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Miller Timber Services Does It All

Oregon Logger Likes Ponsse Cut-to-Length Machines for Working in Tight Places

By Diane M. Calabrese
Date Posted: 5/1/2006

PHILOMATH, Oregon — Sometimes finding the vocation to fill a lifetime in a satisfying way is as easy as getting up in the morning. A person just knows what he wants to do.

        For as long as he can remember, Lee Miller wanted to own a logging business. Today, Lee owns Miller Timber Logging Inc., which along with L&B Reforestation Inc. belongs to a parent company called Miller Timber Services Inc.

        Miller Timber Services is the parent company that Lee started in 1981. In 1982, the company incorporated and changed status from sole-proprietorship to a business owned by Lee and Belinda Miller.

        Knowing that he wanted to be a logging contractor and knowing how to log were not enough to make it easy for Lee to start the business. The rough and tumble economy in the early 1980s made it all but impossible for Lee to get into logging immediately after college. So he launched Miller Timber Services, a company that provided related services, such as silviculture operations, burning slash from timber harvesting, and planting tree seedlings.

        With a degree in forest engineering from Oregon State University, Lee had a great formal education for the venture. He also had abundant experience. Lee grew up on a tree farm and helped his parents from the time he was 18.

        By 1990, the economic climate had improved sufficiently that Lee began the move toward logging. In 1993 he bought his first processor and started doing cut-to-length logging. “Prior to that, we were just doing reforestations and site prep,” he said.

        Today, Miller Timber Services offers a comprehensive suite of services. “We do everything from planting the tree to delivering the tree to a mill,” said Lee, and that includes picking up seedlings at the nursery.

        For some clients, Miller Timber Services provides virtually all forestry-related services. For others, Miller Timber Services contracts to perform particular tasks or activities. Lee does business and negotiates both with landowners and individuals and companies that buy timber.

        Now and then, said Lee, he has a passing thought about adding sawmill operations. Each time, though, he has concluded that his business already encompasses the parts of the forest products industry that he enjoys the most.

        Miller Timber Services has an extensive array of equipment. “You name it, we’ve used it,” said Lee. Felling is accomplished with hand cutters and processors. The company also has five yarders, and each one is paired with a processor.

        The most recent addition is a Ponsse Ergo cut-to-length harvester. “We’ve always had our eye on Ponsse as a quality piece of equipment,” said Lee. The company has owned the Ponsse Ergo for about two years.

        Lee was persuaded of Ponsse’s durability, reliability and performance. “We operated the first one six months and there was very little breakdown,” he said. Lee carefully tracks the maintenance and repair costs for each machine.

        Less than a year after investing in the Ponsse Ergo, Lee bought a Ponsse Buffalo King forwarder to work with it. By 2007, he expects to have another Ergo and Buffalo King pair from Ponsse working together.

        The Ponsse Ergo is a wheeled machine. “We find the wheels extend our operating season,” said Lee. The six wheels and forestry tires provide good flotation, which makes it possible to keep moving and operating on relatively moist terrain.

        All wheeled equipment, including the Ponsse machines, is fitted with tracks year-round. The company’s operations usually are not slowed by snow or ice, but soggy ground conditions may restrict activities.

        The Ponsse Ergo is a single-grip harvester. With a low-center of gravity, the machine is a good match for the steep slopes where the company works.

        “We put approximately 1,800 hours per year on the Ergo,” said Lee. “In the winter, we have the heavy rains.” That’s when most harvesting equipment must be taken out of service.

        The Ponsse Ergo is used to fell and process Douglas fir. “We consistently handle up to 20-inch DBH (diameter at breast height),” said Lee. “Our trees are a little fluted at the bottom. Our primary length is 18-foot. We’ll go up to 32-foot.”

        The cut-to-length logs are picked up by the knuckleboom loaders on the forwarders and then carried to a landing where they are decked. At the landing, log loaders — the company has John Deere, Link-Belt and Komatsu loaders — are used to load trucks.

        Miller Timber owns six log trucks for transporting wood — Peterbilt, Kenworth and Mack tractors and trailers from WhitLog, General Log and Peerless. Two Trail King lowboys and one Macloder flatbed are also in the trailer lineup.

        Miller Timber is fully equipped to run as many as five yarding operations. The company has a Madill 172, Thunderbird 6150, SkyLead C-40 and Kohler K501-3 yarders, and a John Deere 330 double-drum log loader also is used as a yarder.

        A processor works at each yarder where the logs are pulled in via cable. Processors used for these operations include a Log Max and Waratah. Timberjack machines also are used for harvesting and forwarding. The company also has used Rottne and Valmet cut-to-length logging machines in the past.

        Yarders are commonly used in logging operations in the steep terrain of the Pacific Northwest. Besides men running the machines, other loggers are rigging slingers, choker setters, hook tenders and landing chasers. In most cases, a supervisor also doubles as an equipment operator.

        Miller Timber uses Eagle and Acme carriages with its yarders. Trees frequently are felled by hand with chain saws. The logs are processed and sorted at the yarder deck. In Miller Timber operations, saw logs must be at least 3 inches in diameter at the top and more than 8 feet long.

        Miller Timber Services is headquartered in Philomath, about 10 miles west of Corvallis. The town, which has a population of 4,000, takes its name from Philomath College. The college was established in 1867, 15 years before the city was incorporated. Philomath College derived its name from Greek words mean ‘love of learning.’

