Moonlight Drives and a Picnic in the Woods: Logging a Legacy in California

“I hate logging,” said Robert D’Agostini Jr., standing on the California ranch his great-grandparents settled six generations ago. “The only thing I hate more is not logging.”

The love-hate relationship is all part of the job for Robert Jr. As the president and CEO of J&R Logging in Mount Akum, California, he’s seen both sides. He started logging with his father, working in the woods during the summer as a 14-year-old. For a moment, Robert Jr. thought he’d try something else and took a job in construction. That only lasted six months before logging called him back into the woods.

“I couldn’t stand being away from it,” Robert Jr. said. “My wife says I’m a bear. She knew I should go back to logging.”

He hated the other job’s commute, the traffic, and drive-thru lunches. As a logger, he gets quiet time, two moonlight drives, and a picnic in the woods.

“I know I will get those things every day,” he said. “It’s awesome.”

Robert Jr. runs the family business from the 800-acre ranch in Mount Akum, located about 50 miles east of Sacramento. His great-grandparents, Italian immigrants, settled there in 1924. Legend has it they paid for the first 150 acres by cutting firewood and hauling it to San Francisco. Robert Jr. can’t say if that’s true or not – but no matter how it started, he’s proud to build on their legacy. Most of the family lives on the land, including Robert Jr., his wife Nikki, and their two children Daisy and Luke.

“We intend to keep the ranch in its entirety for future generations,” he said. “It’s a true blessing to our family and our company to be able to work from this land.”

Robert’s father, Robert Sr., started J&R Logging in 1979 with just one logging site and two trucks. When Robert Jr. came on as an owner in 2006, the company was processing about 2 million board foot a year. Today he, his father, his brother, Michael, and their business partners manage a 50 million board foot per year operation and 40 employees. Michael oversees the trucking division of the company.

“The team we have working for us are salt of the earth folks, the best of the best,” Robert Jr. said. “Many of them are our family and friends, plus those of our partners, the Jimenez family.”

Hired on by Robert Sr., Saul Jimenez joined J&R as a processor operator in 2000. Saul quickly stood out among the crew as a hard worker with an eye for operations and an entrepreneurial spirit. Robert Jr. encouraged Saul to become more deeply involved in the company as a co-owner in 2008.

“With Saul, I knew we’d make one heck of a good company,” Robert Jr. said. “We like to say we’ve got windshields but no rearview mirrors. It’s been a great run.”

Saul’s been logging since he was 18 years old. He remembers getting hired, starting out at the bottom, and how he took every opportunity to move up in the company – from processor operator and delimber to now vice president. He’s responsible for running three different mechanical work sites and keeping operations as efficient as possible.

“I manage my guys day-by-day, telling them where we are going and keeping things rolling,” Saul explained. “The next day it will be the same. That’s how we’re doing things over there.”

The family ties keep rolling, too. Saul’s sons, Saul Jr. and Alex are now both in management roles at J&R.

The J&R team recently worked in Caldor, located in the Eldorado National Forest. They’re completing a 500-foot hazard abatement from burn salvage using three HTH624C Waratah harvester heads.

J&R invested in its first Waratah heads – a pair of HTH 24” Supers – in 2005, switching from another brand despite some hesitation from Saul. Once the Waratahs were delivered, Saul was an instant believer.

“We see the difference in the speed and how there’s much less down time,” Saul said. “These are really good heads made of tough materials that are built to work.”

That’s especially important for J&R’s jobs in Northern California’s heavy pine. After 18 years of investing in Waratah, Robert Jr. says he is just as impressed with the back-end support as he is with the product.

“The support at Waratah is great,” he said. “If we want parts today, we can order them and pick them up in about three hours at the Sacramento airport. That’s second to none.”

The commitment to their customers is a shared value between Waratah and J&R Logging. For Robert Jr., it’s the only way to run a business – a piece of advice passed down from his father.

“I was taught at a young age to treat this like a business, not a job,” he explained. “My dad and his generations could go out and log and come in and run business. It’s not that way today. The capital stakes are too high. The stakes are too high in general.”

“We run the business,” he continued. “And then we go out and get logs. It seems counterintuitive, but I believe that’s what sets J&R Logging apart.”

That’s what it takes in a tough business like logging. Robert Jr. formerly served as the president of the Associated California Loggers, which collaborates with the American Loggers Council to bring together loggers from all over the United States. Everyone in the room has a different accent, but they all have the same logger’s heart.

“It takes quite an individual to want to get up in the dark and go home in the dark to make a living,” he said. “The hours are hard, and the dust is thick. It’s tough work. But when you’ve worked hard, you sleep well, and you get to go back to work tomorrow.”