But success is rarely that easy or painless.
In Pat Crawford’s case it was the result of perseverance, a lot
of hard work, a supportive family, love of the industry, a dose of
humility, a pinch of pride, and enough self-confidence to bounce back
Crawford was raised in Winter, a northern
Wisconsin town of about 400 people. His father and grandfather ran
a logging camp in the Clam Lake area, and his mother was the camp cook.
World War II was raging when Crawford
graduated from high school in 1943, but because he was only 17 years
old he spent a year in college at Eau Claire before joining the Air
Corps. He was hoping to learn to fly but by the time his turn for training
arrived, the war was winding down and more pilots were not needed.
He described the abrupt end of his flight training as one of the discouraging
points of his life.
A year and a half after joining the service,
he was returned to civilian life and back in the woods of northern
Wisconsin. He worked with his dad when the crosscut saw and horse logging
era was ending.
He also decided to go back to college,
first to Eau Claire, then to the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
Because he loved athletics, he majored in physical education and played
baseball and basketball.
He wanted to make athletics his life.
During the summer of 1949 he played professional baseball for a minor
league team in Indiana. After one summer, however, he felt that he
didn’t have the talent to make the major leagues, so it was time
to look elsewhere for a career.
Another summer job solved that problem.
He and several other students headed west to cut timber in the Bridger
Mountains of Montana. They sawed with the heavy chainsaws of the times
and skidded with crawlers, with little or no protection for the operator,
and they loved it.
“We didn’t make any money,
but we had a lot fun,” Crawford said. “I decided that that
was my life.”
He thought about switching his college
major to forestry, but since forestry was not offered in Wisconsin,
he decided not to go back to school. He returned to Winter, Wis., met
his wife, Ruth, and again headed for the West. “I threw my Titan
power saw in the truck and headed for Oregon on our honeymoon,” he
Crawford got a job falling the huge timber
of the Northwest. The largest trees ranged up to eight or nine feet
in diameter. The little ones were four to five feet. Falling them was
a task that required know-how, because if a big cedar landed on a stump
or knoll, it would crack.
Crawford liked the work and became good
at it, but a twinge of homesickness brought Ruth and him back to Winter
about a year later.
He had been back only a month or two
when he was falling a yellow birch and a huge dead limb, a widow-maker,
fell from above and very nearly killed him. He said he flopped around
on the ground in much the same manner as a beheaded chicken.
“My mind was perfectly clear, but
I couldn’t stop any of the movement. I thought, well this is
death. I hope the good Lord is waiting for me because I’m going
to be there,” he said.
Crawford said it was an accident that
never should have happened. He had seen the dead limb before cutting
the tree, but his mind was not completely on his work.
His brother, who had been skidding nearby,
took him to the local doctor. The doctor gave him a shot in the neck,
sent him home, and told his wife not to move him to a hospital because
he would not make it. For three days he lay with pupils dilated and
near death in the care of his wife, who was pregnant with their first
When he recovered he went back to logging,
though with a greater awareness of the dangers involved. He was 25
years old at the time.
Crawford and his brother logged near
Cable, Wis. His innovative mind was already t work looking for better
ways to log and haul.
Truck log loaders had been mounted behind
the cab, but Crawford thought the loader could be mounted on the rear
of the truck so it could load a pup trailer. A welding shop in Two
Harbors, Minn., mounted a loader on the back of Crawford’s truck
and he began pulling a pup. That was in the late 1950’s. He thought
he might have been the first to pull a pup.
Crawford and his brother also bought
a small sawmill near Hayward, Wis. Perhaps because they were successful
in the sawmill business, they were encouraged by Hayward’s city
fathers to buy a local “core plant” that was about to close.
The core plant made materials used in the manufacture of kitchen tables.
The Crawford brothers decided to buy the plant. “It was the biggest
mistake we ever made,” Pat said. Partly because they had been
given faulty information about the amount of waste involved, they soon
ran into financial difficulties. Within 18 months the business was
Crawford had a wife and seven children
and was also personally bankrupt. His credit rating was ruined. It
was 1962 and another turning point in his life. “You want to
eat humble pie? Go bankrupt,” Crawford said. But he didn’t
give up. He just worked harder. An older friend who had faith in him
co-signed a loan for $15,000 so Crawford could buy a truck, a team
of horses, and a power saw to get back into logging. He cut logs all
day and hauled at night.
“I didn’t average four hours
of sleep a night. I never worked so hard in my life. But there’s
one thing I learned. When you’re flat on your back there’s
only one way, and that’s up. I had a lot of faith in the future,
even though it was really tough going.”
By the following spring he had paid his
bills and had $5,000 in the bank. Things were looking better.
Then came a break that Crawford does
not know to this day exactly why it happened. A representative of Menominee
Enterprises contacted him and asked if he was interested in logging
for the Menominee Indians near Shawano, Wis.
Crawford spent a few days on the reservation,
looking at the timber. He liked what he saw, but the man who was showing
him around, Alec Wapoose, cautioned him that the Native Americans had
been having trouble with white loggers. Wapoose at first advised Crawford
not to take the job. After Wapoose got to know Crawford, however, he
changed his mind and encouraged Crawford to try it.
