“Komatsu wheel loader is ‘bulletproof”
All Richard Booe wanted was one job. About 40 years ago, he turned back to something familiar and made a decision that led him to his goal.
“I worked three jobs and was looking for a way to get rid of two and still make ends meet,” recalled Booe, Owner and President of R. Booe & Son Hardwoods. “At the time, one of the things I was doing involved selling some equipment for my brothers, who were in the lumber industry. I decided to buy the equipment myself and go into business. It resulted in 16-hour days, but I did it. To work only one job and control my own fate – it was worth it.”
The days aren’t quite so long anymore, but Richard continues passing his more than 40 years of logging and sawmilling knowledge onto his children who have joined him in the Center Point, Indiana, company. The family business includes his sons, Matt and Elliott, and daughter, Katrina Kelsheimer.
Matt runs two to three logging crews and takes care of equipment maintenance. Elliott procures logs to ensure the company maintains effective inventory levels. Katrina handles finance and administrative duties. R. Booe & Son Hardwood’s total employee list numbers about 50 people and includes extended family members such as Brad Booe, who does outside lumber sales, and Log Yard Manager Rusty Phillips.
“Dad is the President, but beyond that, we don’t put much stock in titles. We each play specific roles that fit our particular skill sets,” Katrina explained. “It’s nice being part of a family business where we are all working to build something together.”
Richard’s children represent a fourth generation of Booes in the hardwoods industry, including his father, Dean, who started a sawmill with his brother Donald in Clay City, Indiana, after World War II. That’s where Richard cut his teeth in logging and sawmilling before going to college and becoming a math teacher.
“I took the knowledge I had, along with the equipment I bought from my brothers, and built Clay City Sawmill, which opened in 1978,” Richard recalled. “For the first several years everything was done manually, including loading and turning logs for sawing by hand. I began adding automation in the late 1980s.”
As the company began to grow, it became apparent that Matt had a strong interest in joining his dad in the business full time. In 1994, when Matt was 20, the company’s name became R. Booe & Son – the other children were younger, and despite coming on board later, the name has stayed the same. Six years after the name change, R. Booe & Son Hardwoods moved into a new facility in Center Point. Along with the move came significant changes.
“We went from about 1,600 board-feet an hour to nearly 5,000 – and we started producing 11 to 12 million feet per year,” Matt said. “Our operations became more efficient with two saws and better equipment, and we began marketing our lumber differently. Instead of only working with the same few customers, we actively pursued expanding our footprint.”
Everything gets used
R. Booe & Son Hardwoods gets timber in a variety of ways. It buys standing timber from private landowners and bids on state forest auctions. Its logging operations supply about 50 percent of its inventory, with the other half coming from “gate logs” the company buys from outside sources. It also contracts with other businesses to log for them.
“We have two logging crews running at all times and add a third as needed,” explained Elliott. “We generally work within a two-hour range of Center Point that includes Indiana and surrounding states. This gives us good access to the hardwood species we specialize in.”
Its logging crews mainly harvest white and red oak, cherry, hard and soft maple as well as poplar. R. Booe & Son’s trucks transport the logs to the sawmill where they are measured, graded and sorted before being processed into several products. Matt noted that every part of a raw log is used. Even organic material that falls off logs while they are in the yard is collected and becomes fill material.
“Our production falls into three basic product lines – grade lumber, pallet lumber and railroad ties – and each is sawn into varying lengths and widths depending on customer specifications,” Matt said. “We ship the end products to companies that use them to make furniture, flooring, trim and pallets. We also market the byproducts, such as sawdust, chips and bark, to companies that turn them into fuel, animal bedding and mulch. We have even sold beechwood chips to Budweiser for use in aging beer.”
Versatility from Komatsu loaders
Within the last year, R. Booe & Son Hardwoods added two Komatsu wheel loaders (a WA270-7 and a WA200-7) to a fleet that already included a WA250PZ it purchased from Brandeis Machinery about six years ago.
“The WA250 was our first Komatsu, and we bought another brand of loader at the same time,” Matt noted. “The Komatsu is still here, the other isn’t. The WA250 is exceptional. It did have an anomaly that was a one-in-a-million manufacturing issue, causing it to go down for a couple of days. It was out of warranty, but Komatsu and Brandeis stepped up and covered it because of the issue. That told us a lot about how those companies support their machines and customers. Other than that, we haven’t done anything to it besides routine maintenance. It’s been bulletproof.”
R. Booe & Son Hardwoods uses the loaders for various applications. Each is equipped with a quick coupler for convenient changes from buckets to forks and specialty attachments, including ones the company fashioned in-house or had built.
“We move material with the forks and load chips and sawdust onto trucks with the buckets,” said Matt. “We also plow snow and use a boom for tasks, such as pulling a motor in the saw mill. What really stands out to me is the visibility Komatsu loaders offer. They allow us to see the forks when moving logs and lumber, which had been an issue with other brands. Handling lumber often means trying to put forks into a four-inch-wide area between two piles. You need to be able to see what you’re doing.”
Brandeis is taking care of scheduled services on the newest machines for the first 2,000 hours or three years through the Komatsu CARE program.
“Anytime we have needed something – which hasn’t been often – Brandeis has been quick to respond, and we can’t say that about too many companies we have worked with,” said Matt. “Our Sales Rep, Brian Cook, helped ensure we got the right loaders for our needs, and he checks with us consistently to see how things are going. We appreciate that, and we are also happy that Brandeis is now a Barko dealer. We run two Barko knucklebooms in our logging operations and Brandeis is now servicing those machines.”
Ups and downs
Like many industries, logging and sawmilling experience market fluctuations. The Booe family is well-equipped to weather the ups and downs.
“Dealing with multiple species helps,” Matt said. “Occasionally, the entire lumber industry takes a dive or goes gangbusters, but for the most part those fluctuations are species-specific. Usually, when one is down, another is up, so there is minimal impact on our operations either way.”
Richard said that trends in the market are just one reason why he remains so involved in the business. “It’s competitive every day, and there are a lot of macro decisions that need to be made. No two days are the same. My experience allows me to see the long-term trends and pass that knowledge on to the kids. I’m proud that my children became involved in the business. I want them to grow it and be more and more competitive, and they are increasingly taking on added responsibility. I’ve delegated just about everything, but I retain the right to make critical decisions when necessary. I guess you could say, at this point I’m basically the chief interferer.”