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Maine Logger Is Four Decades Strong

Blondin supplies R.A. Thomas Logging Rottne machines, LogMax processing heads

By Diane Calabrese
Date Posted: 5/1/2004


GUILORD, Maine -- Richard Thomas knew when he was still in high school that logging was the occupation for him. He launched his company, R. A. Thomas Logging, in 1963. And he has kept the company prosperous over more than four decades by adapting to the needs of customers, responding to changes in the industry, and staying active in professional organizations.

        Six years ago this spring, R. A. Thomas Logging began the conversion to cut-to-length operations. R.A. Thomas Logging uses c-t-l as much as possible these days. The company has enough equipment to run three c-t-l crews although one pair of machines that could be deployed is normally kept in reserve as back-up equipment as needed.

        Richard typically relies on two full-time crews. “I also run a couple of hand crews with cable skidders most of the year,” he said. The hand-felling crews, said Richard, happen to split along chain saw choice; one crew uses Stihl and one uses Husqvarna.

        In the mechanized crews, there is no split at all in terms of how the trees are felled and processed. Each crew is equipped with a LogMax processing head although different carriers are used.

        The first LogMax that Richard used convinced him to invest in others. “It does an exceptional job for the size of it and the weight,” he said.

        Blondin of Indiana, Pa. and Turner, Ore., is the exclusive U.S. importer and distributor of Rottne cut-to-length logging machines and also is a dealer for LogMax processing heads.

        In the course of using LogMax heads, Richard discovered that matching LogMax heads with a Rottne harvester machine made for a great pairing.

        “I can’t say enough about the Blondin outfit,” said Richard. “I get exceptional service and parts even though my distributor is in Pennsylvania.” The distance between the Keystone State and the Guilford, Maine headquarters for R.A. Thomas Logging is virtually nonexistent because of the commitment Blondin has to customer service, explained Richard.

        In fact, the newest machine in Richard’s line-up is a Rottne SMV six-wheel harvester that he purchased in January. A Rottne SMV six-wheel forwarder, which Richard bought used a couple of years ago, is consistently paired with the harvester.

        Richard’s new Rottne SMV harvester is equipped with a LogMax 5000 head, which has a topping saw. The combination has exceeded Richard’s expectations, which were high. “So far, it’s been exceptionally trouble free,” said Richard. “It’s been really good. I’m really pleased.”

        Besides excellent performance from the Rottne SMV harvester, said Richard, he gets precisely what he is looking for in terms of boom reach and strength. There is usually no need to switch to a chain saw in tight fits or because of large diameter trees. The Rottne SMV harvester and LogMax 5000 can handle trees as large as 25 inches in diameter. “We cut very few trees with (chain) saws,” said Richard.

        Richard’s second c-t-l crew uses a Timbco track carrier fitted with a LogMax 750 head equipped with a topping saw. The machine works in tandem with a Rottne SMV eight-wheel forwarder that was purchased in 2000. The eight-wheel forwarder is the first piece of Rottne equipment that Richard bought.

        The Timbco and LogMax 750 easily handle even bigger trees — up to 30 inches in diameter, said Richard. He prefers to work in wood that is up to 24 inches in diameter in order to achieve optimum speed and production.

        The back-up machines are a Timber­jack six-wheel harvester equipped with a LogMax 5000 head and a Valmet eight-wheel forwarder.

        When Richard talked with TimberLine, the Rottne SMV harvester was working in a mixed stand of spruce-fir and aspen and other hardwoods. Richard labeled it an “average stand.”

        The Rottne SMV harvester already has won Richard’s praise. “It’s very productive,” he said. “There’s no downtime. It’s a very fast machine.”

        As for getting to learn how to use the Rottne SMV harvester, the process was quite simple. “The operators catch on to it pretty quick,” said Richard. One reason for the easy transition is that since both the Rottne and Timbco machines run a LogMax head, the cabs of both carriers are equipped with the same controls for the processor.

        When he invested in his first Rottne machine in 2000, the SMV eight-wheel forwarder, Richard said one thing truly sealed the deal. More than anything, he explained, it was the relationship that he had with Blondin that got him interested in Rottne equipment. “The people I was dealing with, the Blondin people, were the biggest reason” he bought the first Rottne machine, said Richard.

        Beyond that, the Rottne machines have proven to be great additions to his company’s operations. The Rottne machines are “very reliable and very productive,” said Richard.

        R. A. Thomas Logging does a variety of work in a variety of conditions. “We do some thinnings,” said Richard. “We work in some large stands.” Softwoods such as pine, spruce, hemlock and balsam fir are common in Maine, but hardwoods also are present in impressive although not predominant numbers.

        Ironically, early 17th century Europeans brought their own timber to the future state of Maine, carrying the wood across the Atlantic in order to build homes. They were surprised to find abundant forests.

        R. A. Thomas Logging also does some of its own road building work. On small tracts of 20-150 acres, access generally is good because roads already are in place. Richard owns an excavator, dump truck and bulldozer for when they are needed for road construction.

        “I buy a lot of standing timber,” said Richard. “I buy land once in a while.” The company supplies wood to a number of different markets. Now and then, R. A. Thomas Logging also does some contract cutting for paper mills.

        “We have a vast variety of hardwoods and different softwoods,” said Richard. “That’s where cut-to-length really shines because you can separate the wood when cutting it.”

