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Success Grows on Wisconsin Logger

Burt Collins Adds New TimberPro Wheeled Carrier with Risley Equipment Rolly II Harvester

By April Terreri
Date Posted: 5/1/2006

ADAMS, Wisconsin — In just a bit under seven years in business for himself, Burt Collins, 42, has grown his once-small business into a thriving thinning and timberland management company. He has at least six jobs going at any given time — not bad for a relatively young company.

        The owner of Burt Collins Pulpwood, Logging and Firewood LLC, Burt also owns his own trucking operation, Burt Collins Timber Transport LLC. His work takes him and his six crews throughout a 100-mile radius, and they encounter all kinds of terrain.

        The soil in the region is very sandy, which produces a lot of “crappy oak,” which is Burt’s ‘technical’ term for extremely limby oak. This was one of the primary reasons Burt decided to purchase a TimberPro TB620 with a Risley Rolly II head for harvesting and processing these hardwoods. The TimberPro is designed for heavier logging attachments and is powered by a Cummins 300 hp engine.

        “The Risley works best in this kind of sandy soil with lots of black oak and really limby oak — not at all like the oak up north that grows nice and straight,” Burt explained. “Down here in this region, you really need the beefy, big (harvester) heads. The trees down here don’t grow real tall, but they grow all those limbs instead.”

Evolving Equipment

        The TimberPro with Risley attachment is Burt’s newest piece of equipment, which he purchased from Woodland Equipment in Iron River, Mich. The new machine complements his already impressive stable of forestry equipment, which includes six other harvesting machines — two Timbcos, one with a Fabtek head and one with a Rolly. A Daewoo operates with a Lako head, a Samsung has a LogMax processor, and a Hitachi has another Fabtek head.

        “My other harvester is a foreign machine which they don’t even make anymore, and one of my subcontractors runs it,” said Burt. “I use this one, with an attached saw head on it for some of my smaller jobs.”

        Having the new TimberPro, weighing about 56,000 pounds, along with the Timbco Burt purchased about three years ago was more or less a choice by design. “The Timbco weighs about 57,000 pounds at 185 hp,” he said. “I like the fact that they are both ‘big wood’ machines, and the reason I got them was so I could keep my hand-cut crews down, and I don’t have to have so many hand cutters on the payroll.”

        Each harvester is used for particular jobs, depending on the type of wood being cut, explained Burt. “We use the dangle-heads, like the Lako and LogMax, when we work in the pines,” he explained.

        One of the advantages Burt appreciates about the Lako head is its speed and its ability to mark (measure) very well. “It has very consistent marking abilities and it easily handles the 50-foot logs we cut for making utility poles,” he said. “The rigid heads like the Risley and the Fabtek are great for working the hardwoods.”

        The company also is equipped with various forwarders and skidders. The newest is 2006 Valmet 840 eight-wheel forwarder. The other machines include a Timberjack 1210 eight-wheel forwarder, a Timberjack 610 and Valmet 646 forwarders, which are double-bunks, a Franklin 132 forwarder and a John Deere 740 grapple skidder. Jeremy Collins, Burt’s eldest of three sons, owns a Valmet six-wheel forwarder that he operates as a sub-contractor in his father’s business.

        “My TimberPro six-wheeler is what I am running right now, and I really like the way this machine handles,” said Burt. “It has a top saw and a Rolly head that works really well in the rough bulk we do. Even though I just bought this machine, I can see I am really going to like it a lot.”

        The TimberPro machine is mounted on tires. Burt explained his decision to buy a wheeled carrier versus a track carrier. “I felt it was a little easier on the ground,” he said. “I figured it would not rip up the grass and turf as much as a track carrier, especially when it turned and stopped. Another reason I went with the rubber tires is because it could cover ground a lot easier. Say, for instance, I have to move down the road a mile or so — with this machine I can just drive it to the new site. I felt this is what I needed for my operation.” The TimberPro has a spacious, quiet, comfortable cab, which means an easier environment for the operator, as well.

        Before he decided to buy the Timber­Pro, Burt watched a demonstration of the machine as well as other equipment, including a track carrier. “I felt that I really wanted the rubber tires,” he said.

        “The TimberPro makes a good, tough machine, and they are built very heavy,” Burt added. “Since I already had a lot of track machines, I figured it was time to start working on rubber-tired harvesters. You know, people complain a lot about ruts and turnings and all the turned-up dirt and turf from a track machine once a job is done. But when you have rubber tires, you can turn without worrying about damaging the turf. To me, using rubber tires is just more forest-friendly, I think.”

On the Job

        Working six crews at any given moment — throughout a 100-mile radius — requires a great deal of planning in order to ensure that each job runs as seamlessly as possible. Burt’s full-time forester, Bethany Polchowski, is responsible for assessing each project with either of Burt’s two major business segments: private landowners and Seattle, Wash.-based Plum Creek Timber Company, one of the largest private timberland owners in the nation. “I usually have three jobs going on in their lands at all times,” Burt said of Plum Creek.

