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New York Loggers Thrive in Firewood

Toomey Bros. Logging Adds Second Pull-Through Delimber from Stripper Mfg.

By Diane M. Calabrese
Date Posted: 11/1/2006

POTSDAM, New York — Michael J. Toomey and his brother, Kevin R. Toomey, who own Toomey Brothers Logging, have been producing firewood for almost 25 years.

        Michael and Kevin were so busy in early autumn they could not take time to talk about their company. They just keep going, on track to produce 18,000 face cords of firewood for the year – in addition to cutting and selling grade and veneer logs, 3,500 cords of pulpwood, and occasionally selling some wood for chips.

        Michael’s wife, MaryJane, is the office manager at Toomey Bros. “I do the orders, bookkeeping, scheduling,” and serve as liaison to the accounting firm, explained MaryJane, who found time to talk with TimberLine. She is also extremely busy.

        Among her many responsibilities, she aligns orders from customers with what the eight-employee team at Toomey Bros. is able to produce.

        “Our prime business is firewood sales,” said MaryJane, although the company also sells saw logs, veneer logs and pulpwood.

        Michael and Kevin are very careful when it comes to evaluating and investing in equipment. Return on investment must be weighed, explained MaryJane.

        When the company was considering adding a delimber in the late 1990s, the Toomeys  looked at how the delimber would complement their other equipment.

        The list of must-have features for the new delimber included durability, portability, and simplicity. Michael and Kevin favored a pull-through delimber from Stripper Mfg. The Stripper delimber offers low maintenance. It has no hydraulics, and the knives are reversible and bolt on for easy changing.

        Toomey Bros. purchased its first delimber from Stripper Mfg. in 1998. They added a second pull-through delimber from Stripper Mfg. earlier this year. Staying with Stripper was a given said MaryJane, because the first delimber has proven its worth.

        The Stripper delimber that was purchased in 1998 “just got its first new knives in 2006,” said MaryJane. Until then, re-sharpening alone kept the reversible knives performing fine.

        Because Toomey Bros. processes almost all firewood at job sites, it needs equipment that treads lightly on the substrate. Mounting a 1,500-pound Stripper delimber and a slasher on each of two Prentice 210E loaders consolidates equipment. The arrangement allows one operator to delimb the logs, buck them to the appropriate length, grade and sort, and load trucks.

        The Stripper can delimb stems up to 15 inches in diameter, which eliminates most occasions when a limb must be removed with one of the Toomey Bros. Husqvarna chainsaws. That keeps the men working safer, more comfortably and more productively.

         Felling is done with a Timbco 445 feller-buncher operated by Michael. The company also has a back-up cutter, an older Koehring. Three John Deere grapple skidders — two model 648 G2 and one 648 G — move the trees to a landing. They have two different slashers, a CTR circular saw slasher and a ProPac circular saw slasher.

        The company has three machines for processing logs into firewood but normally uses only two. The newest firewood processor was made by Serge Coté in Quebec. The model SC 8000 was actually a design-build effort that benefited from input by Michael and Kevin to the manufacturer, explained MaryJane. The other firewood processor in regular use is a CTR that was purchased in 1993. The company also has another CTR firewood processor that was purchased in 1988 and puts it into service when it needs maximum production.

        “We do all firewood processing on the job site,” said MaryJane, moving equipment to the site with tractor-trailers. Processing the firewood logs on-site streamlines the operations, she explained. “We can tailor the wood more to what we need for customers,” she said. Sorting for species, bucking, splitting and loading can be matched to customer requests without the need to move the logs to a yard or other location and handle the wood multiple times.

         “We have some customers who have wood allergies,” said MaryJane, so sorting is important. The company charges an extra fee for that type of sorting.

        Service for the landowner begins before cutting. “My husband is the only one who runs the feller,” said MaryJane. “He meets with the landowners. He asks, ‘What are you looking for?’ ” By conferring with the landowner, Michael is able to develop a plan for the harvest that will have the desired end result for the landowner.

        The company and its eight employees strive to provide the kind of service that customers want, and it shows. “The reputation, what you put into it…when they leave a job, people comment about the good job,” said MaryJane.

        Giving customers precisely what they want puts Toomey Bros. in the same philosophical camp as Stripper Mfg. Listening to loggers is where it all begins, explained Sam Sessions, owner of Stripper Mfg.

        The Stripper pull-through delimber can be mounted in a way that works best with a logger’s particular equipment. For example, Toomey Bros. has one Stripper delimber mounted on a factory-built chassis that is hooked to the butt plate of one loader, and the other is mounted directly on the gooseneck of the loader trailer.

