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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow Lostine mayor juggles business, civic duty

Lostine mayor juggles business, civic duty

Krag Norton has seen plenty of history in small town in 20 years

LOSTINE — It’s the day after Thanksgiving and Krag Norton is alone in his Lostine shop. A pot of coffee is brewing next to his desk. Soon, he’ll be headed to the woods to work on equipment at a logging site.

He said he told his staff to take the day off, but he and Tim Huffman, who runs the automotive side of the business, were too “anal” to not come to work.

Norton said he was driving pickups to job sites since he was old enough to drive. He grew up at his father’s elbow working as a mechanic and later as a heavy equipment operator.

When Norton was a kid in Lostine in the 1970s and 1980s, he said the tiny village was empty. The shop he and his father run in downtown was vacant, as were most of the houses on the street where they lived, and the Lostine Tavern would open and close intermittently.

“Crow’s, Moffit Brothers and Jones Excavating were all that was here,” Norton said.

In 1979, his father, Clarence, opened Norton’s Welding across Wallowa Street from M. Crow and Co., the local mercantile. 

“He started it just as a welding and repair shop,” said Norton, who worked with his father after school and on weekends.

After high school, Norton went to the woods and skidded and cut logs for Ray Cameron. For a while he worked for Moffit Brothers building roads on land managed by the U.S. Forest Service and then went back to logging for SRS Timber, another Lostine company, working as a mechanic and building roads. For several years, he worked between Wallowa and Baker counties on logging jobs and in the spring he’d help out his father fixing farming and logging equipment until his father was seriously hurt.

While working on a harrow cart, a piece of metal tubing broke loose and hit Clarence Norton in the head, propelling him across the shop. The injury kept him out of the shop for 2-1/2 years, prompting Krag Norton to run the family business alone.

“The shop would have closed down, so I opted to stay here and work and keep the family business running,” Norton said. 

He said Southfork Redi-Mix and Jones Excavating inundated him with work. 

“The first five years I worked ungodly hours,” he said. 

Eventually, he hired a part-time bookkeeper, who is now full time, and employs six mechanics.

Norton poured another cup of coffee and offered a chocolate chip cookie. His dog, Tucker, and his dad’s dog, Shorty, came into the office looking for crumbs and settled for head scratches. 

The work ebbs and flows along with the farming and logging seasons. In February, the logging will shut down until May and then the farming equipment will come out of the barns for repairs. Selling heavy equipment keeps the business afloat during the winter months, Norton said.

“We do more dollar wise on used and new logging and construction equipment than the agriculture equipment,” he said. “The compact tractor market is off. People are not buying 5-acre parcels. They’ve seen their stocks go down the toilet and their retirement divide in half. There’s not a lot of money floating around right now.”

Besides individual wealth loss, Norton said the timber and lumber markets have been down the last three to four years. 

“Everyone I talk to is working longer hours for less money,” he said.

Yet enough are hanging on to keep him in business. He said he credits local logging businesses that keep him afloat, like Frohlanders, High Ridge, Bob Zacharias, the Witherites and the Kellermans.

In the meantime, Norton, like many others who work in the timber and agriculture fields, is diversifying. Though he has equipment on the lot for sale, most of the equipment he sells is off his website or by finding a specific piece of machinery for a customer.

Living in a small community can be more demanding than making a living, offering a service for local businesses and supplying jobs. Family and civic involvement are important, too.

While in his 20s, Norton said he filled a vacant position on the Lostine City Council. 

“I ended up in the No. 1 city council seat. At the next election I ran for my seat, but had already been appointed mayor because the mayor left, so I got elected to my city council seat and the mayor seat,” Norton said. “I ended up taking the mayor seat for a two-year term and 20 years later I’m still here. Mom and Dad said it was my civic duty to be on the city council at least one term. I guess I owe way more to the community than I thought.”

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