With the goal in mind to one day own his own logging company, 25-year-old Zackary Sheets operates a computer-automated processor, picking up a log, stripping it of its bark, cutting it to length and stacking it all while sitting inside the machine.
Sheets was working on a logging site in Canyonville this summer for Gold Hill-based Estremado Logging. He lives in Glendale during the week, then commutes to his house in Albany for the weekends.
Though Sheets said logging companies have been struggling to recruit young people to work in the woods, he’s passionate about what he does.
“That’s the path I’ve chosen. I saw where everybody was running and I ran the other way, which is modern forestry technology,” Sheets said. “It’s a mix of technology but still has a hard work aspect to it.”
Sheets is not only a Douglas County logger but has experience logging around the U.S. and the world.
“I randomly stumbled across an advertisement for loggers who wanted to work in an extreme environment, and it seemed perfect for me,” he said. Three months after he applied, he found himself on a plane to Siberia.
He spent six months there, working in harsh conditions while the Discovery Channel filmed him for the show, “Siberian Cut.”
“It’s important to show kids the positive sides to working hard,” he said of starring in the show.
Last summer, he logged in Alaska for his stepfather Fred Hurt’s gold mining operation. Hurt, known as “Dakota Fred,” has also been featured on the Discovery Channel show “Gold Rush.”
Through the Siberian trip, Sheets met Pekka Ruuskanen, the president of Ponsse for North America. Ponsse, a Finnish company with its North American headquarters in Wisconsin, manufactures and sells harvesters and foresters.
Ruuskanen said Ponsse focuses on state-of-the-art machines that are safer to use than other equipment.
“It’s like an office, you have your own equipment, computer, microwave and fridge,” he said of the cabins within the machinery. “It’s a totally different type of operation.”
After returning to the states for work, Sheets missed logging abroad and contacted Ruuskanen, who invited him to return to Europe to tour and work on various logging sites in Finland and through Western Europe.
Sheets has also worked in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and has logged for Estremado Logging on and off within the past few years.
“It’s good to have a job you can take pride in,” Sheets said of logging. “You can look back at what you did and see how you helped the local community, and the lumber we produce goes all over the country.”
Sheets had considered going to college, but decided not to because he learns best through experience. He had tried working a cubicle job as a technology support representative for Nintendo, but quit after three weeks. Once he chose the logging industry, he never looked back.
“I’ve always known I’m built to be a leader,” Sheets said. “I have a dream to own my own logging business.”
Starting a logging company from scratch without millions of dollars to buy equipment is unrealistic, Sheets said, so Ruuskanen offered to finance Sheet’s equipment and help him start the business in Wisconsin.
Ruuskanen said when he met Sheets, he knew right away Sheets wanted to work hard and learn.
“I can see myself in him because when I was his age I had the same drive to work hard,” Ruuskanen said. “He wants to work and he’s not going to give up, he has really clear goals.”
“I’m close to being in the position to start working toward my dream, but once I get there it’s only the beginning,” Sheets said.
Sheets grew up in Bay Point, California. At age 13, his family moved to Sunny Valley, just south of Glendale. He fell in love with country life, running farm equipment, exploring the woods and competing in motocross competitions.
Sheets said his father had been very hard working, but was terminally ill with hepatitis C, kidney failure and diabetes.
“My dad instilled that hard work ethic into me and he taught me a lot in the ways he could,” Sheets said. His father passed away three years ago.
Sheets met a man who would become his mentor, John Blumenfeld, who was logging just across the hill from the Sheets’ house in Sunny Valley. As a teenager, Sheets said he bugged Blumenfeld for a job until one day he was given a shot.
“He saw a lot of potential in me, which I’m extremely grateful for,” Sheets said. He worked all over the Grants Pass area, learning the tricks of the trade through experience.
“I remember the moment I decided to be like him,” Sheets said of Blumenfeld. The bulldozer they had been operating had run out of fuel, so the two had to lug 5-gallon buckets of fuel uphill to the machine. While Sheets struggled, he saw the man, who was in his late 60s, quickly haul the buckets up the hill like it was nothing.
Sheets said he believes timber is the world’s most natural, renewable resource, and there are millions of products that require logging. The advanced technology used in logging now allows for more efficiency and every piece of the wood is accounted for so there’s no waste, he added.
“One thing I like about the industry is that it creates a ripple effect,” he said of the jobs produced for each operation. Though the logging operation at the Canyonville site only required two people from Estremado Logging and a contractor, more jobs were created for building the roads, assessing the environmental impact, truck driving and more.
He said operating the machinery is like playing a big video game, using buttons to control the equipment, and he questions why more people in his generation aren’t interested in it.
“If you have any work ethic and if you like video games, you would like running a processor,” Sheets said.
But according to Sheets, it’s hard to find other young people who want to do the work.
“It seems nowadays people want to float through life,” Sheets said, adding he knows some people his age who want to get rich quickly by selling marijuana or drugs, but they don’t want to put in hard work.
“They don’t want to get their hands dirty,” said Don Walker, a contractor working with Sheets in Canyonville. Walker has been working in the woods for 54 years and cutting timber for 40 of them. When Walker’s generation retires, which could be within the next decade, the industry will need new loggers.
“If we don’t have new guys coming up to take over these jobs and stay on top of how things are changing, we’re going to be in trouble,” Sheets said.
In addition to logging — which takes up much of his time — Sheets is passionate about bicycling and motocross. Earlier this summer, he rode his mountain bike from Merlin to Gold Beach, about an 80-mile trip. He split the ride into two days and camped overnight along the way. At some point, he’d like to do the Pacific Crest Trail from California to Canada.
Though Sheets said he may only get four hours of sleep a night, he stays positive.
“I get to experience more of my life,” he said. “It’s like I get to live two days in one.”
To view a video of some of Sheet’s logging experiences, visit YouTube and search for “Zackary Sheets, a few minutes of a logger’s life.”