BUILDING THE FUTURE

“The people in my life – my family and friends – helped me restore my faith in myself,” Adams explained. “You surround yourself with good people, so you always know where you stand, and you trust each other to do what you say you will do. It all comes down to something else my Dad told me. He said, ‘Show me your friends and I will show you your future’.”

Jeff Adams
Owner, Elk Mountain Logging Company
Grangeville High School Football Coach
Grangeville, Idaho

In Jeff Adams world, there is no clear dividing line between coaching and logging, which may help explain why he is possibly the only logger in Idaho history to have ever been named the Idaho High School Athletic Association’s Division 2A Coach of the Year.

“Every year I get 56 new sons,” Adams says with in quiet drawl that sounds a little southern, but isn’t. “I tell them I coach the same way I log; with great care and a lot of respect for those for whom we work. I don’t care who your daddy is. If you work hard, show respect and always do your best, you can play for me, and I will work my heart out to help you be the best you can be.”

It is the beginning of a riveting tw0-hour conversation with one of the most inspiring young men I’ve ever met. It took him three weeks to return my phone call, but when he finally did he suggested we meet in the conference room at Northwest Insurance Agency on Main in Grangeville. I was soon to learn that the conference room doubles as the war room for the coaching staff. Every wall was papered with diagrams of offensive and defensive plays.

Jeff Adams exudes a kind of sincerity, confidence and dedication that is rare in today’s increasingly cynical world. Grangeville, Idaho, population 3,123, is very lucky to have him. And he counts himself lucky to call Grangeville home.

“This is the safest place I’ve ever lived,” Adams boasts. “We moved here to raise our kids – four girls. I am surrounded by love, at home and in this town. I love the people here; I love the guys that work for me; I love our coaching staff and the prairie spirit these kids display; I love the Forest Service guys we work around; and I love that mill on the edge of town.’

Hard to believe that Adams’ indomitable spirit nearly failed him after his father died in 2009. The Great Recession almost crushed his logging business and he missed his dad’s homespun wisdom to the point where he wasn’t entirely sure that he wanted to continue logging. He credits IFG President, Scott Atkison, and Bill Higgins, IFG’s resource manager for its Lewiston and Grangeville mills, with encouraging him not to give up on himself.

Adams did not give up, possibly because logging is in his third-generation blood; but more likely because of a piece of career advice his plain spoken father had given him years earlier.

“He said pick the one thing you like the most and be the best at it that you can possibly be,” Adams recalls. “There wasn’t anything fancy about my dad, but he possessed a kind of downhome wisdom that is hard to find today. You never wanted to quit on him and I never did.”

Adams knew he was a good logger, but his head was in a bad spot. His equipment was tired and so was he. Worse, the mechanics of logging were changing rapidly, and he knew he was finished if he too didn’t change. So with the memory of his father’s voice in his ear, he doubled down on his own future prospects.

“In 2013, I bought the first new machine I’d ever owned,” he replies when I ask him how he changed. “It was my personal investment in Scott, Bill and my crew. Now all of our equipment is new. Our guys work in cabs, above the ground were the view is good and the work is much safer than it was 20 years ago.”

Over the next two years, Adams purchased five machines, one for each member of his five-man crew: a cut-to-length log processor, a skidder, a feller-buncher and two loaders – a capital investment well north of $1 million. What changed? Certainly not the cyclical nature of the logging business.

“The people in my life – my family and friends – helped me restore my faith in myself,” Adams explained. “You surround yourself with good people, so you always know where you stand, and you trust each other to do what you say you will do. It all comes down to something else my Dad told me. He said, ‘Show me your friends and I will show you your future’.”

These days, the future of Elk Mountain Logging looks very bright. Housing markets are strong and getting stronger, a first since the nation’s banking industry nearly collapsed in 2008. Adams’ crew is finishing up a U.S. Forest Service stewardship contract between Pierce and Weippe, above Orofino, Idaho, that has kept them away from home – save for weekends – since last spring. Their soon-to-start winter job is near Elk City, a mere 40 miles east of Grangeville.

“The guys are all looking forward to being home with their families every night,” Adams says. “It doesn’t take long for the romance that goes with living in your RV in the woods to wear off.”

Adams is fortunate. At a time when the logging industry’s work force is graying rapidly, his crew averages a young 36 years old. Most of their jobs are on the four-million-acre Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest – something else that separates Elk Mountain Logging from its competitors.

“Most loggers would rather not work for the Forest Service,” Adams says. “Lots of extra paperwork and lots of government folks looking over your shoulder. But I told Bill Higgins that I wanted to make Forest Service contracts our specialty. We like the Forest Service folks we work with and they like us. You work together to avoid problems, and if you encounter them, you work together to find a solution. We’re a team. It matters to all of us how well we do our work.”

What may make Jeff Adams unique among loggers – and football coaches – is his gift for reducing his extraordinarily busy life to its simplest pieces; except that he would say they are the most beautiful pieces.

“My family, my work and football,” he says, counting them off on his fingers. “That’s it. That’s what I do – every day, every month, all year long because this community and our kids deserve the best all of us have to give.”

In 2011, Adams’ second year on the Bulldog coaching staff, Grangeville ran the table [12-0] and won the Idaho 2A football championship, its’ first ever.

Adams shakes his head. “As a coaching staff, we barely knew what we were doing, but there is something very special about these prairie kids. We play the biggest schools that will schedule us, and we get beat occasionally, but no one has ever whipped us, and no one ever will.”

Grangeville School District 244 is not blessed with a lot of money for luxuries, like its remarkably good football program. Credit the team’s eight coaches – four of them volunteers and the other four on small stipends. As offensive coordinator, Adams gets a stipend, which he gladly hands over to his wife.

“We are gone a lot during the season,” Adams says of the team’s out of town games. Our wives deserve a little something extra for their sacrifices.”

Although Adams sees a bright future for his Elk Mountain Logging Company, not one former Grangeville football player has ever asked him for a job. Most likely one or more will eventually, but the first order of business for most Grangeville High graduates is leaving town – hopefully for good. Many go on to college. Others enlist in the armed services or just drift until something strikes their fancy. The town fervently hopes some of them will return one day because without them, there will be no town.

“Growing up isn’t as easy as it was when I was young,” Adams observes. “And good paying jobs aren’t as plentiful as they were, so unless you are college bound it takes time to find your moorings. I’m a college graduate [he was a track star at Idaho State University] but I don’t think it’s for everyone. But if you have the right skill sets and aren’t afraid of hard work, logging can be a fun and rewarding career choice.”

Our two-hour conversation flies by. Then it is time to take some pictures. We agree to meet at the football field. Once there, we walk to the west end zone. The sun is setting over the often windswept Camas Prairie. It is at least 20 miles to the distant peaks that rise above Hells Canyon, not far from the confluence of the thousand-mile long Snake River and the treacherous 425-mile-long Salmon.

Soon, it will be necessary to turn on the stadium lights. They will illuminate the playing field but be swallowed easily by the immense darkness that creeps in behind the bleachers.

“We call this end zone the black hole,” Adams says as he leans casually on one of the goal posts. “If you kick a football through these uprights at night, it disappears into the dark. It’s the same if you end zone pass misses your receiver.”

I try to imagine a spiraling or tumbling football disappearing into the foreboding darkness. What must opposing teams that have never played here before think about this almost surreal setting?

The smiling Adams answers my unasked question. “There is no football field anywhere else on earth quite like this one.”

And there are probably no other loggers quite like Jeff Adams.

  • Jim Petersen, Evergreen