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Pa. men making a good living off the land

August 02, 1999

Gish Logging Inc.By DON AINES / Staff Writer, Chambersburg

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photogapher




FORT LOUDON, Pa. - About 20 years ago, Ernie Gish began cutting and selling firewood, a common way for people in rural Pennsylvania to make some extra money with nothing more than a chain saw and a pickup truck.

"It wasn't too long before we had a little ad in the newspaper," Gish said Sunday.

Despite a string of warm winters, Gish Logging Inc. last year had gross sales of about $1 million, according to Gish, who is co-owner of the business with Mike Jones, another Fort Loudon native.

"Since 1989 we've been the largest producer of bulk firewood in the country," Gish said. During a string of colder winters in the mid-90s, Gish Logging was marketing about 14,000 cords a year and had gross sales of up to $1.675 million.

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A cord is 128 cubic feet of wood, a stack measuring four feet high, four feet wide and eight feet long. Gish said he hopes the company will soon be selling similar amounts of its newest product, Hotsticks.

Gish Logging recently was approved for two state-backed, low-interest loans totaling $1.7 million to expand into the production of kiln-dried packaged firewood through retail outlets. It part of a $2,052,500 project that includes the construction of a 33,000-square-foot building at 4980 Path Valley Road in Metal Township, Pa., according to the Franklin County Area Development Corp.

The larger of the two loans, $1.5 million, was approved by the Pennsylvania Economic Development Financing Authority. A $200,000 loan was approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development's Small Business First Fund, according to the development authority.

The company employs a dozen full-time and three part-time workers. Gish said the company plans to hire about 18 new workers over the next three years.

"We've set up a network of more than 80 dealers through the corridor" stretching from New York City to Richmond, Va., Gish said. The oak, maple, ash and other hardwoods are harvested from state forests and private property, he said.

The Hotsticks line is aimed at retail outlets such as Wal-Mart, Kmart, Home Depot and Food Lion, Gish said. Each bundle will have about enough firewood for an evening.

Marketing firewood this way has been done before, but Gish said his company's product will be different. Kiln drying will eliminate insects and spores and prevent mold once the wood has been wrapped in plastic. "The offsetting disadvantage is that it is very expensive" to produce, he said.

Gish, 54, said retailers are looking for a "quality product, smartly packaged and on a high-volume basis."

Marketing was something Gish learned when he was with Parnell Precision Products, a production machining company he helped start.

The company was founded in 1984. He said Jones, 36, also worked for Parnell, but "he was the outdoor type."

Gish founded his company in 1984 while still working for Parnell, and Jones had an ever-increasing role in the company.

"He began working for Gish Logging full-time before I did," Gish said, adding Jones later bought a share of the business.

Gish said the new building is nearing completion and the kiln is being installed this week. The company should begin shipping Hotsticks this fall.

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