew.
Tyler was the computer and electronics guy which was handy for Brent who didn’t really like the idea of having a computer in a piece of logging equipment. “One time after replacing the chain and doing a bunch of maintenance on a slide boom de-limber Tyler and I started to re-calibrate it. I got a phone call and left him for a bit and came back. I asked how’s it going? He said “Done!” I checked it to make sure and it was perfect….better than we ever got it! He was in high school at the time!” He was a good skidder operator as well. Tyler also was instrumental in saving a whole year of books for the business one time when he was a sophomore and the company computer crashed…I forgot to ask if that “computer crash” happened the same time that someone doing volunteer work in Lincoln with a feller-buncher crossed a high voltage and low voltage line with a tree top. The lights got really bright in Lincoln for a few seconds then dark. The “volunteer” ended up buying tvs, toasters, computers and lots of light bulbs for Lincoln. He also ended up winning the coveted “Herbie” award and being publicly humiliated by his peers. I won’t tell you who this culprit was but his name rhymes with Brent Anderson.
By the time Melody was in high school she was an excellent de-limber operator. She and Tyler worked together a lot with him skidding and her de-limbing. She was definitely a respected member of the crew. After college she left the woods and went to work for Blue Cross Health insurance. It took her three years at Blue Cross to make the same money she did logging for Mom and Dad. She and her husband have given Brent and Carla a grandson as well. Melody is now an accountant for National Environmental Trust and works from home and lives in Lincoln. The can-do anything guy Tyler is in Colorado Springs working in the cyber security world where he excels.
All the while running the books and parts for Conifer Logging, Carla had continued getting education, and got a teaching degree, a business degree. She taught at Lincoln schools in many different roles while still keeping stuff going with the logging side. She was also known for the fabulous company Christmas parties she would throw for the logging crew.
“This business would never have been successful without the fabulous crew we had” Brent comments. Like many companies the crew becomes a part of the family. With Tyler and Melody following their dreams and leaving the family business Brent and Carla sold the logging business to Sun Mountain Logging with the guarantee that all employees would keep their jobs. “It just wasn’t as fun without the kids working with us” says Brent. They kept some iron and the shop and continues to do some fire contracting work. Carla went back to school and got some more credentials and became the superintendent of the Lincoln Schools. With some spare time, they built a tree house in a huge pine tree that was on their property. This was a very cool spot but alas a huge snow storm would bring it down luckily while no one was inside.
Brent has always been a leader in the logging industry and was in the first Accredited Logging Professional class at Yellow Bay. He was on the State BMP audit team and was a Chapter Director for the MLA, then served on the MLA executive committee and was the MLA president from 2000-2002. In 1998 Conifer Logging Inc. was honored with the Montana Wood Products Logger of the Year Award.
This family business has survived some tough times and enjoyed some good times. Brent and Carla are mostly retired and enjoying life fishing, hunting and traveling. Since 1983 this family has certainly left their mark in the Lincoln Valley and on the logging industry in our state. It is good to now see them enjoying the fruits of their hard work.