Stihl Dealer Days

Rural Missouri Magazine

The long-eared loggers
Mules help Jason and Aaron Deschu work gently in the woods

by Jim McCarty
Logs pile up as Belle and Sugar drag them out of the woods. On this job, the Deschu brothers, aided by Lorie Saunders, were able to clean up smaller logs that will be cut into firewood. A job like this would be too small for a typical logger using machinery but is tailor- made for the brothers.

In a thick stand of oak near Buffalo, two black Percheron mules impatiently stomp their feet. Polished black harnesses trail backward along their flanks to where Jason Deschu and his helper, Lorie Saunders, hitch them to a two-wheeled cart equipped with a gas-powered winch.

Farther into the woods, the angry whine of a chain saw wielded by Jason’s brother, Aaron, cuts through the frosty morning air, punctuated by the crash of a falling tree. It’s the beginning of a typical day for Triangle D Mule Logging, operated by these Gascosage Electric Co-op members from their home near Brinktown.

Their reason for being is the same as other logging companies: to turn timber into cash for landowners. But the brothers hope to walk a little more gently in the woods by using a curious blend of ancient and modern technology, combined with the latest timber management practices.

“This landowner was looking for someone to not tear up the soil and keep it clean,” says Jason, who at 25 is five years younger than his brother. “With the mules we don’t get the soil compaction and trenching machinery will make. We’re not driving through here with a 10-foot blade. We can be selective and we don’t need such big roads. There’s a lot less damage.”

Adds Aaron: “It’s been raining and icing here for the past week and a half and we’re out here today. There’s not a tire track, no trenches, no ruts, no nothing. That’s nice.”

Jason, left, and Aaron Deschu turned a love of the outdoors into a career in forestry. The two worked summers for the National Forest Service in Wyoming where they learned to handle teams of mules.

The brothers can work small jobs for a landowner wanting to clean up a few acres because they don’t have the huge investment in log skidders and trucks that a typical logging operation requires. For about the price of a gallon of diesel fuel, Sugar and Belle are happy to skid logs all day.

“Most companies can’t afford to do a job this size, 10 to 20 acres,” Jason says of the niche he has found in the timber market. “We’re looking at about 10,000 board feet. That’s only a morning’s work for someone with a skidder. But for us, it’s pretty cheap because we’re not paying off a $30,000 to $40,000 piece of equipment. There’s a lot less overhead for mules.”

It was Jason’s idea to go into business skidding logs with mules. Aaron already had graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree in wildlife management. He was applying his degree by mushing sled dogs in Wyoming during the winter and working mules in the Teton wilderness the rest of the year.

Both brothers worked for the National Forest Service since their teenage years, heading west to clear trails and build log structures. No machinery can be used in wilderness areas, so any work had to be done the old-fashioned way.

“Working for the Forest Service, we did all kinds of trail work and a lot of things that involved packing and riding,” Aaron says. “We were driving teams, skidding logs around to build bridges and stuff like that. That’s how we learned to drive a team. Jason even learned to plow with a team.”

Belle and Sugar, two black draft mules, earn their keep pulling logs out of the woods. The team loves to work and instinctively knows what to do.

Working in the nearly 600,000 acres of wilderness in Wyoming took the brothers about as far as possible from their upbringing in St. Louis. The two saw their father spend 40 years working in the same little inside cubicle. They were determined to escape the city life and work outdoors, a love they acquired from frequent camping trips and stays with relatives on the Gasconade River near Vienna.

When Jason graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree in forestry, Aaron asked him what his plans were. “He said he was going into mule logging,” Aaron recalls.

Instead of calling him crazy, Aaron jumped at the chance to be his brother’s partner. The two bought a house near Brinktown and put the word out that they were looking for a team of mules.

They found Belle and Sugar not 7 miles away. The mules were ready to work. Jason and Aaron found themselves in the timber business, minus the machinery.

“In the eastern United States where the timber market is better, there is a lot more of this going on,” Jason says of the mule logging. “Here it’s growing. There’s at least two others doing this.”

A member of the Missouri Consulting Foresters Association, Jason knows how to improve a stand of timber, something both brothers say needs to be done on private land all across Missouri.

“I have a good idea how to make a forest better,” Jason says. “Most landowners have no idea about the value of their timber and the value of managing it. There is a significant advantage to thinning before harvesting.”

He says most forest stands haven’t been managed properly. Trees common to Missouri need sunlight and room to grow. “A stagnant stand of timber grows a tenth of an inch a year. You can double that if you thin,” Jason says.

Lorie Saunders hooks the winch cable to a log while Jason gets ready to hoist it off the ground. The mule team actually pulls a cart designed by the brothers. Its gas-powered winch keeps the logs from digging into the ground and can spare the mules hard labor when logs are in deep hollows.

“We take the worst first and leave the best there,” Aaron says of their philosophy. “Hopefully we can make a deal with the landowner so we can manage his timber. Make some money for the landowner and some for us and maybe get some quality forest back into Missouri.”

And that’s where the slow, steady hard work from a team of mules comes into play. Belle and Sugar seem to love skidding logs, chomping at the bit whenever the brothers are a little slow getting them into action.

When Jason hits the lever that raises the log off the forest floor, the mules sense the change in pitch from the winch motor. Without a signal, they hit the harness and eagerly skid the log toward the pile. They instinctively know when to turn and when to stop.

“They anticipate everything,” Jason says. “If you change your mind, you’ve got to be on top of things.”

Jason and Aaron love the opportunity to work outside alongside their magnificent mules. No strangers to hard work, the brothers worked in Missouri’s Bell Mountain Wilderness Area clearing fallen trees with a crosscut saw.

“They are the only ones I know of that do that kind of work in this neck of the woods,” says Joe Walker with the Mark Twain National Forest’s Potosi and Fredericktown District. “To do stuff for the Forest Service, you’ve got to be certified in just about everything. We don’t have anyone here that is certified on crosscut saws. And chain saws we can’t use in a wilderness area.”

Below: Logging with mules is easier on the land than machinery. In wilderness areas it’s the only option.

The crosscut saw is Aaron’s specialty. “When they are sharp, they work nice. When they are not, that’s where they got the term ‘misery whip.’ When it’s cutting good, two guys can cut through a log darn near as fast as a chain saw.”

Perhaps stranger than two young people wanting to work with mules and crosscut saws is two brothers who get along so well. Love of nature and the desire to work with animals keeps them close.

“I figure any day I can get up and brush and harness an animal is a good day,” Jason says. “It’s a heck of a lot more fun than running a piece of equipment.”

Jason and Aaron can be reached by calling 573-291-7906 or e-mailing aedeschu@hotmail.com. For the Missouri Consulting Foresters Association, log on to www.missouriforesters.com.

Rural Missouri - September 2014
2014 Missouri Snapshots Photo Contest
 
Rural Missouri Merchandise Out of the Way Eats Subscribe to Rural Missouri Rural Missouri Prints Store

Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives

Rural Missouri
2722 E. McCarty Street
P.O. Box 1645 • Jefferson City, Mo. 65102
573-659-3423

Rural Missouri's Facebook Page Rural Missouri's YouTube Channel Subscribe to Rural Missouri's RSS Feed Rural Missouri | Pinterest