Approaching the “landing” at the Levi Lumber job site in the Adirondack League Club is akin to landing on another planet. The drive down narrow, snow-covered roads makes one think they’ve gotten close to the end of the earth…until a large logging truck is coming from the other direction. But there are plowed turnarounds and pull-offs; safety is considered every step of the way.
After twists and turns that seem to lead to nowhere, there is a clearing full of very large machinery and equipment, and a red school bus. On the school bus are the Levi brothers; John, Jr., Dan and Jerry, eating lunch together as they have done every day for most of their lives. Their father, John, Sr., is on the top of a large truck securing logs.
John, Sr. and Sid Payne started Payne and Levi Sawmill in 1961, and when Payne retired in 1997, the senior Levi and his three sons carried on the company.
Make no mistake, though; they have a boss. Her name is Lynda and she has been married to John, Sr. for 50 years. She handles book keeping, finances, the retail lumber yard and, most importantly, keeping all her guys on task. Sister Julie Levi Manzi has worked for the family business in the past, and currently runs her own family businesses.
The Levis log private, municipal, state, county, corporate and timber management organization lands. They now log and sell lumber and run a retail lumber yard, no longer milling their own lumber. But it is not just a matter of cutting down trees and removing them for materials; there are guidelines to follow with most restrictions depending on location and terrain. If it becomes necessary to cross a waterway, they may have to obtain permits from the DEC and have NYS Forest Rangers visit the site.
“Every cut is different. Some jobs are marked to cut certain trees, others to leave specific trees and some are by description or basil percentage,” says Dan.
Forestry research is also involved in logging and has been proven to improve the overall ecosystem, says Dan.
“The idea is to have three different generations of trees growing at once. There should be dominant, co-dominant and juvenile trees,” he says.
Every part of a tree is used and the products stay in the region. Wood chips go to Lyonsdale or Fort Drum, pulp goes to Ticonderoga and the saw logs stay local, usually being hauled to Boonville or Tupper Lake. They say the demand for wood and wood products is constant and is sometimes difficult to keep up with due to weather, hauling distances and breakdowns.
A typical day for the loggers includes each doing their various jobs.
“There’s cutting, slashing, chipping, skidding, trucking and almost always something to fix,” says Dan.
John, Sr. handles excavating and some trucking; he also handles office work on occasion. All three sons handle logging with John, Jr. taking the helm at chipping, Jerry takes care of skidding and Dan is the feller on the site. Watching them, it’s easy to tell they’ve been working together for s long as any of them can remember.
“They are like a machine. Each one does their job and they fit together like a puzzle and they’ve been that way since they were very small. The boys were always close growing up and still are,” says Lynda.
Does she worry about the work being dangerous?
“They are good at what they do and always look out for each other. We have a lot of faith in them and are very proud of them,” she says.
Dan agrees and says that while many people think logging is a dangerous profession, he thinks it’s about average.
All of the Levis reside in Inlet with the exception of John, Jr. and his wife and five daughters, who moved to Old Forge several years ago.
“We call him the city brother now,” says Jerry.
“I haven’t heard the end of it,” says John, Jr.
Jerry and wife Heather have two daughters who attend Town of Webb School. Dan and wife Georgia have a daughter and son enrolled in TOWS and their younger son attends Inlet Common School. Julie and husband Sean live in Inlet with their two daughters and son.
One thing is for certain–there’s never a dull moment on the Levi job site.
“Working with my brothers, there’s always something funny happening,” says Dan.
Photos: Above, Jerry, Dan, John and John Levi, Sr.; middle, the Levis at the landing of their job site; some of the Levis’ equipment on the job site.
This story first appeared in the Adirondack Express in Old Forge.