Having grown up in Manitou, along the Rainy River, six miles east of Birchdale, logger Gary Rasmussen knows a thing or two about the woods adjacent to the Minnesota/Ontario border between Indus and International Falls to the east.

“See that stand of pine?” he points out as he drives his pick-up through a Koochiching County forest near Big Falls. “They’ve thinned it a couple of times. That’s one of the nicest pine stands around here. It’s gorgeous.”

Rasmussen is right. The stand of red pine, as well as those of aspen, spruce, and balsam, is beautiful, testament to the work he and other loggers like him have done in these parts. It’s a vocation that started back while attending Indus High School in the early 1960s.

“I was cutting wood at between 15, 16 years old,” he says. “I had a power saw, and my dad had a dray that you’d load on, and I had an Oliver 60 tractor that I’d pull it with. And then to haul it to town I had a neighbor that did that kind of work. He had a front-end loader on a tractor and he’d go around to the different farmers in those days and haul their wood to Boise in the Falls for them.”

When Rasmussen graduated from Indus in 1963, he moved about 25 miles to the east to Pelland to be closer to his high school sweetheart and future wife Deanna, and followed in his father’s footsteps by taking a construction job in the summer months and cutting wood together in the winter.

“At that point in time, I was doing roadwork,” he says. “I was a paver operator, but did other things, too.”

Gary’s brother Terry was nine years younger, and when he graduated from Indus, he headed to the woods as well. By 1976, Gary, Terry, and their father started a three-way partnership, cutting wood during the winter months and delivering to Boise in the Falls.

The summer construction job entailed traveling around the region to work on various road projects, meaning Gary was away from home for days at a time, away from Deanna and their two children, Stacy and Sherri. That grew tiresome, so he decided to quit the construction work and log full-time.

“When you work fifteen years away from home like I did in construction,” he says, “when you have a family, that’s what enters in there. And it was a point in time when logging was good.”

By 1984, Terry had left the partnership to work construction full-time, and their father had retired, leaving Gary the last Rasmussen in the woods. That’s when the current version of Rasmussen Logging was born, with Gary as sole proprietor. He used a 450 John Deere as a feller buncher, bought a 664 Clark skidder, and delimbed by hand with a chainsaw.

“The John Deere had an Allen head on it and knives,” he recalls, “so you had to walk into that tree and you’d pinch it off, then you’d back away and put it in the drag. That’s how a number of guys around this area got started with feller bunchers. I went quite a while with that 450 faller. There were a lot of those around.”

Rasmussen has since upgraded his equipment of course, utilizing two John Deere skidders, a John Deere delimber with a 2000 Lim-mit boom, and two Timbco feller bunchers—a 425 and a 415.

“We run two bunchers because if one goes down, you need another one to take its place pretty fast,” he says. “And I’ve got two skidders out there running around. They gobble up a lot of wood.”

He’s had these machines a long time, around twenty years or so, but they’re well-taken care of, both with regular maintenance and end-of-the-season work. Rasmussen does a lot of his own work on the machines in his shop, but he also calls on Eric Hall, who has his own service truck, when necessary.

“One buncher is on its third motor,” he says. “In the spring we always do something to them. If it needed a motor, we’d put it in. If it needed a turntable swing, it got one. If you’re having trouble with it in the winter, correct it in the spring. And that’s what we did.”

In a typical year, Rasmussen’s crew will be off from break-up until sometime in the fall. It can be difficult to find workers for only six to seven months out of the year, but Rasmussen has been able to make it work. For example, Walter Martins runs the delimber, but in the summer has a job working at a resort on Rainy Lake. Brent Horne has hauled for Rasmussen for the past 20 winters or so, and works construction for Ulland Brothers in the summer. And Jon Balaski has run skidder for Rasmussen over the years while serving customers as a fishing guide on Rainy Lake during the summer months.

There are others on the Rasmussen crew as well: Lance Mann runs woods equipment and Doug Stiltman drives truck. Gary’s kids pitch in too: Stacy works full-time at the PCA mill in finishing and shipping, but takes six weeks off every winter to help out in the woods, while Sherri, a full-time banker, helps out with the payroll and other bookkeeping functions. Stacy’s son Adam Rasmussen also lends a hand around his employment with the state.

And of course there’s Gary himself, who might operate the buncher one minute and find himself fueling the loader the next,

“There’s always something to do,” he says.

One person missing from the crew is brother Terry. After leaving the partnership for the construction business back in ’84, Terry found his way back to Rasmussen Logging and worked alongside Gary for years as his right-hand man. Last spring however, in fact on the last day of hauling, Terry had a heart attack and was gone at the age of 64.

“It was very hard,” Gary says. “When you lose somebody like I did with Terry, that just takes the starch right out of you.”

But the work continues. This winter’s logging season is off to a decent start, with cold but not frigid temperatures so far, compelling MnDOT to implement winter load increases for hauling on November 30 th , only the second time ever the extra weight has been allowed before the first of December. This morning is the coldest of the season, with the overnight low barely creeping above zero. Chilly, but not all that cold, at least not for northern Minnesota in December.

“This weather,” Rasmussen says, “is beautiful, really.”

Today the crew is starting on its third site of the year, just south of International Falls, west of Roger’s Corner, with roughly 2000 cords of aspen, balsam and a little bit of ash ready for harvest. The slasher is still at the job they just completed, finishing work on around 1800 cords of red pine, jack pine, and aspen that was all harvested in the last couple of weeks. Plus, Rasmussen has around 1000 cords of aspen and 600 cords of pine stockpiled at the season’s first logging site. Most of the wood from all three locations will be hauled to the PCA Boise mill in the Falls where he has a strong long-standing relationship. In addition, some of the softwoods will go to Verso in Duluth or the PotlatchDeltic mill at Bemidji. The work is going well, but a few more cold nights like last night would help.

“A couple of them anyway,” he says. “Overall, it’s a good start to the season. We don’t have a whole bunch of snow yet. But you don’t know what’s going to happen. We could get a dump of snow, and then it’s lights out. Or we could get some cold weather like we did last year and end up with a perfect season.”

At age 73, how much longer Rasmussen stays in the logging business is anyone’s guess. It’s been hard work over the years, and it hasn’t always been easy. Lessons learned have been difficult, but invaluable.

“It’s not a job if you don’t make a mistake,” he chuckles. “You learn it all right in the field, doing what you were doing. It’s definitely hard work. And in the winter time, they’re definitely long hours. You have to work at it.”

This story was reprinted with permission from the November/December edition of the Timber Bulletin.

Along with the lifetime of hard work and trees cut come a lifetime of stories, including one about his old high school classmate Dale Erickson.

“We used to run cable skidders years ago,” he recalls with a smile. “There was no protection from the elements. You were wide open. You had a cab over your head, and you’d get off that skidder and pull those chokers out and find those trees that someone had gone in and hand-fell ahead of you. Dale was one of them. He had a 450 John Deere his dad had bought, and he ran that, and of course when it snows, you have a tree full of snow. And those 450s just had a cab on them, they were open. So you’d reverse the fan so you’d have that hot air blowing back at you, but sometimes that was a minus because your legs were warm, so when the snow out of that tree would hit, you’d be soaking wet.”

Rasmussen chuckles at the memory, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. He never considered living anywhere other than along the northern edge of the state.

“It’s the people that I like,” he says. “There aren’t a lot of them, and I like that, too. “I like being in the woods. It’s home.”

This story was reprinted with permission from the November/December edition of the Timber Bulletin.

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