Timber Roots -- Tough Go Logging
By Tim McEntire
Growing up, there was very little in James Stupack’s background that indicated that he would spend most of his life dedicated to the timber industry. Born in 1954 in Plainville, Connecticut James was the middle of three children with his dad being a form tool machinist. As a young man, James worked in restaurants and retail with jobs ranging from dishwashing to being a bus boy. Upon high school graduation in 1972, James had no interest in college and took a job at Bristol Electric Supply. The owner of the company approached James about sending him to school and then moving him into a more crucial role in the company. Being a child of the 60’s, James wanted to take a road trip and live life on the road before making such a big decision.
With $500 dollars in his pocket and a Volkswagen square back for transportation, James and his dog traversed from Connecticut, down through the Southeast and eventually west to Colorado. After hearing that he had to see Glacier Park before returning, James found himself in Kalispell in August. With funds depleted, he found work at a post plant and over the next three weeks fell in love with the Northwest. James returned to Connecticut in the fall and started planning his move to relocate.
In May of 1975, James returned with his sister and her husband to Kalispell. With hair down to his shoulders and a free spirit, James found work with the Flathead National Forest piling logging slash and pulling fire guard detail. Between seeing forest management in practice and the mentoring from his logger neighbor Roy Jones, James began to understand the sustainable, environmental benefits of logging and forestry. Slowly the tree loving hippie was being transformed into the logging hippie.
Times were good and there were lots of jobs available. James honed his skills with a chainsaw and eventually became a sawyer working for several local contractors. He found a home joining Royal Logging in 1976. “Hippie Jim” as he was being known as joined the 280+ men that worked for Royal. In 1985, Royal downsized the company by half. Both Jim and his sawing partner, (Bob Dimler), made the cut but the writing was on the wall.
The end of Royal came in 1986 when they folded up shop at breakup. Royal treated their crew well up to the end and offered employees a much-reduced price on any of the logging equipment. With the purchase of one of Royal’s D6 dozers and the desire to be a gypo logger, James partnered with Bob Dimler and formed Second Chance Logging. Over the next few years, they worked for private land owners and Plum Creek who owned a large swath of most of area between Kalispell and Libby.
The two parted ways in 1989 and James struck out on his own forming Tough Go Logging. James hired two employees and added a cable skidder in 1991. They specialized in SMZ work and salvage logging. There was lots of work and the company was moving along fine until tragedy struck in 1994. James was pioneering a skid trail late in the season when his D6 slid off an embankment, rolling several times eventually landing on his right leg. He spent the next month in the hospital having lost his right leg and broken his left femur.
The crew and his friends kept the company working and his now wife Jennie stayed with him during his time in the hospital and rehabilitation. James and Jennie had only been dating a few months before the accident. James and the Montana State Fund came up with a plan to have round the clock care of his kids allowing him to heal properly and take college classes ranging from business law to accounting. This gave another change in perspective and approach, giving him some tools he could use that would be useful in the near future. While it took months to heal, by summer James was back logging.
Mechanized logging was become more and more prelevant in the Northwest and James soon added a stroke delimber to the mix. Soon followed a grapple skidder and in 1997 a Timbco feller buncher. With lots of work ahead of him and with a contract cutter helping put wood on the ground, James added a second side in 2001. After being exposed to a dangle head processor in 2003, James was impressed with the ability for utilization with the head which made his inner hippie happy and added one to the company. The dangle head proved to be a good move and a second was added to the other side. After getting his eyes on a Denis chipping head at the 2004 Intermountain Logging Conference, James would eventually add two dedicated masticating machines to his operations. This was a perfect fit as the company was starting to specialize in stewardship contracting.
With the downturn of the market in 2008, James decided to diversify his company. What started out as a simple side business soon morphed into Wild Montana Wood. James would educate customers in the world of what he calls “sexy wood”. Material that usually finds it way in the bottom of a brush pile is now being sold to make anything from log arches to hand carved mushrooms. The addition of a skid steer mounted firewood processor turned Wild Montana Wood from a side business that kept James’ crew busy when things were slow into a full-time operation that now keeps 4 employees busy, (3 in the yard and 1 purchasing and selling house logs). Business has grown to the point that two large Bell firewood processors are needed to meet demand. On any cold morning, you can find customers lined up for their chance to bring home some “sexy wood”. Wild Montana Wood now is the primary source for firewood for many families from not only the Flathead Valley but from all over the Northwest.
James’ dedication to timber industry runs deep. Both James and Jennie serve on the board of directors of Log Jam. Log Jam is a non-profit organized to financially and emotionally assist families of Montana loggers, log truck drivers, chip truck drivers and mill workers killed or critically injured in a work-related accident. On several occasions, James and Jennie have traveled across the state to deliver a check to families that have just lost a loved one. James has been a member of the MLA since starting his business and served for many years as a chapter director and on the executive committee. His crew has been tasked with acting duties for several safety videos and as tour guides for young students, which in the end costs the company production but is unmeasurable in the benefit for the industry. James has been a member of Hoo-Hoo Club #187 for nearly 25 years and has been a certified ALP logger since 1998. When three of his sons wanted to participate in the MLA’s emerging leaders’ program, James not only allowed them the time off but encouraged them to be a part of it.
James hard work has not gone unnoticed. His crew has been the subject of several newspaper articles and trade magazines. Many of the crew have been with the company for not only years but decades. James was given the 2020 Montana Governor’s award in excellence in use and promotion of Montana wood. He was recently recognized by Hoo-Hoo club #187 as the Lumberman of the year for 2022.
James family is a constant source of support and participation in his success. Jennie and James celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary this year. Jennie is invested in the company as much as James. They have 5 boys, 1 girl and 11 grandchildren with the 12th soon on the way. Three of the boys are heavily invested in the company with Lucas taking over wood’s operations and Tanner in the wood yard. Lucas has also stepped up and is now the chapter director for the Flathead. Their oldest Dalton, works full-time for Lockheed Martin but manages to be an important part of the company helping with logistics and safety.
A lot has changed since “Hippie Jim” first put a saw in his hands several decades ago. Over the years, no doubt there’s been times it’s been a “Tough Go” for the Stupack family. With the tough times there has been the good also. James and Jennie’s dedication to not only their family but to this profession called logging is paying dividends. With the boys taking on more and more responsibilities and James’ continued dedication the Stupack timber roots will continue to deepen and grow.