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South Dakota Logger Adds Dealership

Potter Logging uses Timberline SDL2a Delimbers; dealership represents manufacturer

By Diane Calabrese
Date Posted: 11/3/2003

WHITEWOOD, South Dakota — Some 12 years ago, Arlo Potter, owner of Potter Logging Inc., first got a good look at what Timberline Equipment could do for his company. He bought a Timberline ST-3530 machine on a rubber-tire carrier.

The Timberline ST-3530, one of the first delimbers offered, enabled Potter Logging to initiate the transition to mechanized harvesting operations. Since its inception in 1982, Potter Logging had relied on manual felling methods as well as manually removing limbs with chain saws.

Escalating workers’ compensation insurance premiums factored into Arlo’s decision to invest in machinery for Potter Logging. That was not the only reason, though. The need to increase production in an increasingly competitive industry was also an important factor.

Arlo still has the Timberline ST-3530. He keeps the machine as a back-up and puts it in service when the mill he supplies needs above normal production.

Today, the mainstay for the two Potter Logging crews is a pair of Timberline SDL2a track delimbers, one for each crew. The company purchased one in 1999 and added a second earlier this year. One crew normally works in South Dakota and Wyoming (and occasionally Nebraska) and the other in Montana.

The South Dakota-Wyoming crew consists of four men. It uses a Timbco 425 for felling and a John Deere 748 for skidding. It relies on the newer Timberline SDL2a for delimbing. The second four-man crew works primarily in Montana and uses a Timbco 445 equipped with a bar saw for felling, a John Deere 748 for skidding, and the second Timberline SDL2a for delimbing.

The Timbco 425 was purchased in 1997, and the Timbco 445 was purchased in 1998. Both John Deere 748 skidders are new in 2003. They supplanted the John Deere 648 skidders but did not replace them; the 648 machines are used part-time — for clean-up and if the skidding distance is too far for the John Deere 748 to keep up.

The crew that cuts in South Dakota and Wyoming fells 90% ponderosa pine; the other 10% of the trees felled are blue spruce. The crew that cuts in Montana handles all ponderosa pine. Jobs in Montana are generally tougher as the trees have a lot of branches; the work requires patience and exacts the best from both men and machines.

Ponderosa pine, also known as bull pine, is distinctive because of its many limbs, Arlo noted. The trees can tower as high as 165 feet although varieties in the Western U. S. usually are a bit shorter (with the tallest varieties being found in Canada). The bole of the ponderosa pine can reach a diameter of almost 5 feet, and the bark can be 6 inches thick. In Arlo’s experience, the biggest trees may reach 100 feet tall and 3 feet in diameter, occasionally 4 feet.

One of the things that Arlo likes about the Timberline SDL2a is that it handles the big ponderosa pines very readily. "It’s a really good match for the bull pine," he said. It can handle the big wood and remove the limbs with ease. "We seldom ever weld on it," explained Arlo, citing the way the machine holds together as an indicator of just how rugged it is. There’s a lot to like about the SDL2a, he added. "The cab leveling on it is nice, too."

The company’s machines get a long workout each day. "We work 10 hours a day, five days a week," said Arlo. Potter Logging does almost all its own equipment maintenance, sending out only engines for repair, so Arlo quite naturally wants machines that perform reliably.

The Timberline SDL2a delimbers in use at Potter Logging have a long history of significant service in tough conditions. And the track record stretches back to their predecessor. The Timberline ST-3530 has 14,000 hours on it.

The durability of Timberline Equipment machines is one of the reasons that Arlo decided to stay with the manufacturer. "I’d always been around Timberline," said Arlo. "I had good luck with it. I just decided to stay with them."

Given the success Arlo has had with Timberline Equipment machines, it’s probably not surprising that he became a dealer for the manufacturer when the opportunity arose. Arlo launched Black Hills Timber Equipment in May 2003 and runs it in addition to Potter Logging. The equipment business is consolidated from the purchase of two other businesses that Arlo bought when their owners decided to move on.

Black Hills Timber Equipment represents Timberline Equipment and also Timbco, TimberPro, Log-Max felling heads and Multitek firewood processors. Besides selling machines, Black Hills Timber Equipment maintains an inventory of parts and supplies for customers. Having parts on hand when customers need them is a very important service the equipment dealership provides, noted Arlo. "We try to stock what people need," he said. Black Hills Timber Equipment keeps $60,000 worth of parts in inventory because Arlo knows how important it is for customers to have a dealer that can respond quickly when a machine needs service.

In the current economy, said Arlo, people in the market for a machine frequently look for used equipment as a way to keep costs down. Black Hills Timber Equipment also sells used machines.

As a dealer for Timberline Equipment, Arlo gets to see the Timberline SDL2a machine that is so important in his own logging operation from many perspectives. He knows what the Timberline SDL2a delimber does for his company. He also has the opportunity to go on jobs of other loggers, help them assess their equipment needs, and help them transition to a new machine.

Timberline Equipment, which is an Oldenburg Group Co., has a manufacturing facility in Kingsford, Mich. "They make the machine a lot simpler" to operate, said Arlo, than one would guess from the complexity of what the machine can do.

The computer controls on the Timberline SDL2a are not touch and go, but they are probably as close as one can get, said Arlo. "It takes people about a week to learn," he explained.