        The terrain can be quite different from job to job, so having the proper equipment to match the conditions is critical. “For example, if we are up north of here, it’s hilly and muddy,” Burt explained. “But if we are around our home base, it’s pretty flat. We pretty much have it all. We don’t have any mountains to worry about, but we do have a lot of bluffs we have to work on.”

        Bethany sets up each job and develops maps and harvesting plans. “When we come onto the job, we review all of that with Bethany,” said Burt. “Then we go in and cut the trees according to the contract and what they want done with the trees after they are cut.” Bethany regularly inspects each job to ensure that the work is being done according to plan.

        When a crew gathers at a job site, everyone reviews the harvesting plan so they all understand the parameters of the job. “We see what the job needs done and we get to understand what the boundaries of the job are,” explained Burt.

        Each member of the crews has a certain responsibility. “They will cut according to whatever brings the highest value in terms of length and dimension on the wood,” said Burt. “We cut it and then skid it to a pile where it is then sorted. We have many different sorts on our jobs, according to what the different mills want brought in. Then the trucks come in and load the sorted piles and haul the timber to the mills.”

        The harvesting machines process the trees, felling them, removing the limbs, and cut the trees to length. The forwarders follow, picking up the logs and sorting them. “They are sorted by diameter and length into piles at the landing, and the trucks come in and haul them to the specific mills,” said Burt. “Sometimes one mill might take two or three different sorts.”

        Most of the species that Burt’s company harvests are oak, white pine, Norway pine, spruce and tamarack. “We try to cut whatever is paying the best, so whatever the market will bear the best is what we will produce,” he said. “We also process pulpwood up to 100 inches.”

        Different types of logs are sold to a variety of mills and companies. Pulpwood, or course, is delivered to paper mills to be processed into paper products. Some customers process the logs into utility poles, beams and other large timber products. Other mills manufacture lumber that is pressure treated and eventually sold through home improvement stores, and some logs are sold to Amish businesses that mill them into lumber and make furniture.

Whistle while you Work

        Burt is a true believer in every piece of equipment he owns. He has been especially pleased with the performance of his Risley processors and his new TimberPro. “They handle pretty much everything I want to cut. They mark well and they are super tough, so I don’t have a lot of problems with them at all. I can cut up to 30-inch diameters with them.”

        Another factor in his decision to purchase the TimberPro-Risley combination was durability and maintenance. “We rarely have any downtime with them,” Burt said. “They are good for working in the hills, and they’re great for working in the swamps. I find they are just good all-around machines for the different kinds of work I do.”

        The company produces about 1,150 cords of wood per week.

        Burt’s crews normally continue to work during the muddy spring thaw. “We haven’t slowed down any,” he said. “We just have to adjust the jobs to be able to haul the wood on roads that are open, so we arrange the jobs according to what the season brings.”

        Burt manages to keep a group of 20 employees working in the shifting seasons. “I have three truck drivers working for me on the timber transport and six men working on the logging operations,” he explained. “All the rest of the workers are subcontractors who have their own equipment, and I keep them all quite busy.”

        Cutting to the length as prescribed by contract can mean a big difference in pricing. “If you don’t cut to the best price you can get out of the wood, according to what your customers want, you just can’t make money,” said Burt. “You have to double-check with them and cut exactly what they want. This is another reason why I like the TimberPro harvesters, and the Risley is excellent for cutting the logs. Everything is automatic — you just have to push a button to choose what lengths you want. They have the diameter reading on them, so you wind up with the right logs with the right lengths and diameters all the time.”

        Some of the common lengths Burt cuts in white pine are 8-inch to 11-inch bolts up to 100 inches long. “Everything 11 inches in diameter and up in white pine is random lengths,” he said, usually in 2-foot increments. Grade hardwood logs also are processed in random lengths.

All in the Family

        It’s no wonder that Burt is comfortable in the woods and in the forest products industry. “All my life I’ve always enjoyed being out in the woods. I’ve been logging my whole life — ever since I was a kid when I worked in the woods all the time with my father,” he said. “I have been running skidders since I was 10 years old,” he chuckled. “You would never get away with that nowadays, though.”

        A fourth-generation logger, Burt can already see the family tradition carrying on to a fifth generation in son Jeremy, who owns a harvester and skidder and works for Burt’s company. Burt’s wife, Susan, helps keep track of the business end of the company.

        Before he started his own business, Burt ran a wood-chipping operation for his father until about eight years ago. “But someone sabotaged the chipper in the middle of the night and burned down that operation,” Burt said. “My father decided not to do that anymore, so I thought I would start my own business. That was in the late 90s.” Burt’s business model was similar to what he does now except the company was much smaller.

        Adding his own trucking company proved to be a good strategic business move. “I just couldn’t get other timber haulers to do what they promised to do, when they promised to do it,” said Burt. “I got tired of not being able to meet the contract deadlines, so I started putting on my own trucks. I did this mostly for customer service reasons so I could get the wood to my customers when I promised them I would.”

                Although Burt has little spare time because his business keeps him so busy, he does manage to have fun snowmobiling with his family — a lifelong favorite hobby.


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