Department: Cover Story
Lush, green forests filled with wildlife, streams and snowy peaks fill more than 30 million acres of Oregon’s vast landscape dotted with Douglas firs and ponderosa pines. When the weather is calm, the trees provide a picturesque scene for tourists and outdoors enthusiasts, but when the weather is harsh, the trees become a hazardous reminder that Mother Nature rules our lives. You wouldn’t call their profession a glamorous one. You certainly don’t go into the industry seeking a six-figure salary. And every day, you’re reminded that technology can both help and harm you. This is the life of a logger, a job held by thousands of people in the Pacific Northwest. And this profession—along with two Oregon Alpha brothers—caught the eye of a cable-TV network that wanted to put the blue-collar, nitty-gritty nature of their work in front of a nationwide audience via a show called Ax Men.
Mark (Oregon State ’73) and Clay (Oregon State ’78) Gustafson are the co-owners of Gustafson Logging, a major clear-cut operation that’s existed in Oregon for more than three decades. They share two special brotherly bonds: one as blood brothers and one as brothers in Sigma Alpha Epsilon. They’ve kept logging at the top of their list of passions since they graduated from college. Each of them oversees various operations at work sites throughout the state. At the same time, they face long days and unpredictable conditions in the pursuit of profit. Despite their often-hectic schedules, they’re humble and down-to-earth. They kiss their wives goodbye in the morning and sometimes drive more than an hour between locations where their men are clearing the forest.
“Once it’s in your blood, you have such a passion for it, and you can’t imagine doing anything else,” Mark says. “If I go on vacation for a week, I’m anxious to get back.”
Their father started Gustafson Logging in 1974 and based the operation in the coastal town of Astoria, Oregon. Born out of his desire to have his own logging operation, he employed the assistance of his family. Mark and Clay helped their dad, and even their mother would join him on work sites, toting her own chainsaw.
Mark graduated from Oregon State University with a degree in forest engineering. But instead of working full time with his father right out of school, he took a job on Vancouver Island in British Columbia and returned several years later. He’s been with Gustafson Logging ever since.
Clay, on the other hand, worked summers with the family business during his college years, and it’s still not uncommon for students to work as loggers during academic breaks to make money. But Clay says logging during the 1970s involved a different process.