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Timber Roots.. Scott Kuehn

by Jason Todhunter

This Timber Roots article starts in La Grange Illinois when Scott Kuehn, a second grader got lost coming home from school. Scott’s mother walked with him the first day showing him how to get to school…alas the lad didn’t pay attention and got lost on the return trip after following other kids home. This lesson stuck and as soon as he was old enough, he joined the Cub Scouts and later the Boy Scouts working his way up to a troop leader. “I learned a lot in the Scouts that I still carry with me today; Be prepared, trustworthy, loyal. “(and how to read a compass!)

Scott and his brother were very close to his Grandpa Duncan, where he first heard of mountaineering from a friend of his Grandpa Duncan named Paul Hartsuch. Paul was a mountaineer who had traveled around the world climbing many peaks including Matterhorn. His stories around Grandpa’s table lit a fire in young Scott and he began reading and studying everything he could find about mountaineering. Scott’s infatuation with the mountains continued and in 1973 when he was 15, he saved his money for a whole year and flew to Missoula, MT to a mountaineering school and spent a month climbing in Glacier Park and the Bob Marshall. It was then that “I fell in love with the mountain, rivers, Missoula and Montana. He also had his eye on a girl named Joan Hora. She was dating another guy at the time and when they broke up, Scott made his move. The gift was a belt he made for her in Crafts class and he won her attention and they started dating.

Scott applied to the University of Montana (UM) in the summer of 75. Driving a VW hatchback 17yr old Scott would put Illinois in the rearview mirror and headed for his dreams in Montana. He took some Geology and forestry classes and earned good enough grades to be accepted in the fall quarter. His brother Mark, his girlfriend Beth (now wife), Scott and Joan (who finished high school in three years) headed back to Missoula for the fall quarter.

Scott got involved immediately with the Forester’s Ball, Forestry Club, and UM Woodman team. In 1976, Scott attended Spring Camp at Lubrecht. “I stayed in one of the old huts and began to develop a love for the forest. After dinner, professors Papa Lange, Nelly Stark and Bob Steele would take us on “Walk-abouts” in the woods around camp. They would ask, “Why do you think that tree is bent like that, why is there a hole there, why is there a clump of trees there, but not there?” Those walks made me look at more to why things were like they were and question why. I used to just walk through the woods, these treks helped me walk through the woods and ask why is it this way? That summer, 1976, I worked at Lubrecht with Hank Goetz and Bud Clinch. They both took me under their wing and taught me a lot. One of the projects I worked on was with professor Fred Gerlach, the Air Photo and Advanced Surveying Professor putting out aerial targets on section corners for upcoming air photo flights. Fred took me under his wing and taught me even more.”

Scott and Joan continued dating and were married while they were still in college in June, 1978. Scott had just gotten a seasonal forester job with Champion Timberlands and had to call Chuck Seeley and ask to start a week later so they could go on a honeymoon. “We went to Canada and froze as we just tent camped not affording much else. On the way home, we stayed at the Blue and White Motel in Kalispell as there was a logging show there that weekend. Many of the other UM College Woodsman team competitors came up for the show and piled into the motel (On our Honeymoon) I did ok at the show”. One thing that he and Craig Thomas saw at the Kalispell show was a motor cycle engine turned into a chainsaw…it didn’t win but both saw huge potential. This also was the year with Scott’s help that the UM Woodman Team was finally recognized by the University.

Another fire was lit in Scott and he got more into the logging sports competition and started buying more some equipment. Craig Thomas who was a Champion Forester had taken Scott under his wing. “That winter, Craig Thomas and I started thinking about motorcycle Hot Saws. I found a Yamaha YZ 400 engine and started converting it into a Hot Saw. We both enrolled in night classes at the local Vo-Tech machine shop class where we could use all of their machines. I calculated that I would need a 12 tooth 1/2” sprocket for my engine. I set up an indexing head on a mill and made my own sprocket. (6” in diameter) I didn’t know how to weld Aluminum (Heliarc) so I took some classes and was able to weld up my own Aluminum frame.”

