For as long as he can remember, Matthew Seals of Tazewell, Tenn., has been logging, or harvesting timber, with his dad.
“My dad has his own logging business, Jimmy Seals Logging, so when I was young I’d always ride along in his logging truck to haul logs to the sawmill,” says Matthew, who graduated from Claiborne High School in May 2013. “When I was 12 or 13, he let me start running the bulldozer a little bit, and over time I progressed in it. Now I can run any piece of equipment we have.”
Logging is a forestry career that’s popular in East Tennessee due to the abundance of timber in the area. Matthew’s dad, grandfather and uncle are all loggers, and other members of the Tazewell FFA Chapter have also gone on to work for local logging businesses.
“It’s a big deal in our area,” says Mike Wilmoth, Claiborne High School agriculture teacher and FFA advisor. “At least 12 to 15 of my former students are working in logging operations like Matthew’s. Landowners will hire loggers to saw and cut trees and pull them to the log yard.”
An agriculture teacher for 31 years, Wilmoth was Matthew’s FFA advisor as well as his dad, Jimmy’s. He now has Matthew’s younger brother Landon as a student.
“Matthew was a model student in every way. He studied hard, worked hard and took all his assignments seriously,” Wilmoth says. “He truly loves logging. That’s all he talked about. It’s kind of in your blood.”
One of the things that sets Jimmy Seals Logging apart, Matthew says, is the extra attention they give to the land.
“Landowners will call us when they want their property logged, and we’ll go in and mark property lines and cut the mature timber into logs to sell to a sawmill,” he says. “But it’s not just going in there and making a mess. Of course there will be a mess, but we clean everything up and get it looking good again so the landowner is happy. We treat their property like it’s our own. Loggers who don’t clean up after themselves give us all a black eye.”
Matthew was named the 2013 Forest Management and Products Proficiency Winner at the National FFA Convention & Expo. The award recognized him for outstanding achievement in gaining hands-on career experience in his field, and came with a plaque and $500.
After high school, Matthew became foreman of the logging crew.
“We have four guys who work for us, and I help them fix any problems and keep things running smoothly,”
Matthew says. “We’re all good buddies, and we enjoy working together. Logging is stressful and dangerous, so there’s no room for arguing.”
One way Matthew prepared for his career was by taking a five-week master logger class his junior year.
At age 17, he became a certified Tennessee master logger.
“The course included things like chainsaw safety, finances, CPR, first aid and how to spot tree diseases,” Matthew says. “Logging is very challenging, so you have to have a heart for it.”
In fact, logging is among the top five most dangerous jobs in the United States, according to statistics. Total logging fatalities in the United States were 59 in 2010 and 65 in 2011. Loggers work with heavy machinery, frequent bad weather and occasional high altitudes.
The fatality rate is 104 per 100,000 workers.
“You’ve got to watch the tops of trees because they can hit you, and dead limbs can also fall on you,”
Matthew says. “We always wear the proper equipment – hard hats, safety glasses and logging chaps. You’ve got to pay attention, because there’s no room for mistakes in the woods.”
Matthew speaks from experience. In April 2014, he cut into his foot with a chainsaw, slicing a bone in two. He spent a week in the hospital and two months recovering. It taught him a valuable lesson.
“Sometimes when you do things enough, you get comfortable and forget to pay close attention,” he says. “I’m even more cautious on the job now. I don’t ever want to make that mistake again.”
Matthew’s goal is to become a partner in his father’s business.
“Logging has been passed down for several generations in my family, and my two younger brothers are probably going to progress in it, too,” he says. “It’s a great opportunity for me to get to work alongside my dad.”
FFA helped Matthew get where he is today, and he says Wilmoth was “the best teacher I could ever ask for.”
“I started in FFA my freshman year and did several contests, including livestock, land and forestry judging, and parliamentary procedure,” Matthew says. “Those competitions helped me learn to think on my feet and develop my leadership skills.”
Wilmoth says seeing students like Matthew develop their self-confidence and succeed after they graduate is rewarding.
“Everyone loves Matthew at our school, and I’ve used him as an example in class many times,” Wilmoth says. “I feel fortunate to have had him as my student.”
– Jessica Mozo