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Idaho Brothers Trim Down for Cut-to-length

Logger fills niche with Rottne SMV rapid forwarder for cold weather, big wood harvesting

By Diane Calabrese
Date Posted: 2/1/2004

PRIEST RIVER, Idaho — John Hart, owner of Hartwood LLC, has done shovel logging, tree-length logging with skidders — in fact, just about every logging method.

        Logging is a profession that John was introduced to early in life. “It is pretty much all I ever knew,” he said. Even as a young boy he went into the woods where his father worked as a logger. “I followed dad around from when I could walk,” he said.

        When John got older, he started to work with his father, and he discovered he had a similar passion for logging.

        Today, John and his younger brother, Jerry Hart, usually work together on jobs although they are organized as two companies and entirely separate business entities. Jerry’s company is known as Jate Logging. Sometimes Hartwood takes the lead in the job, explained John, and sometimes Jate Logging does.

        There are two important factors that influence the approach of any logger working in the Northwest: the size of the trees and the extreme winter cold. When John talked with TimberLine in early January, he had just finished a day’s work — a day that started out with a temperature of 20 degrees below zero.

        Despite the sub-zero temperatures, the day had gone well, John reported. It was the coldest day that his Rottne SMV Rapid forwarder had seen since he purchased the 17-ton machine in March 2003. The Rottne is made by the Swedish-based company of the same and distributed in the U.S. by Blondin Inc. John chose the forwarder because of its power and size.

        When John started doing cut-to-length logging in tandem with Jerry’s company in 1998, both men purchased machines from Bell Equipment, a forestry equipment manufacturer in South Africa. They liked the equipment but felt they needed bigger machines, according to John. They tried some of the most well-known cut-to-length machines on the market, looking for a good match between strength and sensitivity to the environment.

        Three years ago, Jerry invested in a Komatsu excavator with a Log Max processing head for felling and processing, and in the spring John bought the Rottne SMV Rapid forwarder from Blondin.

        In the inter-mountain region, there is “a real variety” of tree species, John noted. He and Jerry work in stands of Douglas fir, Western larch, ponderosa pine and Western red cedar. In January the brothers were cutting hemlock and white pine. Irrespective of the species, all the trees are large.

        The size of the trees was a big factor in the size of the forwarder John chose. He had tested a Rottne 12-ton SMV Rapid forwarder on a demonstration site and liked it very much. But he decided that in the region where he and Jerry work, the 17-ton model would serve his needs better. “I knew I needed the bigger machine,” said John. “I knew I would want to get into the hydrostatic machine.”

        The Rottne SMV Rapid forwarder is built to hold a heavy load. Yet it has a relatively small profile and footprint. For those reasons, the Rottne SMV Rapid forwarder is environmentally friendly and gets good marks from foresters as well as from loggers. (Rottne also makes a full line of harvesters that can be paired with its forwarders.)

        John also wanted the larger, more powerful machine because he wanted to be able to do some conventional logging by operating the forwarder with a clambunk to skid tree-length logs. He purchased a clambunk as an option for the Rottne SMV Rapid forwarder and he plans to put it into service on some jobs soon. The forwarder-clambunk probably has the power and capacity to haul the same amount of wood as three grapple skidders, estimated John, who is eager to see how it handles tree-length wood.

        The heavy-duty yet light-treading Rottne SMV Rapid has met all John’s expectations. He put 2,200 hours on the forwarder in its first nine months of work. The machine required only some new hoses and regular oil changes — essentially nothing more than the routine maintenance that John does himself.

        The Rottne SMV Rapid has also brought a welcome bonus, said John, and that is the good working relationship he has with Blondin and Rottne. “As far as the Rottne equipment,” said John, “for a small company, they are an overlooked treasure.”

        The Rottne forwarder is “an incredibly well-built machine,” said John. Moreover, the manufacturer and distributor are very committed to serving their logging customers. It’s “very much personal service” from Rottne,” said John. “The president of the company is personally interested in knowing how you’re doing,” he explained. “Rather than being just a number,” he is treated like an individual. The Blondin and Rottne professionals take care of their customers one person at a time, he said.

        John purchased his Rottne SMV Rapid through David Ehrmantrout, who runs the Blondin West Coast sales office. (Blondin has its North American headquarters in Indiana, Pennsylvania.)

        David has known John for several years. Besides selling him the forwarder, David also has been there to help out when John required quick service. John called David at 6 a.m. early in January to get a part he needed right away. David got it delivered even though John was working near the Canadian border, about 50 miles north of Priest River, where John and David live. That kind of service “really speaks to me,” said John. Blondin also supplies John with parts for his Log Max processing head.

        Priest River, population about 1,750, is in the Idaho panhandle. The town is so far west that it is just a few miles from the Washington state line.

        With Jerry’s Komatsu 228 excavator equipped with the Log Max 750 processing head and John’s Rottne Rapid SMV 17-ton forwarder getting the wood out, Hartwood and Jate Logging have been increasing their annual output.

        “As far as production goes,” said John, “over the last five years, we’ve been growing every year…We’re averaging about 2,000 tons per month” over 12 months. “We’re quite proud of that.” At this point, said John, one-third of total production is pulpwood.

