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Three Michigan Brothers Make Tracks

Turpeinen Brothers Inc. Adds 2nd Tigercat Track Feller for Clearing Land, Select Cuts

By Diane M. Calabrese
Date Posted: 9/1/2005


ALSTON, Michigan — Turpeinen Brothers Inc. has been in the business of removing trees for nearly a half a century, but you could say that it only lately has gotten into the forest products industry.

        The 45-year-old company got its start in land-clearing operations, which it continues to do. In 1974, however, the company added chipping operations, which transformed the business. Now, most of the trees the company removes are processed into chips for paper production.

        Peter Turpeinen and his younger brothers, Tom and Bill, own and operate the company.  Peter has been with the company since it was started by his two older brothers, Bob and David, and the Turpeinens’ father.

        Tom handles procurement, Bill oversees job site activities, and Peter makes sure the company is in compliance with pertinent environmental rules. “I’m basically on the environmental part” of jobs now, said Peter, who in the past operated heavy equipment.

        Turpeinen Brothers has changed operating methods and equipment many times over the years, keeping pace with developments in the forest products industry. The company purchased a  feller-buncher in 2000, a Tigercat 845B. This summer the company added a second Tigercat feller-buncher, a model 822.

        Turpeinen Brothers looked at several machines before choosing the Tigercat 845B five years ago. “This one seemed to work the best,” said Peter. The brothers have been pleased with the machine’s performance, which led them back to Tigercat when they decided to invest in a second feller-buncher.

        “Tigercat seems to be pretty dang good,” Peter added. “They have good service. The machine has held up really good.”

        The Tigercat feller-bunchers see year-round service on a variety of terrain. Logging operations are carefully monitored by environmental regulators in Michigan, and the low-impact nature of the Tigercat is important to allowing work to continue when conditions are wet.

        “We take all hardwood trees,” said Peter, almost exclusively aspen. Turpeinen Brothers, which works in the western portion of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, has been in business so long that it is harvesting trees where it cut 25 years earlier; the forests regenerated, and the new growth is ready to be harvested.

        When Peter talked with TimberLine, the 19 employees of Turpeinen Brothers were working on a typical job site. It spanned about 200 acres and would take some four weeks to cut.

        Both Tigercat machines were at work on the job site. Also on the job were a Barko 225 loader and slasher, working adjacent to a Morbark model 2755 chipper. The loader operator feeds the chipper, also sorting out saw logs and veneer logs. The company also had a John Deere 748-G skidder working on the site.

        The Tigercat 822 is a good match for the company’s operations, said Peter. Besides clearing land and chipping the pulpwood, the company also performs thinning. “We do some select cuts,” explained Peter, “basically second growth in pulpwoods.”

        The machine’s maneuverability and ability to work in and around stands without damaging residual trees is important in the select cuts, Peter noted.    

        In those settings, compactness counts. “The Tigercat is short enough that it fits (among) the trees,” he said. In fact, Tigercat designed and built the 822 feller-buncher with zero tail swing.

        The Tigercat 822 feller-buncher is a track machine. It operates on some difficult terrain at times. In winter, the snow can be 2 or 3 feet deep. Peter said he knows the 822 will perform as well as the Tigercat 845B in the harsh Michigan winters. The track Tigercat machines can maneuver and operate well in the snow, he noted.

        The Tigercat track machines also can handle the clay soil the company often encounters in the Upper Peninsula. During heavy rain, the clay sometimes “gums up” so much that environmental regulations and good practices dictate that loggers must suspend operations, said Peter. “If you get rained out, you have to move onto sand,” he explained. The company usually tries to have another job site available that it can move to if conditions elsewhere are too wet to work.

        The Tigercat 822 has a 30-inch ground clearance. The track frames are long and have a wide stance to enhance stability.  The 822 comes standard with a Cummins 240 hp Tier II engine; a 280 hp engine is optional.

        The engine house on the Tigercat 822 is retractable; it is enclosed with an easy to open cover. The arrangement makes engine checks particularly fast. The engine enclosure also forms a spacious work platform when it is open.

        The turntable on the Tigercat 822 is designed for durability and features single piece construction of 1-1/4-inch thick steel.

        The standard ER (for efficient reach) boom on the Tigercat 822 has a 329-inch maximum cut radius and a 127-inch minimum cut radius. Its lift capacity with bare pin at full reach is 8,700 pounds. At 20 feet the lift capacity is 11,375 pounds.

        The best way to measure the productivity of the Tigercat 845B and the Tigercat 822 is to look at the tonnage of chips being produced daily, according to Peter. Each machine harvests enough wood to produce between 150 and 200 tons of chips per day, he said.