Standard features on the Timberline model SDL2a include a 42-foot boom, front topping saw, butt saw, butt plate, 5.5-inch delimbing knives, CAT 330 undercarriage, diameter readout system and a Smart System Computer. The Timberline SDL2a meets ISO 9001 standards for design and manufacturing.

The Timberline SDL2a is designed and built to be flexible enough to be used at the stump or at a landing. It is built to handle large hardwood or softwood.

The total length of the 42-foot boom extends to just 2 inches short of 46 feet. The longest stroke the boom makes is 28 1/2 feet.

The Timberline SDL2a delimber also incorporates features that make it well suited for its working conditions. The hydraulic system that powers the boom is fully enclosed and protected; there are no hoses or supports to snag on trees or branches. The SDL2a stands up to very hot conditions thanks to a heavy-duty auxiliary air cooler and a large hydraulic reservoir; both help to ameliorate the effects of ambient temperature on the hydraulics and engine.

With its delimbing knives, saws and Smart System Computer, the Timberline Equipment SDL2a may be used for log merchandising and getting the most value from each tree.

The combination of a feller-buncher, skidder and delimber that is used at each job site allows Potter Logging to be productive. "The crews we have now put up eight loads per day," said Arlo.

One of Arlo’s crew members, John Daniels, owns a truck and a low-boy and hauls the equipment from job to job. Potter Logging contracts with eight independent truckers to haul logs, and their trucks are equipped with self-loaders.

Whitewood, South Dakota is home to Potter Logging. The town of about 900 residents is located in the far western part of the state. It is situated adjacent to Interstate 90, which gives Potter Logging great access to points east and west.

Just 10 miles southeast of Whitewood is the famous town of Deadwood, which was also once known as Dead Tree Gulch. In the 1870s, Deadwood became a magnet for gold miners, and Wild Bill Hickock was killed there in 1876.

It’s not just 19th century history that plays itself out around Whitewood. The southwestern corner of South Dakota has some of the richest fossil deposits in the world from the recent Mesozoic Era, which ended about 65 million years ago.

Harney Peak, the highest point in the U. S. east of the Rocky Mountains, is located south of Whitewood. The Mountain has an elevation of 7,242 feet.

Potter Logging cuts exclusively for Pope and Talbot Inc., working on private, state and federal land. The crews cut as the contract with Pope and Talbot prescribes, usually thinning, although they also have performed salvage logging operations.

Pope and Talbot, headquartered in Portland, Ore., manufactures standardized and specialty lumber and wood chips. Pulp products include all market sectors, from newsprint and tissue to high-grade coated paper.

"We’re into the SFI real big here," said Arlo, referring to the Sustainable Forestry Initiative of the American Forest & Paper Association. Arlo has completed a number of SFI courses and acquired multiple certifications.

The American Forest & Paper Association developed the SFI program in 1995. It is the world’s largest sustainable forestry certification program, according to the association, with almost 100 million acres of forestland in North America managed in accordance with SFI.

Potter Logging must comply with many requirements — some related to SFI and others from the federal government. For example, the height of brush left at landings on national forest sites is limited. "Brush must be 18 inches and below," said Arlo, a requirement of the federal government. The smaller brush is supposed to decompose faster, reducing the risk of forest fire.

Because of tree-length skidding, there’s not much brush left in the woods, said Arlo. Nevertheless, crews are always aware of the need to reduce what brush there is to prescribed dimensions.

The Timberline Equipment SDL2a machines are not used by Potter Logging to go to the stump. "We don’t take the delimbers to the woods," said Arlo. "In most cases we delimb at the landing and try to set it up so the skid to landing is short."

There are not many branches that are too large for the Timberline Equipment SDL2a delimber. In the rare instance when a limb needs to be removed manually, the company uses Husqvarna and Stihl chain saws.

The terrain in South Dakota and Wyoming "varies a lot," said Arlo. Some forests may have steep slopes. "That’s where the Timbco shines," said Arlo. "It’s a great machine." The Timbcos have leveling capability, and their tracks are another plus in keeping the machines stable on hills.

Like other loggers who work in wintry conditions, the spring thaw can slow things down. In fact, the break-up in March and April can be as short as three weeks in the best of years but usually lasts about six weeks. The downtime normally is used to maintain equipment.

Potter Logging employees receive one week of paid vacation. When someone goes on vacation, Arlo fills in on a machine. Otherwise, Arlo manages the company. His wife, Patricia, does all the bookkeeping for Potter Logging. Pat Daniels does the bookkeeping for Black Hills Timber Equipment LLC. Pat also takes care of the parts department; she is very qualified and has many years of experience with Timbco and Timberline parts. Steve Seidel takes care of service for Black Hills Timber Equipment LLC with a well-equipped service truck.

There are many things Arlo likes about having his own logging business, but there is one thing that he likes the best. "I just enjoy being out in the woods," he said. Pausing, and reflecting on the logging industry, he said, "It can be frustrating sometimes. It has the good times, too."

Arlo grew up in a family of loggers. His grandfather was a logger and also owned a sawmill. Arlo’s father followed the same path. Arlo initially decided to go in a different direction and explored construction work; that was in the early 1980s, before he established Potter Logging.

If the economy had been better in the early 1980s, Arlo might have stayed with construction. But tough times in the construction industry made him reconsider logging. The opportunity to contract with Pope and Talbot persuaded him to make the switch.

When Arlo takes time away from Potter Logging, he enjoys heading away from the interior of the continent and toward the Pacific Ocean. "We like to go out to the Oregon coast," he said.


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