On an unusually warm and sunny fall day, Floyd Turner is operating his Cat® 329E Hydraulic Excavator on a job in Tennessee. He is moving piles of brush that he cleared to make way for a four-lane highway widening project. It is the tail end of a project to clear six miles along Highway 33 north of Knoxville.
Turner, a native of Tennessee, prefers to be on the job with his company, FNT Logging. “I would rather be in the woods cutting or looking at a tract or marking boundary lines than in an office any day,” he says. The serenity of being out in the woods — and in an area with no cell service — is the highlight of his work.
Turner’s father, Cleo, owned a logging business, and he began helping his father at age 14. He quit school and went to work at a sawmill, too young to be working in logging. He started working for his father when he was 18 and learned the logging business.
Turner recalled the first time his family bought Cat equipment from Stowers Machinery Corp. in 1971 — specifically, a Cat 227 Feller Buncher. “My father discovered that buying new Cat equipment made him more productive because he had less downtime for repairs and more time to work,” he says.
It wouldn’t be long before Turner followed his father’s lead in both the forestry industry and with his preference in equipment. “Daddy made logger of the year in ’93, and that’s when I went out on my own. I took the spare equipment and started up.”
Using the old equipment from his father’s business was sometimes rough going, and he distinctly remembers his first new machines, which included a Cat 518 Skidder and a Cat 322 Feller Buncher. “I got to doing a lot better when I bought those,” says Turner.
Tennessee’s hills and mountains can pose a challenge to loggers, but Turner has found ways to be efficient even when logging on steep terrain. He uses the feller buncher to take down trees and then one of his five Cat 545 Skidders to pull them to a landing.
He got started with clearing land, but his business has expanded. FNT Logging cuts pulpwood and saw timber and also does select cuts to thin stands. Turner still does land-clearing work, too, removing trees to create pasture land, for example. The business employs about two dozen people and, in addition to forestry machines, is equipped with 10 logging trucks.
“We’re really versatile,” he says. “Sometimes we’ll just be going in for the big saw timber. But if a landowner wants 100 acres cleared, we’ll come in and do that.”
He attributes his success to hard work, but he also notes that he is not in the venture alone. His wife, Barbara, is an equal partner in the business. She keeps the books and helps run the company.
The Turners have three daughters: Melissa, Tiffany and Faith. Melissa and Tiffany are both married, and Turner said their husbands may have an interest in carrying on the family business. “And hopefully, Faith will take more of an interest,” Turner says of his youngest daughter, who is 16.
Woody debris — Turner refers to it as “energy” — is supplied to a nearby paper mill for fuel. Turner supplies the same plant with pulpwood, too. “You can’t burn in Tennessee,” he explains. “Anybody can clear a pile and burn it, but when you can’t burn, that changes everything.”
Turner finds markets for all the wood fiber that is cleared from the land. That means using various pieces of equipment to serve his customers, including a Cat 299C Compact Track Loader and a Cat 953 Track Loader.
“We take everything out and sell it in a better market,” he says. “We’re still throwing away an awful lot of energy, but they’re starting to build plants just to make electricity from burning (woody debris). There’s a lot of talk of it.”
The forestry industry still is challenged by some groups that wrongly accuse it of destroying woodlands. Those concerns are misplaced, notes Turner.
“A lot of people don’t understand the timber industry and are really concerned about the clear-cuts,” he says. “But The University of Tennessee will recommend that you clear-cut a lot of the time because there are just junk trees left, species that aren’t worth much. We need to manage our forests better.”
Since his father started buying Cat equipment from Stowers, Turner has had a relationship with the dealer, which operates as Stowers Cat. The dealership has provided prompt service. “We can take something to the Crossville shop and, within a few minutes, they’ll know what’s wrong,” he says.