“I rebuilt a Tillitson HD carburetor to use Alcohol and Nitro. The first time I ran it I was pretty scared. It weighed 60 pounds and a 100-mph chain going around. My first show was a little show in Superior Montana. I made the cut, but the chain popped off and pulled my chapes around my leg and a corner of a tooth got my thigh. It went straight in. Everyone was freaking out, I just wanted to put the saw and equipment away first. A dozen or so stiches, and we were back.”

Scott stayed working with Champion and would work through the fall quarter running section lines, marking roads, and laying out timber sales. He also worked at the Champion nursery in Bonner extracting seeds from cones. Champion would pay by the bushel for cones. Scott’s red-neck ingenuity with a plywood 30-bushel bucket for the forklift increased production by 4x. “figure out the problem, come up with a solution and implement the solution”. The empty cones had use too…when the UM Journalism students stole Bertha the Forestry School mascot with the help of guys like Jeff Sholty a dump truck load of these empty cones were delivered to the door of the Journalism building. Good thing the statute of limitations is finally up on that one!

Albany Oregon was the big logger sports show of the west coast…the biggest show west of the Mississippi. In 1980 the bugs were worked out and at Albany’s World Championship Scott and his Yamaha shattered the existing world record by 8 seconds. Scott cut a 30” Douglas Fir hot start (with the saw running time starts when the chain hits the log and time ends when the cookie hits the ground) in 5.71 seconds. This record held until the Albany show changed the event 15 years later. He repeated a second world championship win in 1981…several years later the original Yamaha blew up right before finishing the cut at Albany. He went on to build another 400 that was even faster and competed for many years in the logger sports circuit.

Scott stayed on with Champion after graduating college and worked as a forester and manager for one of the company logging crews with six dozers and fallers. The line machines at the time were running Christy Carriages which work great however young Scott saw the need for improvement and designed a hydraulic operated slack pulling carriage which was jointly patented by Scott and Champion. He and Joan had also built a house on Old Marshall grade in this time frame and were just finishing when it was gutted by fire. They would rebuild and live there with their three kids, Tyner, Dax and Rye until they went “yuppie” and moved to town a few yrs. ago.

A down turn in the mid 80’s had resulted in Scott being laid off and after several odd jobs he started working for Plum Creek. He soon was a senior forester and was managing 30,000 acres in the Lochsa and Petty Cr. Burning brush piles on the line ground would lead to another patent for Scott and Plum Creek; “Mr. Zippo” which was a flame thrower he designed for lighting brush piles off the back of a pickup, plus a backpack version as well. Scott stayed on with Plum Creek until 2004 when they started selling land and made the move to Stimpson Lumber Company as a procurement forester. When Stimpson closed down their mill in Bonner, he went to work for Tricon Timber in St Regis, then on to Salmon River Wood as a forester/logging superintendent. When the owners of Salmon River Wood retired, Scott went to work for Pyramid where he is still a forester today.

This lad from Illinois jumped into forestry/logging head first once he got here. Scott has been an Accredited Logging Professional since 2007. He is involved in the Montana Logging Association, Montana Wood Products and Society of American Foresters. He has been awarded countless awards from associations and companies over the yrs. that will take up too much space to put in this article.

He has also stayed involved with the logger sports, helping coach the UM team for many years and helped build two logging sports arenas for them. Scott has also helped the MLA with many ALP classes over the years, and is heavily involved with the Forestry Interpretive Area at Fort Missoula. At “The Fort” he and has helped rebuild into operating condition a bunch of antique logging/construction equipment.

Scott is currently working on a 1918 Holt that is close to being in factory new condition. If you haven’t been there, you really need to go see the steam powered sawmill and restored logging equipment at Fort Missoula. None of Scott and Joan’s children are involved with forestry (Tyner is a doctor, Dax is a photographer, Rye is a nurse) however all the young folks in the forestry school, logging sports and folks he has worked with and mentored over the years in this profession we call logging…. this guy has some put some deep timber roots in Montana. Although there are rumors of retirement floating around, my guess is this guy isn’t going anywhere! See ya at the Fort Scott!

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