MEET YOUR MERCHANT: Nevada County couple helps keep homes warm through growing trend of energy logs
Energy Logs and Wood Pellets
122 Hughes Rd., Grass Valley (next to the Shell station across from Sierra Cinemas)
Hours: 9:30 to 5 p.m., Mon. through Fri. and weekends by appointment.
Men scatter when Kathy Thomas jumps into her forklift to move pallets around the warehouse. But she just laughs it off.
“Some of them even try to tell me how to drive it,” she said. “For some reason they seem surprised when they realize I know what I’m doing.”
After more than 25 years of working together selling energy logs, it’s clear that Kathy and her husband Perry know exactly what they’re doing. The two seem to possess an enviable partnership that works well, whether they’re at work or play.
The Thomases moved to Nevada County in 1981 and bought a beverage distribution company. But after seven years, the business had become a challenge with the consolidation of distributorships and the costs of maintaining a staff. They were ready for something new.
“We decided that if we ever opened another business, we’d have zero employees,” said Perry. “It would just be the two of us.”
That’s exactly what they did. After a tip from a customer, the pair did extensive research on selling clean and efficient compressed energy logs and pellets made from recycled wood waste taken from sawmills. They settled on Northern Idaho Energy Logs, a more than 80-year-old company based in Moyie Springs, Idaho, near the Canadian border.
‘FIRST IN NEVADA COUNTY’
That was more than 25 years ago, and since then, 80,000-pound semi-trucks full of logs and pellets have been regularly making the 900-mile trip to Kathy and Perry’s warehouse on Hughes Road in Grass Valley. If pallets or half pallets are not delivered to customers’ homes, they can pull into the warehouse carport across from Sierra Cinemas and load up whatever they need, be it logs, pellets or bundles of kindling.
Each 8-pound log is made from 100 percent natural wood — compressed under the intense pressure of 20,000 pounds per square inch — with no chemicals or binders. The high combustion and low moisture content results in a clean, hot fire which can decrease chimney emissions by as much as 55 percent, said Perry. The company boasts that one pallet (240 energy logs) has the heating capacity of one and a half to two cords of firewood.
“No trees were cut specifically for this — and no grain or knots in the logs,” said Perry, who also spent 15 years driving trucks for United Natural Foods Incorporated, formerly the Mountain People’s Warehouse. “We were the first energy log sellers in Nevada County.”
Today fewer people are investing in pellet stoves, added Perry — roughly 95 percent of their sales are now in logs. However, their company is also a distributor of Atlas Wood Pellets, which are made from 100 percent wood fiber, and like the logs, have no additives or wood binders.
‘There’s the log lady!’
While there is typically a steady stream of business, long lines at the warehouse are a rarity. Yet somehow, said Kathy, people seem to remember one season when a series of power outages resulted in a line that backed up over the hill on Hughes Road. Everyone had run out of wood.
“We have a lot of customers who have been with us since the beginning,” she said. “Many have become good friends. We’re lucky to live in such a wonderful community. When people see me in the store they say, ‘There’s the log lady!’”
Cold winter days are often the busiest, which is why the Thomases opted to build a well-insulated small office. Unlike the old office, which actually fell down, it stays toasty throughout the day. Between customers and deliveries, Kathy loves to sew. She recently finished a Minnie Mouse costume for her granddaughter. Another grandchild is due in February.
One perk of the energy log business is that the Thomases enjoy summers off. They’ve driven all over U.S. the (including Alaska) and Canada in their Prius. They’re thankful to have extended time off to recover from busy winters and springs, which can be physically demanding.
“We’re definitely not getting any younger, and it’s just the two of us here loading logs,” said Perry. “But we love what we do. This is all we do. If you specialize in one thing, you get pretty good at it.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.
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