        Stripper Mfg. offers a wide range of options for mounting its equipment. An  adapter plate enables the delimber to be attached to the gooseneck if the loader is mounted on a trailer. The Stripper can also be attached to some slashers. One logger in Canada attached his Stripper to his forwarder blade. Others have mounted it on a skid for use with Bell harvesters. Stripper Mfg. also offers its delimber on its own chassis with an extendable tongue. The company works with logging contractors to help devise the mounting configuration for their business.

        Sam has been responsive to Toomey Bros., according to MaryJane. Toomey Bros. knows firsthand that the strength of a business depends on every link in a chain that includes more than customers and vendors.

        “We hardly cut a job that’s not monitored by a forester,” said MaryJane. Keeping up with silviculture techniques and environmental regulations is an essential part of the business.

        Muddy conditions bring a halt to cutting. The mud season is usually in spring, when snow is thawing, but heavy rain can cause mud, too.

        Toomey Bros. Logging is a member of the Empire State Forest Products Association. MaryJane and others at the company respond to ESFPA opportunities for continuing education.

        Bidding for jobs on federal and state lands is exceptionally competitive, said MaryJane. Most jobs are within 50 miles of the company’s home base in Potsdam, New York. The Toomeys try to limit the need to move much equipment to relatively large scale jobs. Closer to home, they can work on small lots and select cuts. The company performs mostly select cutting operations and occasionally clear-cut logging.

        Toomey Bros. is equipped with a lowboy, two trailers and two Western Star tractors. “We move equipment for others,” too, said Mary Jane. The company also owns several dump trucks.

        Potsdam is a village of about 10,000 people in northern New York. It is located along the Raquette River just 18 miles south of the St. Lawrence River and the Canadian border. In fact, Toomey Bros. has some firewood customers in Canada.

        Toomey Bros. does much of its own maintenance, including some welding. The size of the job dictates whether the company’s own workers will do it or whether a shop will get the job. For example, the task of putting a new box on a dump truck recently went to a shop.

        Balancing its supply of firewood with orders and monitoring supply and demand fall to MaryJane. She uses QuickBooks® computer software and “good old honest math,” she explained.

        The company’s minimum firewood order is five face cords of wood. Most orders are for regular split wood at 16 inches in length, but some businesses buy fuel wood for a boiler and request a larger size.

        Toomey Bros. has been contacted by distributors and retailers in states to the south that called to ask if it would supply bagged, palletized firewood. For now, the answer has been no.

        Toomey Bros. sells both seasoned and green firewood. To hasten seasoning, it has a 176x50 lean-to shed, 30 feet high, with 11 bays to store and dry firewood. A loader is used to move the wood to improve circulation and speed drying. During wet weather, curtains on the shed are used to keep out rain or snow.

        MaryJane begins taking orders for seasoned wood in May. By early August of this year, she was sold out. Depending on conditions, the company can sell about 800 to 900 cords of seasoned firewood annually.

        Many firewood customers are residential consumers. Toomey Bros. supplies wood to energy assistance programs in St. Lawrence County and Franklin County. Small businesses, particularly greenhouses, also buy firewood from Toomey Bros. “Outdoor boilers have become a big way of heating” in the region, said MaryJane.

        Michael and MaryJane have a combination wood and oil furnace to heat their home. The oil component allows them to take a vacation without being concerned about frozen water pipes.

        Kevin, Michael and MaryJane did not come from logging backgrounds. The Toomeys’ father was a mason, and MaryJane’s father was a carpenter. Both fathers worked for Alcoa.

        Michael studied for two years at a university toward a degree in criminal justice to become a conservation officer, but in the course of his study he got hooked on logging and firewood. He and Kevin started the business.

        Being in business for nearly a quarter century, Toomey Bros. Logging has had to make tough decisions as market conditions changed. “Hardwood pulp was at a premium for a while,” said MaryJane. “Everything went up with that. We stuck with firewood. We could have made more delivering the pulpwood and culling out the hardwood, but…we honored our customers.”

        The constancy and commitment to firewood paid off in the long term for Toomey Bros. Logging. Customers could buy without interruption, so customers kept buying. Toomey Bros. also increased its customer base as competitors stopped producing firewood for a time.

        Wood is an important part of family life for Michael and MaryJane. They built their own house and the deck. They have been married 20 years and they have two teenage daughters who already show a knack for working with wood. The older daughter has a table entered in a traveling art show, and the younger one is making a cedar chair. Michael just bought a new bandsaw to allow the girls to pursue woodworking projects at home as well as at high school.

        Kevin and his wife, Laurie, have been married for seven years, and he has a teenage daughter who is active in many different sports.

        Family is important to Michael and Kevin. Both families enjoy many outdoor activities, such as hunting and fishing, and they have made many trips to Quebec as a group to fish for walleye.


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