        The key person in any cut-to-length crew is the harvester operator, noted Richard. “The operator makes all the calls” on sorting and cutting, he said.

        Trucking is handled in two ways. “I run one tri-axle with its own loader,” said Richard. “I run my own loaders, Hood loaders. I hire trucks but load them.”

        In the Maine winters, Richard equips his forwarder and harvester machines with Hultdins tracks for improved traction and maneuverability in the snow.

        The spring thaw usually arrives in Maine in April – “mud season,” as Richard called it. When the spring thaw arrives and the ground is wet and muddy, the company ceases operations in the woods. “We need a month or so to do maintenance,” said Richard, and to “give the crews a break. We really need the time to get things back in shape.” R.A. Thomas Logging has a mechanic on staff that does almost all maintenance on machines.

        Guilford is located in central Maine and has a population of 1,531. Richard grew up a half-mile from where he now lives. His father was a logger and Richard got interested in logging by watching him and helping his father when he grew older.

        “Growing up and being around equipment and trucks,” said Richard, logging fascinated him. “I always liked it,” he explained. “I couldn’t wait to get out of school.”

        Soon after graduating from high school, Richard went into business. He has retained his enthusiasm for logging. A member of the Professional Logging Contractors (PLC) of Maine, Richard currently serves on the board of directors of PLC. “It keeps you up to date,” he said.

        PLC has a strict requirement for membership; members must employ loggers who have earned the designation of Certified Logging Professional. The certification program incorporates elements of safety, business practices, first aid, forest management and conservation. Richard is a certified master logger, and all his crews have earned the Certified Logging Professional designation.

        PLC members harvest more than 46% of the wood cut in Maine each year, according to the organization. In addition to its focus on the business of logging, PLC is involved in charitable work, such as Log-A-Load for Kids, and other efforts, such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.

        Richard also brokers wood sales. The many dimensions to his business make it all the more interesting, he said. “It’s just the way I work,” explained Richard. “I’m doing something different all the time. I enjoy cruising timber, working with crews, marketing.”

        R. A. Thomas Logging takes jobs within a 35-mile radius of its base in Guilford. The company usually works within a 15-20 mile radius of the town.

        Maine has more than 1,500 lakes; kettle lakes, or those that formed when glaciers carved out depressions, are common, and surrounding Piscataquis County boasts some of largest lakes. The second largest county in the state, Piscataquis is also the most sparsely populated with fewer than two people per square mile.

        Staying close to a base means the 11 employees at R.A. Thomas Logging can get home each evening. Richard believes that is an important factor in helping him retain the great team of workers he has.

        “I’ve been lucky over the years to have quality employees,” said Richard. He pointed to the community feeling that exists in Guilford as something he values.

        A strong commitment to continuity and community is also part of the legacy at Rottne, which is the oldest manufacturer of cut-to-length equipment in continuous existence. It is a natural part of doing business for Blondin, too.

        The representatives of Blondin regularly visit client job sites to help them resolve technical concerns and to learn how to use new equipment. Besides the distributorships in Pa. and Ore., Blondin has a parts depot in Idaho.

        Besides being experts in the Rottne equipment, the Blondin staff is knowledgeable about cut-to-length logging methods.

        Perhaps the feature of the LogMax heads that he likes most, said Richard, is the power in proportion to weight. He considers the heads relatively light for the work they do. The LogMax 5000 weighs 1,881 pounds.

        LogMax heads incorporate several patented features. For example, it features patented positioning that is controlled by the upper knife sensor, which minimizes friction loss and maximizes pulling force. The patented cushioned bottom plate assembly absorbs shock from ground impact, reducing stress concentrations in the frame. Other features include variable displacement (feed wheel motors automatically increase delimbing and pulling power as needed), four movable cast steel delimbing knives with extra-wide cutting surfaces to handle thick branches, fully integrated hydraulics, and case hardened pins for extra long life.

        Reduced weight in equipment benefits the logger because it reduces fuel consumption. It also enables equipment to tread more lightly on the forest floor.

        Compactness is another way to minimize weight. Rottne aims to get the most functionality from the smallest possible machine. It uses welding techniques that enhance strength without adding weight.

        Compact machines are an advantage to loggers that work in regions such as New England, where the terrain varies. There are hills, rivers, lakes, bogs, and rocky ground.

        Moreover, fast-growing mixed hardwoods in the forest understory makes selective cutting a must for effective forest management. It also means that maneuverability of equipment makes the entire job go a lot better.

        The choices that Rottne offers its customers transcend any particular machine. When a logger selects a six-wheel or eight-wheel version of a Rottne forwarder, the choice just begins an array of possibilities. Options on Rottne forwarders extend to wagon length, loaders, bunk dimensions, and more. In addition, Rottne forwarders can be modified to function as clambunks or scarifiers.

        The Rottne harvester series of machines also provide a lot of flexibility in options. Richard chose a combination for his Rottne SMV harvester that allows for easy approaches to a range of jobs.

                In their leisure time, Richard and his wife, Roberta, enjoy snowmobiling and traveling. “We have two daughters and their families who live close by us,” he said. “I have one son-in-law, John, who works in the business with me. We also have a son and his family in Massachusetts and a daughter and her husband in California.” The couple also has a lakeside cottage an hour’s drive away, and they make use of it in the summer and winter.


 






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