        Turpeinen Brothers does all its own trucking. The company has its own lowboys for moving equipment from one job site to another and has run Kenworth tractors from its initial days of business. The Morbark, set up at a landing or deck, blows chips directly into one of five company chip vans. Turpeinen Brothers has a fuel truck to keep off-road equipment running. The company also performs all its own maintenance with the services of a full-time mechanic.

        Turpeinen Brothers works mainly on private land; there have been few state or federal timber sales in the region in recent years. The company contracts for jobs that are within a 100-mile radius of its home base of Alston.

        Turpeinen Brothers supplies chips to the Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. mill in Ontonagon, which is about 30 miles west on the shore of Lake Superior. The mill, the largest employer in Ontonagon, buys chips from loggers and sawmills to manufacture corrugated.

        Smurfit-Stone is committed to the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), and it expects suppliers to follow SFI practices to improve forest health and productivity. Peter’s duties include ensuring that the company’s operations comply with SFI practices. As part of his role in ensuring compliance, he takes photographs to document work on job sites.

        Smurfit-Stone Container also has worked closely with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) pulp and paper pollution program. To ensure that the 815 tons of corrugated paper made daily are produced in the most environmentally friendly way, the company has adopted leading edge technologies to improve the function of the wastewater treatment plant it operates on site. For example, the company replaced ceramic disks with rubber disks for water aeration membranes, dramatically reducing energy use.

        Visitors to Michigan have access to four of the five Great Lakes — Lake Michigan and Lake Superior and Lake Huron and Lake Erie — from its shoreline. The state also is rich in diverse forests; according to The World Almanac of the U.S.A., Michigan has more species of trees than any other state. Michigan’s diverse economy combines the automotive and other industries, forest products, agriculture, and more.

        Tigercat, headquartered in Paris, Ontario, Canada, designs its feller-bunchers to provide customers with a machine that can operate in any type of logging application and terrain. Loggers can select from a wide choice of machines for their precise application and conditions.

        While the Tigercat 822 is a swing-to-tree feller-buncher, the company also designs and manufactures drive-to-tree feller-bunchers for companies that require a wheeled machine. Tigercat offers four models in its line of drive-to-tree feller-bunchers; any one can be combined with one of six different saw or shear felling heads.

        Tigercat has designed and built machines to be able to work in some of the coldest pockets of Canada, so the conditions of the Upper Peninsula are not any more challenging. Alston is located close to 47 degrees latitude, among the northernmost points in the continental U.S. The high output heater in the Tigercat 822 operator’s station will make the low ambient temperatures on the shortest days quite tolerable. Other features of the climate-controlled operator station include insulation, an engine diagnostic display, CD player, push-button throttle control and full-length rear window for excellent rear visibility. In addition, the seat has air-ride suspension. The cab is ergonomically designed, including the armrest-mounted joysticks.

        Methods for land clearing have changed enormously across the years, noted Peter. In 1960, contractors used dozers to push down trees and then burned them. By 1966, burning had been banned, and companies began looking for an alternative to landfills for wood waste material. Chip markets grew in importance. Also, state and federal governments, as well as the private sector, put greater emphasis on managing forests for long-term health.

        One of the most interesting projects he ever worked on was Tilden Mine in Ishpeming, Mich., Peter recalled. The Tilden Mine is operated today by the Cleveland-Cliffs Co.; it is an opencast iron ore mine and welcomes visitors. The processing facility at the Tilden Mine is the only one in the world that can produce both hematite and magnetite iron ore pellets.

        In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Turpeinen Brothers cleared over 2,000 acres of land at the Tilden Mine site, said Peter. The work spanned two years. All the timber and brush that was removed was burned.

        Until that project, Turpeinen Brothers had been clearing land mainly for new highway construction. It did work for numerous interstate highway projects in the 1950s and 1960s. With the completion
of the main highway arteries, however, the company began to shift its focus. After the Tilden Mine job, the company also began seeking to develop markets for the wood fiber resulting from its land-clearing operations.

         Closing in on one-half century in the business of clearing land, the parameters for the jobs that Turpeinen Brothers takes are fairly well set. “We usually don’t want to go into an area less than 40 acres,” said Peter, and the company rarely uses chain saws.

        When Peter first got into the land-clearing business with his father and brothers, he had no idea that he was going to stay in the industry. When his father passed away, there were bills to pay and younger brothers to help look after. Consequently, he committed to it long term, a decision he is glad he made.

                “It’s been a lot of fun,” said Peter. He prefers being on jobs that enable him to stay close to home or get home each evening, although that is not always the case. In his spare time, Peter enjoys tinkering with his collection of antique cars, which includes a 1958 Edsel and a 1957 Chevrolet, and he also likes to fish.


 






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