        The growth of the logging industry is synonymous with Philomath. Water power made the town a major mill center in the 1880s. Mary’s Peak, the tallest mountain in the Coast Range, is in perennial view from Philomath.

        Miller Timber Services, which was based in Siletz until moving to Philomath in 1987, has offices and maintenance shops on seven acres. Working at the company’s headquarters are 20 administrative staff as well as mechanics, welders and technicians.

        Miller Timber works in a large part of western Oregon. “We generally stay within a two-hour drive” of Philomath for logging, said Lee. “For reforestation, we go into Washington and Idaho. We’ve had lots of requests to log in Washington and Idaho, but we haven’t taken the work because it’s important to be near (our base) for equipment maintenance.”

        Miller Timber Services has 140 full-time employees. Although employees work regularly for one of the two subsidiary companies, they cross back and forth between L&B Reforestation and Miller Timber Logging when necessary.

        Lee described the Ponsse Ego processor and the Ponsse Buffalo King forwarder as a couple of “workhorses.” The Ergo can maneuver and function easily even in the most dense stands. That is important because often the company is performing select cutting, and it seeks to eliminate damage to residual trees.

        In the larger context, the Ponsse cut-to-length logging machines underscore the commitment that Lee and his company have to helping their customers maintain healthy forests. Lee is deeply involved in initiatives that ensure forests will be sustained for future generations and currently serves on the board of directors (as secretary-treasurer) of the National Wildfire Suppression Association.

        Miller Timber considers fuel reduction work an important part of logging. Besides removing trees, brush is chipped with a Quadco machine as needed.

        Fire prevention is an ever-present concern at job sites. Miller Timber owns five fire tenders, and the largest two have a volume of 4,000 gallons each. All crews are trained in emergency fire response and suppression techniques.

        Miller Timber Services has quality control and employee training programs in place. The company’s safety initiatives include regular safety meetings and wearing protective gear. The company provides transportation to job sites.

        To ensure that a crew has met all its objectives for a job, Miller Timber Services runs a check plot system to monitor measurement accuracy and stump heights. Information from this quality control program can be shared with other landowners and prospective customers to illustrate the kind of work done by company crews.

        The Ponsse Ergo and Buffalo King have the Ponsse OptiControlTM system to control hydraulics. The system senses the load on the machine’s boom from a given log and provides that appropriate hydraulic power.

        Lee values the efforts of his crew members, who make the work happen, and the expertise of his employees. One reason he has continued to run an older processor for another year before adding a second Ponsse Buffalo King is because the processor operator is such an expert with it.

        Skilled operators help minimize logging trails. In turn, fewer trails help to minimize soil erosion. Strategies for conserving forest resources include ensuring that trails do not intersect streams; the trails run parallel to streams. The machines do not cross the streams, which helps conserve these water resources.

        Both Miller Timber Services and Finland-based Ponsse share a commitment to conservation. Ponsse invests in technical innovation and also forestry research. Through the European Forest Institute (EFI), for example, Ponsse awards scholarships for graduate and post-graduate study. The EFI helps develop new technology and also studies the socio-economic and environmental impacts of high technology in forestry with the overall goal of improving sustainable forestry.

        The history of Ponsse dates to the late 1960s, when founder Einari Vidgrén developed his first forwarder. By 1970, Vidgrén had launched a company.

        The name ‘Ponsse’ has an unusual origin. When the first machine was built by the company founder in Finland, there was a stray dog loose in the village, and the villagers called him Ponsse. It was a mixed breed dog, and ugly, but Ponsse was an excellent hunting dog and would hunt in all kinds of weather and terrain.

        Today, Ponsse is well-known for its line of compact, durable cut-to-length logging machines — harvesters and forwarders. The Ponsse Ergo model name points to the ergonomic benefits designed and built into the machine; the operator works in comfortable conditions. Ponsse offers a number of different harvesting-processing heads for the Ergo; the selection enables loggers to choose one that is the best possible match for the species and size of trees.

        The Ponsse Buffalo King is built to handle large diameter trees and to operate on sloping terrain. Using a boom to lift large diameter logs potentially can stress a hydraulic cooling system. However, the Ponsse Buffalo King has a dedicated pump to provide continuous cooling and filtering for the hydraulic oil. The cycle continues regardless of the way the machine is moving. The result is the hydraulic oil stays very clean and within the optimum temperature range.

        The Ponsse machines also are able to minimize loss of hydraulic pressure; consistent pressure helps improve fuel economy.

        Miller Timber Services is a member of the Oregon Professional Logger Association. Its insurance rating puts it in the best-in-class category.

        Looking for a competitive advantage, or striving to do things better than competitors, is something that keeps companies ahead of the curve. The Ponsse Ergo and the Ponsse Buffalo King have given a boost to business at Miller Timber Services, according to Lee.

        The harvesting and reforestation components of Miller Timber Services are part of a large array of services the company offers to customers. Other services include wildland firefighting, fuel management, and forestry management, such as stand exams and plantation planning, and forest road construction, including building, watering and rock hauling.

                Lee is very happy with the career path he chose. “I like being out in the woods, watching trees grow,” he said. Working in the outdoors is a genuine pleasure, he added.


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