        John and Jerry work in a very small, specific niche. With the two machines, they fell timber, process it to the lengths required by their customers, and move it to a landing. They contract with truckers to take the logs to the mills. They even contract to have their machines hauled to and from a job site.

        Since Jerry has been using the Log Max, chainsaw use has almost disappeared. “I don’t think we’ve had eight to 10 trees” that called for felling with chainsaws, said John. Of course, with their abundant experience in logging, both John and Jerry have cultivated a favorite saw. “I use a Stihl 66,” said John. “My brother uses a Husqvarna 392.”

        Daylight hours are few in winter at latitudes as high as Priest River, which is close to the 48th parallel. The Rottne SMV Rapid 17-ton forwarder is equipped with lights — twenty 55-watt bulbs. The illumination from the standard bulbs provides all the light that John needs.

        Flexibility is a hallmark of Rottne equipment. The eight-wheel Rottne SMV Rapid forwarder is just one of many designs available. For instance, the forwarder is available in a six-wheel version and there are choices in wagon length, articulation, dimensions of load bunks, and other features. Rottne forwarders may also be modified to work as scarifiers or to be deployed with powerful clambunks, as John plans.

        The Rottne SMV Rapid forwarder has a welded puller frame with integrated steering joint. The wagon has a parallel frame with movable bunks and stabilizer. The working hydraulics and transmission have separate systems. The outreach on the knuckle boom loader is a generous 23 feet.

        Eighty percent of the logging done by Hartwood and Jate Logging takes place on “agency ground,” said John, which includes the U.S. Forest Service and state forest lands. The brothers also cut for a large wood products company and some small, private landowners. “Pretty much wherever we find the work,” said John. Soon they will head to Yakima, Washington to work on a national forest contract. On a job so far from home, the brothers stay near the site during the week and return home on weekends.

        John and Jerry take their profession seriously. “We are both certified Idaho Pro-Loggers,” said John. “In the last three or four years, it is almost a necessity” to be certified. The Pro-Logger program is administered through the Associated Logging Contractors (ALC) of Idaho, a logging trade association.

        The ALC promotes understanding of logging and forestry. (In 1990, Idaho forests grew 1.6 times more timber than was harvested, according to the ALC.)

        The Idaho Pro-Logger program offers loggers a number of opportunities to share experiences and learn. For example, the Logger Education to Advance Professionalism (LEAP) program, which has garnered national recognition since its beginnings in the Northeastern U.S., attracts many loggers. LEAP includes 20 hours of training in forest ecology, silviculture and water quality. Since 1993, 1,000 Idaho loggers have participated in LEAP — many of them thanks to scholarships from forest product companies.

        Idaho, known as the Gem State, is rich in forests and fertile agricultural land as well minerals. Many of the dense forests are white and lodge-pole pine. There is also an abundance of red cedar, spruce and fir. Hardwood species are not common. Fittingly enough, the state tree is the white pine. The state’s natural riches and scenic vistas make it a tourist magnet 12 months each year.

        According to “The World Almanac of the U.S.A.,” Idaho has the largest stand of white pine in the world. It also has the largest reserves of phosphates. Most of the substrate in Idaho was put down by lava flow from ancient volcanoes.

        A native of the Priest River area, John said he not only decided to enter the logging profession early in life, but he left the classroom to do so. He completed eighth grade in a traditional school and then earned his high school diploma by correspondence.

        Since moving to cut-to-length logging, John and Jerry have pared their companies down so that each is a sole employee. Having had the experience of watching other partnerships, said John, he and his brother knew they wanted separate companies. They wanted to maintain all that was good about working together, but decided that having separate business organizations — each with its own paperwork and finances — was in the best interests of both. Most of all, they wanted to eliminate the logistical problems that employees create.

        “Basically, our plan was to get away from hiring crew,” said John. There were many reasons behind the change. For his part, John said, he was “just tired of insurance” requirements and other paperwork.

        Working together but as two separate companies has worked out well and has been satisfying to both men. “We’re pretty low-key,” said John, regarding the approach he and Jerry take to business. “We enjoy being pretty unknown.”

        The philosophy John expresses could also encapsulate the outlook of Blondin and Rottne. Blondin strives to maintain a “family atmosphere” by staying small enough to retain close contact with its customers.

        Before starting businesses of their own, John and Jerry worked for other companies, some large. Jerry worked in Alaska for several years. In some ways, said John, the spotted owl helped send Jerry to Alaska. When protection of the bird took precedence over businesses in the early 1990s, logging jobs were scarce and difficult to find in the Pacific Northwest.

        At 44 years old, John still enjoys logging as much as he did during his first encounter, walking in the footsteps of his father. John’s father specialized in pole logging, especially for cedar poles.

        “The thing that has kept me doing it,” said John, “is the independence.”

                Since John and Jerry started cut-to-length logging, there has not been much time for John to pursue interests outside work. When he has free time, he and his wife, Cynthia, enjoy traveling as their three children are grown. Canada is a favorite destination for the couple, as are logging shows.


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