HARMONY — John Morrison had already been in the logging business for 20 years when he took over the Chadbourne & Watson Garage in Harmony village in the fall of 1981.
He thought he should diversify.
Now, 30 years later in an economy that has many struggling, Morrison, 81, and his family, own and operate Morrison’s Forest Products Inc., and Morrison’s Garage, a four-bay service station with fuel pumps, a Husqvarna equipment franchise, logging and welding supplies, a chain saw service department, four logging trucks, their own wood lots and a crew of 15 workers.
Diversification has paid off.
“We have had a lot of different things going at once,” Morrison said. “If one doesn’t make money, maybe the other one will.”
Morrison’s son Tracy, 53, said the business has lasted because of his father’s hard work and the operation is family owned and operated.
“It’s always been up and down,” Tracy Morrison said of the forest products industry. “It’s more mechanized now, but we still have guys with skidders, a chain saw and a pick up truck; there’s several that come in here every day to get their supplies.”
He said the high cost of fuel and equipment parts these days have taken a bite out of the profits, but the work is still there. Tracy Morrison was unable to cite annual sales figures for the company, saying calculations are difficult because the company brokers wood harvests for other companies and wood lot owners, as well as their own.
Jim Batey, executive director of the Somerset County Economic Development Corp., said even with the demise in recent years of several wood-turning mills and saw mills in Bingham and North Anson, the demand for wood has been high.
“Workforce estimates that I have from the various large employers in the county indicate that over 2,000 people work for firms like paper mills, saw mills and other businesses that use wood as their primary raw material,” Batey said. “Anecdotally one can presume that the suppliers to these large firms — loggers, truckers, equipment repair facilities like Morrison’s and other suppliers — employ hundreds of other people in the county. Thus the total impact of the wood products businesses in the county is very significant.”
Batey said the demand for wood from newly opened pellet mills and biomass wood waste and slash from forestry operations in Maine seems to help keep the demand up, even with mills closing.
He said a recent study shows Somerset County has the second largest amount of timberland acreage in Maine behind Aroostook County and has the third largest amount of standing spruce and fir inventory in the state, behind Aroostook and Piscataquis counties.
John Morrison and his wife Pat ran the businesses over the years with their four children — Tracy and daughters Lori, Susan and Diane — who all worked in the garage and logging operation doing what needed to be done. Susan ran the garage for five years, he said.
Now, grandsons Ross, 27, and Kyle, 26, also work for the company. Ross is the chain saw mechanic and runs the service and sales departments, while Kyle runs heavy wood-harvesting equipment in the family’s logging operation.
“It’s three generations of working as a family,” Tracy Morrison said. “It’s steady. By being conservative, I think we’ve weathered the storm pretty well, the economic downturn. Very conservative, very diversified.”
The Morrisons say they continue to find markets for pulpwood and saw logs, even with the closing of the Scott Paper Co. mill in Winslow. Some locations, such as Sappi Fine Paper in Skowhegan are actually closer to their woodyards.
“We’re lucky that way because our markets are all around us; that’s been a big help,” said Tracy Morrison, who has degree in forestry from the University of Maine. “We have pulp markets in Skowhegan, Madison, Guilford, Dover-Foxcroft, Jay, Farmington and Rumford. There’s a lot of saw mills around, too. There’s saw mills everywhere — at least 10 in our area.”
Doug Harlow — 612-2367