UP logger trades machines for horses

Kali Katerberg/Daily Mining Gazette Dean Washer stands with his logging team Star, left, and Bonnie at their latest job site. Below, Star and Bonnie eagerly run a log to the loading area.

BARAGA — The air is crisp and the woods are still; it’s just another day on the job for Dean Washer and his logging team.

“It’s nice and quiet out here and peaceful … I couldn’t ask for a better job,” Wascher said. He logs five days a week with Bonnie and Star his two Belgian draft horses. When they’re not logging, Wascher and the horses pull wagons for local events.

After years working in mechanized logging, he made the drastic switch, selling off all his equipment for a team. “I decided to give it a try and luckily it worked,” he said.

“I didn’t know nothing about horses, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to get a log out or what they were going to do. First time I hooked them up they got spread apart on me, they hit my buddy’s truck,” Washer said.

Turns out he had unknowingly switched the horses’ harness positions. Lesson learned and with advice from other traditional loggers, Washer now has his process down to a science and has been logging for three years.

“I was OK with it (the switch) because he had worked so hard with the equipment, he was working lots of hours and we always had to bring the work home with us and never had a day off, so this is a lot nicer,” said his wife Lena Wascher.

Once Wascher cuts the logs, he chains one to the team and lets them pull it out towards his modified flatbed trailer where he unhooks it and loads the log using a mechanized claw. Star and Bonnie love the work, rushing to get their log to its spot.

“They’ll stand until they’re hooked up and then they’re just itching to go,” Wascher said.

“They get real antsy and bored if he’s got them off for a few days,” Lena Wascher said.

Wascher and his team do what the larger logging outfits can’t.

“I just do small jobs … the big equipment can’t go in there and people don’t want the big equipment tearing (things) up…a skinner would just do two passes through here and it would sink, it’d be just mud,” Wascher said. With the horses, Wascher can log small areas not worth a bigger operation’s time or effort to create a path to get to. Often landowners just want to have an area thinned of old trees to clear up room for new growths, keeping the forest healthy.

Traditional logging is very popular with landowners in the area, Lena Wascher said. They love to spread the word about how nice their property looks and how cool it was to have the horses around. Many referrals come from their enthusiasm.

“We have a lot of friends that are still in the logging business, they are all kind of amazed by it,” Lena Wascher said. Their friends wonder how they make it work, but with horses, the Waschers don’t have the same high overhead costs.

“They’re a lot of fun. I couldn’t ask for a better job,” Dean repeated. “I wish I had started sooner.” He’d like to keep logging as long as he can keep up with the horses.