Scaling up the Log Ladder

Story and photos by Craig Reed

Richard Tustin knows the log grading and scaling business from top to bottom. Photo by Craig Reed

Richard Tustin understands the log grad-ing and scaling business from top to bottom.

He started in 2002 at the bottom as a taper, measuring the length of logs. After several promotions to scaler, check scaler, area manager, operations manager and assistant manager, he was named general manager of Mountain Western Log Scaling & Grading Bureau in August 2021.

Richard, an Umpqua area resident, was a timber cruiser prior to his introduction to log grading and scaling. He saw an opportunity for advancement in the bureau, leading to his transition from work in the woods to a responsibility in the log yards of sawmills.

“I think there are very few professionals now who start at the very bottom and are able to work their way to the top,” Richard says. “That’s kind of old school. In this day and age, it’s a much more daunting process to achieve that. Everything has worked out well for me. I feel pretty lucky. I’ve met every experience, and they’ve all turned out to be good for me.”

Richard is a Douglas County native, having grown up in the Willis Creek area near Winston. He graduated from Douglas High School in 1992. After four years in the U.S. Air Force, he attended Oregon State University, majoring in forest management and recreation.

He started his career in forestry as a timber cruiser but switched to log scaling when presented with the opportunity.

Mountain Western Log Scaling & Grading Bureau is a not-for-profit, third-party organization whose scalers and staff are responsible for scaling and grading logs between the timber coming off the stump and entering the sawmill. The bureau, headquartered in Roseburg, scales logs at about 50 sites for many Oregon and California logging and mill companies.

Dallas Rosemeyer, a scaler with Mountain Western Log Scaling and Grading Bureau, inputs log data while scaling and grading logs in the yard at Douglas County Forest Products.

“We were established to be the middle man—the third person—to be objective in the trading of that commodity and to represent evenly the buyer and seller,” Richard says. “To be not-for-profit illustrates the nature of what we do to be an unbiased, objective third party.”

Richard estimates the scalers deal with about a billion board feet annually. Their work is intended to eliminate any arguments between seller and buyer over timber volume and grade.

“That underscores the importance of what those scalers are doing out in the log yards,” Richard says. “The importance of getting the information right can’t be overstated.”

When a load of logs is delivered to a mill site, it is weighed on the truck and then rolled out in the log yard. The scaler records information on the buyer, seller, source, truck company and driver into a handheld computer. The tree species and length and diameter of the logs are noted. Any defects, such as internal rot, oversized knots, cracks or slight bends in the logs are looked for and recorded, if found.

The scalers follow a given set of rules through this process so there is no bias toward either the buyer or seller at any of the mill sites. The information is certified by the bureau’s office staff and forwarded to the buyer and seller. Those 2 parties then determine the value of the logs.

“We have absolutely nothing to do with determining the final dollar value,” Richard says. “We are a vital piece of the industry. We facilitate the trading of the commodity on a level playing field with a strict set of rules.”

Dallas Rosemeyer has been scaling and grading logs for the past 11 years.

“We favor nobody,” he says. “We work for both the buyer and the seller. We follow the rule book, and that’s it.” The timber industry established a scaling and grading bureau in 1950 to have an objective party that conducted business by set rules. That first bureau had 9 scalers, including Al Beck. Years later, Al’s son, Paul, was a scaler. He was the bureau’s general manager from 2011 until 2021.

A loader brings logs to the Douglas County Forest Products yard to be measured and graded.

Paul facilitated the merger of the Southern Oregon and Northern California bureaus into the Mountain Western bureau in 2013. Mountain Western now has 92 employees. Most are scalers who work at sites stretching from the Porterville area in south central California to Clatskanie in northwestern Oregon.

The bureau has a board of 20 to 25 people comprised of representatives from timber and mill companies, the government and Native American timber organizations. Mike Keller of Keller Lumber in Roseburg is president.

The board sets policy and the rate the bureau charges for its work.

“Without the bureau, there could be one determination made by the seller and one by the buyer regarding the logs,” Mike says. “Then there would be potential for many arguments. The bureau scalers do a heckuva job. They are highly regarded in the industry, and they are the final word.”

Richard not only understands all the steps the bureau must take to remain objective, he also has experience in the growth and management of timber. He and his wife, Angela, help her parents, who own 100 acres of trees in the harvesting and regeneration of that land.

“It’s nice to understand timber on a different level,” Richard says.