Spreading Its Wings
Starting out with only a chain saw and a 1974 John Deere 350B Crawler, Indiana logger Danny Richards of Commiskey Hardwoods has risen to the challenge
At a logging site in the southeastern corner of Indiana, Danny Richards takes a breather in the cab of his John Deere 437D Knuckleboom Loader. “Weather is always an issue,” says Richards, owner of Commiskey Hardwoods, Commiskey, Indiana. “We might only be able to skid wood on two days out of a week, so we’ll stockpile it on the road. On days when it’s too wet to skid, we’ll load trucks. Yesterday, the wood was piled so high, you couldn’t even see the loader.”
With much of the wood cleared, he sends a photo of his surroundings to a friend. “I told him, ‘This is my office today,’” says Richards. “It’s a pretty picture — and a pretty nice office. Running a business and paying bills is stressful, so working in the woods is my quiet refuge. When I’m out here working, I’m happy — there’s so much to see, whether it’s an eagle spreading his wings, wild hogs, a little fawn, or a tough-looking rattlesnake.”
Richards is pretty tough himself. He shares the story of being bitten by a copperhead snake. He wasn’t even aware of the bite until his wife noticed a nasty-looking bruise. “I went to the doctor, and he says, ‘What in the heck do you mean, you think you got snakebit?’” he remembers. “I honestly wasn’t sure, but the poison was turning my skin black.”
When he’s not running the knuckleboom loader, Richards is operating a chain saw, as almost all his work is select cut. Most of Indiana’s 4.9-million acres of forestland is privately owned, so Richards typically buys wood from a private landowner. Commiskey Hardwoods harvests primarily poplar, along with maple, oak, and hickory.
When he was young, Richards would help out at his step-grandfather’s small sawmill, mostly stacking lumber and doing other chores. After graduating from high school in 1984, he took ownership of the mill, purchased a 1974 John Deere 350B Crawler, and started logging full-time.
“It was the hardest time of my life,” he recalls. “But I found my calling in the woods. I thought bringing back logs to the mill to turn them into building materials was the coolest thing. It’s the tough times that truly shape us. I live a great life and love what I do, but I learned you need to stay strong. You can’t give up or you won’t accomplish anything.”
For 18 years, he hand-felled logs before using the 350B Crawler to skid them and lift them onto a truck. He’d work all day until he got the truck loaded. “I was probably around that machine more than I was my wife (laughs). It was a good machine, though I knew I needed something bigger.”
His step-grandfather taught him a lot. But logging in Indiana is tough. “Everything is a challenge. Bidding is super competitive — to sustain a business long term is very tough. The soil and terrain change from job to job. And you are always fighting the weather.”
We’re up against much larger companies, and Deere has helped me become more competitive.
To be more competitive, Richards had to become more efficient. He took logger training through the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. “I learned many new techniques and how to be safer — it made me better at what I do.”
Richards also began purchasing John Deere skidders, beginning with a 440A, followed later by a 648E in 1998. Today he runs 540G-III, 748H, and 648L Skidders. In his log yard he runs a Deere 544K Wheel Loader along with the original 350B Crawler, which is still going strong.
The skidders help Commiskey Hardwoods produce 20 to 30 loads a week. “The 350B Crawler had its place — it was all I could afford at the time,” says Richards. “But I knew I needed to invest in bigger, more productive Deere machines. Ten years ago, I’d have been happy to log 150,000 board feet in a year. I can move much more with these skidders.
“They’re excellent machines. They are built tough to take abuse every day, and they last for years and hold their value. The L-Series is quiet, comfortable, and simple to service. The Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) is smooth and simple to run. Hydraulics are very responsive — it’s a fast machine that helps me be more productive.”
Richards chose Deere because the company has always treated him like a large customer, even when he was small. “I have small customers that might only buy 20 logs from me a year, but they are no less important. Deere treats us with the same respect. We’re up against the toughest companies out there, and Deere has helped me become more competitive. They’re always looking to see what our needs are as loggers and building machines to match those needs.”
Support from his local dealer, West Side Tractor Sales, has been vital. “They can remotely diagnose the machine using JDLink™, so the service technician can bring the right part the first time. Even for hard-to-find parts, I just call them, and they will get them for me. I can’t say enough about John Deere and its dealer network. They are great to deal with, and I appreciate that.”
EVERY TREE MATTERS
Indiana’s forestland is carefully managed with sustainable harvesting. The state’s total acreage of timberland has steadily increased since the 1960s, with forests growing more than 3.3 times the amount being removed each year.
Like most loggers, Richards is a steward of the forest. He recently brought the 648L Skidder to an “ag day” at a local school to educate students about logging. He displayed the many different products that are made from wood and discussed the logger’s role in keeping forests healthy.
“So many people spread disinformation about how awful logging is. They think we’re trying to destroy the forest, but we’re trying to protect it. We want the forest to thrive. It’s a battle I fight every day, with every tree. I want to get this one down without damaging anything else. Every tree matters because this is our future.”
Commiskey Hardwoods takes every opportunity to win over the community. If it uses a neighbor’s property to park equipment or to access a jobsite, it’ll bring in loads of stone to repair driveways, reseed fields, and give away extra wood that people can sell for firewood. “We try to do the little things that many people don’t. I joked with one neighbor that he’d hate to see us leave, and he said, ‘I doubt it.’ But honestly when we were leaving, he said he hated to see us go.”
On every job, Commiskey Hardwoods strives to do the best it possibly can. “We take care of the land like it’s our own.”
Commiskey Hardwoods is serviced by West Side Tractor Sales, Bloomington, Indiana.
Commiskey Hardwood has taken flight with the help of John Deere skidders and the local John Deere dealer.