Saturday, October 17, 2015

Leep Logging, Small Business Report

I ran into Tom Leep quite by accident.  I had taken my car to the grain elevator in Charlotte to have them repair a slow leak in one of the tires.  While waiting for the repair, I heard Tom talking with one of the guys in the shop.  Tom was having a couple of tires replaced on his Ford dually.

I am incurably nosey and I tuned right in.  I was all ears when Tom asked if I wanted to see a picture of "a really nice log".

Logs are measured in a unit of length called....logs.  A "log" is between eight feet and eleven feet long.  A "log-and-a-half" is between 12 feet and 15 feet long.  "Two logs" is between 16 feet and 19 feet long.  This piece is a log-and-a-half long and 55 inches in diameter at the small end.
Tom received a phone call from the property owner in Barry County (one county west of Eaton County).  The property told Tom, "I have a pretty nice walnut tree on my property.  Would you like to cut it down?"

Tom looked it over and learned timber buyers had already offered the property owner between $500 and $3000.  The land owner asked Tom if he thought he could do any better than those offers.  Tom said that he was pretty sure he could do better than those estimates.

Tom generally works on a percentage.  This time he had to keep a little bit extra because he had to rent a crane.  This log weighed somewhere north of 12,000 pounds.

Tom paid the landowner $19,200 for the log.  That is more than six time what the next highest offer.

The economics of Walnut logs

The heartwood is the only high-value part of the Black Walnut log.  That becomes important because an 18" diameter Black Walnut log will likely have four inches of sapwood all the way around.  That means that the 18" diameter has a 10" diameter core of heartwood.  An 18 inch diameter, eight foot log has 98 board feet in it but the 10" core is only 18 board feet...about 20% of the gross.

By comparison, a 36" diameter Black Walnut log will likely have a 2" band of sapwood around the outside of the log.  A 36" diameter, eight foot Black Walnut log has 512 board fee and the 32" core of heartwood has about 390 board feet.  So the economic value of a 36 inch diameter log will be about 22 times greater than the value of an 18 inch diameter log solely on the basis of heartwood content.

Another factor that comes into play is veneer for long paneling.  High end architecture rarely has eight foot ceilings.  One needs longer paneling to reach from floor to ceiling.  The buyer also wants to match color all the way around the room.  The only way to do that is to buy a large log.  A REALLY large log.  There is a very limited supply of those kinds of logs and that drives up the price.  Tom told me this log is being shipped to Japan.

What impressed me

What impressed me is that Tom could have offered $4000 or $5000 and the landowner would have been thrilled.  But that is not the way Tom works.   He has been in the logging business for 13 years and he likes having a reputation where land owners call him.  He can make the same amount of money cutting a relatively small number of high value logs, and there is much less wear-and-tear on his equipment and his body.

Tom is a pretty easy guy to talk to.  He is calm and thoughtful.  Tom gives the impression that there is nothing "high pressure" about him.

So, if you have some "pretty nice" oak or walnuts on your property and you are ready for them to be harvested, then give Tom a call at 269-908-0772.


  1. Crap. I had a black walnut tree just about that size. I paid someone to cut it down and haul it away. Live and learn, eh?

  2. I've got one with a dead limb, a BIG limb that the city has tagged for removal - two years ago. as it lines the street. It's going to come down and someone or something is going to get hurt.

    Chicagoland might be too far for him though. I'm going to check with the village and just see if we can take care of the damn thing ourself as they dont seem to want to.

  3. Good to know there are still decent, honest businessmen out there, although I think we all suspected that to be the case. The news media coming out of the big cities would have you to believe that every where you look is nothing but doom and gloom.
    I bet Tom pays his taxes, doesn't kick his dog, loves his wife and helps others in the community. That is the America that I know and I choose to think that is the America that will be standing for the next 100 years because of men and women like Tom.
    Thanks, ERJ, for highlighting another one of many American heroes. Not, perhaps, in a league with those who fight for our freedom, but a hero just the same. A tip of the hat to you both.

  4. I knew a guy once who inherited a pecan orchard, but waned the land for other things. He was definitely not a pecan farmer. But, he realized the value of old pecan trees and called in a guy, like your Tom, who wanted good furniture-grade lumber and veneer. Over 200, 36 inch pecan trees and the landowner was able to construct a really nice building on the proceeds.


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