“To this day, I have Alec Wapoose
to thank for practically everything I’ve ever done because if
he hadn’t told me that, I’d probably be up in Northern
Wisconsin yet, cutting pulp. Don’t get me wrong. I love that
part of the state, but it would have been hard to do up there what
I’m doing today,” Crawford said.
Crawford started working for Menominee
Enterprises in the summer of 1963. He got paid by the board foot and
the cord. His family moved to the Shawano area the following fall.
Again Crawford worked hard - so hard that the Native Americans sometimes referred
to him as “the hungry white man.” “I was the first one with
a load in the morning and the last one at night,” he said.
Crawford was always looking for better
ways to do the job, such as his drop-through dray. At the time, crawlers
and drays were used to haul logs out of the woods. Crawford’s
dray had a set of chains that acted as bunks. Simply tripping the chains
allowed the logs to “drop through,” thereby taking much
less time to unload.
Hauling was also a challenge. The roads
on the Menominee lands were built for little bobtail trucks, and the
markets for the pulpwood that Crawford was cutting were 60 to 80 miles
away. That was too long a haul to make money with the little trucks,
so Crawford was hauling with his truck and pup system. But during wet
weather the truck and pup had a hard time getting around on the poor
roads. Crawford again thought there had to be a better way.
He developed a pre-hauler system. His
first pre-hauler was a John Deere tractor pulling a pup trailer. Now
he could load trucks on the main road regardless of the weather.
He kept looking for improvements. His
next pre-hauler was a converted earth mover that would haul during
still more challenging conditions. Encouraged by the success of his
innovations, he became a partner in a welding shop at Polar, Wis. Now
he had the means to develop other ideas in logging machines.
He and his partner bought a big six-wheel
drive machine, called a tank retriever, from the Army. They gave it
a new engine, mounted a loader and converted it into a pre-hauler.
It worked so well that other loggers started asking for it. Eventually
Crawford and his partner built about 35 of the “Polar Prehaulers.”
When feller-bunchers first appeared,
Crawford decided to build his own. He mounted a shear on the back of
a skidder that worked well in softwoods, but was not as good in hardwoods.
He sold the patent to an Oregon company that built a few, but it did
not become a big success.
Crawford then purchased a Drott feller-buncher,
but its long tail swing made it difficult to use in the selection cuts
he was doing in the national forest. He went back to the drawing board
and designed a set of booms that collapsed over the top of the machine
and reduced the tail swing to about the width of the tracks. He asked
Larry Klement, an employee of the Polar Welding Shop, to help him build
Crawford considers the redesign of the
boom his greatest innovation.
“That was the real start of Timbco.
A lot happened after that, but that’s what really made the company,” he
The first machine with the new boom had
wheels and tires, but it had problems with the hydraulics. Crawford
and Klement replaced the wheels with tracks, and it worked well.
At that time Crawford was primarily interested
in building machines for his own use. He didn’t want to be in
the manufacturing business. He had been testing equipment for the Caterpillar
company, so he asked its engineers if they might be interested in producing
“They liked the idea really well,
but they told me that the hierarchy didn’t think we’d developed
it far enough for them to be interested. So they turned it down. They
could have had it for nothing,” Crawford said.
Other loggers kept asking Crawford to
build them machines. He felt he had to satisfy their requests. When
his partner in the Polar Welding Shop decided not to get involved in
manufacturing, Crawford sold his share of the Polar Shop and used the
money to start another shop in Shawano, with former Polar employee
Larry Klement as his partner.
At the age of 55 and after having been
a logger for most of his life, Crawford began a whole new career.
“I was kind of forced into going
into the manufacturing business. As it turned out, it was the best
thing I was ever forced into,” he said.
The machines were sound, but financing
the company was a challenge. “If we didn’t get paid for
one machine, we didn’t have enough money to buy parts for the
next,” Crawford said. “We really struggled in those early
Crawford’s first machines had two-way
leveling. When two men from the state of Washington came to look at
the machines, the men told Crawford that if he could build a machine
with four-way leveling they’d buy it.
“Larry and I and those two fellows
sat in a joint until about 2:00 in the morning and tried to figure
out how to do that, on napkins or something. The next morning we had
it,” Crawford said.
Three months later, in April of 1982,
Crawford’s first machine with four-way leveling (using four hydraulic
cylinders) was built and displayed at a forestry show in Spokane, Wash.
The machine worked wonderfully at the show, though it had never been
tested, never cut a tree before the show.
After the show, Crawford demonstrated
the machine on fairly steep slopes and impressed potential customers.
Orders started coming in, and more machines were produced.
A while later the machine was demonstrated
at another show in Elkins, W. Va. Other companies kept their equipment
on the ridgetop, but Crawford put the Timbco on a steep hillside.
“My son took the machine down there,
and we walked up that hill cutting trees like they couldn’t believe.
We stole that show, Crawford said.
Crawford’s phone kept ringing.
People wanted the machines, but Crawford was leery about financing
the expansion of the company that was needed to meet the growing demands.
As it turned out, he had other options.
Several large equipment companies contacted him. They wanted a piece
of the action.
Crawford made a deal with Timberjack.
He kept the rights to manufacture six major components, and Timberjack
assembled and marketed the machines. Crawf