Tar Heel State of Mind
North Carolina logger Wayne Sugg reflects on growing up in a small town, loblolly pine, and Deere’s latest L-Series II machines.
North Carolina is known as the “Tar Heel State” after the substance created out of the sticky sap from the state’s vast pine forests. In colonial days, the tar was an important export used to cover the bottoms of British naval ships. After the Civil War, “Tar Heel” became a disparaging term referring to barefoot workers who produced the tar in the hot summer sun — and no doubt got some on their feet. But the state’s residents soon embraced Tar Heel as a badge of pride, and today it is the nickname for the University of North Carolina’s athletic teams. Wayne Sugg, owner of Sugg Logging, Ellerbe, North Carolina, certainly would be proud to be called a Tar Heel, as harvesting pine is his business.
RIDING THE PINE
Ellerbe is located about a half-hour drive from the historic golf resort of Pinehurst in the central Piedmont region of North Carolina. Pinehurst is aptly named. Loblolly pine covers 80 percent of the softwood plantations found in Piedmont as well as the coastal area of the state. Over 2.5 million acres, or 14 percent, of North Carolina’s timberland are loblolly pine plantations. That accounts for around 4.3 billion cubic feet of the softwood inventory in the U.S.
“There’s a lot of loblolly pine around here,” says Sugg. “That’s what I really like to cut. We stay fairly busy cutting loblolly pine.” Ellerbe has a population of just over 1,000. “It was a nice place to grow up,” recalls Sugg. “It’s a quiet, small town with a lot of logging and farming going on. I helped out on my cousin’s farm a bit, but he was getting up in age, so he sold it when I was 14.”
When Sugg was 17, he began helping a local logger, running a skidder and felling trees using a Franklin feller buncher with a shear head. The shear was better suited for cutting pulpwood than logs and not as efficient as the saw on today’s feller bunchers. “We used the shear a lot, but it’s not near as productive as what you can do now.”
IN HIS WORDS: Wayne Sugg, Owner, Sugg Logging, Inc.
BUILDING A FUTURE
After working for the logger for over a decade, Sugg started his own logging business and has been on his own now for almost a decade. Sugg’s first customer was a timber merchant in nearby Laurinburg. He started out with a John Deere feller buncher, a skidder, and a loader. “I was very busy at the time, and Deere machines helped keep downtime to a minimum, so I’ve stuck with them ever since,” he recalls. “We hardly ever have any breakdowns. Deere has been exceptional for me.”
Reliable machines are important to Sugg, but support is just as critical. “Our local Deere dealer was very helpful in getting me started. They’ve been very good to me. I can always count on them to come out right away to make sure I’m up and running again. Because if the wood is not going out on trucks, I’m not making money. We need to stay busy.”
Sugg hasn’t had too much trouble filling his calendar. Recently the market has been strong, with more mills coming online in the area. Today he logs for a mill, Jordan Lumber. The company hauls a weekly average of 80 loads of mostly pine logs and pine pulpwood. Sugg also hasn’t had difficulty finding young loggers to keep up with the mill’s demands: “I haven’t had much turnover, but I do get quite a few calls from younger people who want to learn how to do it.”
That includes his children. His 10-year-old son is very interested in the feller buncher and likes to come out to the logging site to watch it work. His 19-year-old daughter also helps out during the summer, running errands. “She’s very interested in logging, too.”
MAKING A NAME FOR HIMSELF
Currently the company runs a John Deere 843K Feller Buncher. “It’s got great power for clearcuts and balance for working on hills, as well as good maneuverability for thinnings,” says Sugg. “It does a nice job.”
He has also been demoing an L-Series II Feller Buncher — which he liked so much that he bought one. When the L-Series Skidders and L-Series Feller Bunchers were introduced three years ago, they were Deere’s most powerful and comfortable machines ever. Since introducing the L-Series, Deere has continued to collect input from customers and incrementally refine these machines. Over 1,600 part changes have been made to the L-Series II machines, including more robust harnesses, fittings, and cylinder guards. Deere also improved component placement and reduced the complexity of the electrical and hydraulic systems.
“The two-piece wiring harness makes it easier to work on machines,” observes Sugg. “Wiring is rerouted so it’s not bunched up in the machine, which reduces rubbing and wear. The cylinder guards protect hoses from falling limbs. These changes help make the machine more reliable, which saves time and money on maintenance.”
JDLink, John Deere’s machine-monitoring system, also helps Sugg Logging control costs and keep the machines up and running. “We use JDLink to monitor fuel use for skidders pulling wood in different terrain. By changing how and where we drag wood, we can save fuel.” Sugg also monitors machine idle time to help ensure he’s getting the most out of his operators and equipment.
Theft has been a problem with loggers in the area. JDLink allows Sugg to keep tabs on his machines’ exact locations. He can also set up geofences and receive alerts if a machine is moved out of a designated area after hours.
JDLink also sends Sugg and his wife Tina alerts on their smartphones about any issues with a machine, so they can contact operators about a clogged air or fuel filter. “By blowing out or replacing a filter, they can save an engine. If it’s a more serious issue, we receive trouble codes we can share with the technician back at the dealership. They can remotely diagnose the problem and pull the right part the first time, saving an additional trip to figure out what’s going on.”
Deere machines and technology have helped Sugg keep up with a rapidly changing environment. “The logging business changes all the time,” he reflects. “Some days the mills don’t want your wood, or they’ll pull you off one tract and put you on another so you can cut the wood they do want.”
Logging is a challenging job, but Sugg loves challenges. “They keep me going. I just enjoy being around the machines and seeing the progress we’ve made. We have a very good crew, and we all try to do a good job. When I look at where we were when we started, I’m amazed at how far this company has come. I’m proud of us having established a good name at what we do.”
Sugg Logging LLC is serviced by James River Equipment, Charlotte, North Carolina.