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Michigan Logger Moves to Wheeled Harvester

TimberPro, Risley Equipment Enable R.J. Wickman to Handle Hardwoods on Upper Peninsula

By Diane M. Calabrese
Date Posted: 5/1/2005


FELCH, Michigan — R.J. Wickman Inc. was established in 1991, but Richard Wickman, the owner of the company, got started in logging long before that.

      “When I was 12 years old, we’d go out with my grandfather, Walter Gustafson,” said Rich. “He was in logging all his life. He was 80 years old — he’d still come out and help me.”

      Even though Rich was very familiar with the logging industry since boyhood, he did not start a logging company immediately after finishing school. He attended college for a year and then went to work at an oriented strand board mill, where he was employed for 14 years.

      While he was a foreman at the mill, however, Rich kept his hand in logging. For 10 years, until 2001, he worked at the mill on a swing shift that had him working four days and then off four days. On his four days off, he was out in the woods with a chain saw, cutting timber.

      Rich was effectively working two full-time jobs, and his wife gave him the nudge: he needed to commit to his own business. “Finally, my wife said, you better pick one or the other,” he said. “We have four children,” he explained, and everyone wanted to have him home more.

      “I picked my passion,” said Rich, encapsulating how he made the decision to leave his job at the mill.

      R.J. Wickman Inc. is a small logging contracting business – Rich is the owner and sole employee. He contracts for
skidding and trucking services. “We do selective harvests, selective-thinning,” Rich explained. “I sub-contract for a mill, Sagola Hardwoods Ltd., and Minerick Logging Inc.”

      “I’ve always owned track machines,” said Rich. So when he began using a rubber-tired TimberPro 620, he initially had some trepidation.

      Rich figured that the TimberPro 620 would be easier to maneuver in the kind of timber stands where he typically works. Since he had never used a rubbed-tired harvesting machine, though, he fretted whether he would take to it. “I ended up falling in love with it,” said Rich.

      When snow got deep in January, Rich put EcoTracks on the TimberPro 620 and just kept working.

      The TimberPro 620 is manufactured by TimberPro in Shawano, Wis. Besides the machine’s maneuverability and agility, Rich cited a number of other attributes of the machine.

      “It’s more comfortable for one,” he said. “And it’s faster, and faster means more production.”

      Operating a machine that moves on tires is more comfortable and less fatiguing, noted Rich. The tires have a cushioning effect, and he is much less tired at day’s end.

      “We do a lot of flatland work,” said Rich. “We do hills, too.” At the time he was interviewed, he was working in a forest with a lot of knolls and hills. The TimberPro 620 maneuvers well on flat terrain and slopes, he said.

      The Risley Equipment L750 Premio head is new for Rich, although Risley Equipment is not a new manufacturer to him. Before buying the L750 Premio, Rich operated with a Risley Equipment Rolly II® harvesting head.

      Risley Equipment is based in Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada. The company’s Rolly II is a single-grip harvester known for a combination of strength and durability working in hardwoods and softwoods. Risley Equipment’s new Premio processing head is designed and built with the same focus on strength and durability. Recent improvements include simplified controls.

      The new Risley Equipment Premio is well built for mixed hardwoods and the kind of forests where Rich is working now, which contain more oak and maples than he has experienced in the past.

      Speaking with TimberLine in early March, Rich had just processed a tree that was 25 inches in diameter about 2 or 3 feet above the ground. “It was probably 28 inches at the butt,” said Rich. The Risley Equipment Premio handled the tree very well, he said.

      The Premio L750 model dangle head processor-harvester has a 31-inch butt cut capacity. It fits in the middle of the three size choices that Risley Equipment offers in its Premio line.

      The smallest Premio, the L550, has a 28-inch butt capacity, and the much larger Premio L950 has a 38-inch butt capacity; the L550 has a 24-inch maximum delimbing diameter, and the L950 has a 43-inch maximum delimbing diameter. Rich’s L750 has a 30-inch maximum delimbing diameter.

      Rich occasionally gets into hardwoods that are larger. “I end up hiring someone to cut with a chain saw,” he said, while Rich keeps operating his harvesting equipment.

      The Risley Equipment Premio has a computerized measuring system. “The accuracy is excellent,” said Rich.

      Rich transitioned to other equipment since originally beginning with a chain saw and skidder. When he incorporated his company, he invested in an Iron Mule 4500 for forwarding. He also bought a Bobcat equipped with an Omni head.

      One person who played a key role in helping Rich in the incremental transition to mechanized logging operations was Ron Beauchamp, owner of Woodland Equipment Inc. in Iron River, Mich. “Ron Beauchamp introduced me to processors,” said Rich.

      When Rich uses the term “introduced,” he means that he got an inside-out opportunity to learn about the first machine from Risley Equipment that he would buy. Ron provided an introduction for Rich to Risley.

      Knowing that Risley and Woodland personnel have a high level of expertise is important, explained Rich. The companies’ representatives also have been responsive. “Any time I have a problem, I call them and they respond immediately,” he said.

      Rich performs his own maintenance on the equipment. The normal preventive maintenance tasks are greasing and changing filters.

      “Another thing I like about Woodland, Ron and Risley,” said Rich, “is that they listen to the customer. The saw bottom that was originally on the Premio head was a three-quarter pitch. I wanted and got a 0.404 saw — thanks to Woodland and Risley.”

      Another benefit of going with the lighter dangle head on the TimberPro with the squirt boom was the carrier can handle an extra 8 feet of overall reach. In fact, it was that longer reach that figured in Rich’s decision to go with the Risley Equipment Premio dangle harvesting head over a Risley Rolly total control head.

      The opportunity to meet and talk with the engineers who designed the Risley Equipment Premio head was a deal-maker, too. That, and the assurance that he would get timely service assistance, meant a lot, he explained. “Ron’s always checking in,” said Rich. “I know his word means something.”

      Ron helped Rich choose the equipment that was a good match for his application day in and day out. Rich knew the Premio retained the best features of the Rolly II, and he had been very satisfied with the performance of the Rolly II. Both the Rolly II and the Premio are based on a strong central frame that stands up to heavy use. The Rolly II combines power and speed — it can pull at 10 to 17 feet per second; it is equally adept at first thinnings as it is in delimbing mature hardwoods like oak.

      The Risley Premio drive rolls maintain excellent traction and pull power to process stems in all weather conditions. That was particularly important to Rich because working in Michigan he encounters his share of rain, sleet, snow and ice. The Risley Premio L750 that Rich owns is a good match for the TimberPro 630 or 830.

      Rich’s business is based in Felch, a town of fewer than 100 residents. The Upper Peninsula of the Wolverine State is a sparsely populated region that boasts abundant mixed hardwoods and some large forests of fast-growing aspen. The only time that Rich performs clear-cuts is when he is in aspen; the species regenerates best in clear-cutting.

      “Most of the timber we cut is on state property, so it’s marked already,” said Rich. Because R.J. Wickman sub-contracts to Minerick Logging in Sagola, Mich., Minerick designates which sales to cut and where the logs and pulp are shipped.

      The wood is merchandised for several markets. “We sort mini-bolts and grade logs for Sagola Hardwoods,” said Rich. Low-grade logs are merchandised for paper companies and the oriented strand board industry.

      Rich often works as far as 75 miles from Felch although he prefers to work closer to home so he has more time with his family.

      In his free time, Rich follows the Washington Redskins football team avidly. He has been a fan since an uncle who lives in Washington, D.C. introduced him to the team when Rich was 12. “I have a huge Sirius radio,” he said, that keeps him listening to games even when he is in the cab of his TimberPro. If he travels to Green Bay, Wisconsin to see a Packers game, it’s to see them play the Redskins.

      One thing that he laments is that his grandfather never got to see the transition he made to mechanized logging. “He’s watching me now,” said Rich. His grandfather would be impressed with today’s logging equipment and what it can do, he added.

      Although Rich’s father did not work in the forest products industry, he nevertheless was connected to it and also was an inspiration, too. His father worked for an electric company and installed utility poles.

      His grandfather, father and mother all were a “huge inspiration” to him, said Rich. All three family members possessed resourcefulness, he said.

      When Rich quit working at the oriented strand board mill in order to pursue logging full time, he knew he was making the right decision. “I think doing what you enjoy” is important, he explained. There may be some risk, but “it’s well worth it.”

      The logging industry has suited Rich well. “It’s the go-go-go mentality you have to have in order to make a good living” that he likes best, said Rich. “I just want to get my kids through school, college,” and perhaps see one or more of them getting into the forest products industry, he added.

      Forestry is the top industry in the Upper Peninsula, according to the Michigan Association of Michigan, which is headquartered in Newberry, Mich. Eighty-four percent of the Upper Peninsula is forested.

      “It’s a resource that will never end,” said Rich of forest resources. “Logging is good, smart, if managed correctly. We need to get more of a message out there” regarding its benefits, he said.

      Rich has seen trees he has cut manufactured into building products at the oriented strand board mill that became part of his home. “I was able to see the tree come off the stump and the whole process,”
he explained.

        That sort of connection to a renewable natural resource is rewarding, said Rich. He wishes more people outside the forest products industry could realize that kind of connection to the forest.




 






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