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Michigan Logger Weathers the Challenges

Belmas Logging Likes Combination of TimberPro 630 with Risley Equipment Rolly II

By Diane M. Calabrese
Date Posted: 9/1/2007


RAMSAY, Michigan — Ever-higher fuel costs coupled with shrinking prices from mills would seem to be trials enough for any logger.

            Yet as if on cue in a scary movie, a rogue beetle entered the picture. The emerald ash borer quarantine is expanding in the Great Lakes region, adding another element to the concerns of loggers.

            Does Ron Belmas, president of Belmas Logging Inc., have all the foregoing concerns? Yes, like all loggers, he does. Ron is ready, though. “We’ll weather it,” he said.

            It takes fortitude to confront business challenges head on, and Ron has it. Ron and his son, Brad, are the partners who own Belmas Logging.

            Ron’s resilience stems in part from his experience. He and his father, Ron Belmas Sr., started the company in 1984. (His father is now retired.) They launched the business because the elder Belmas could not sustain his dairy farm and Ron wanted to get off the road. At the time, Ron was working as an electronics technician, constantly crisscrossing the country as he did troubleshooting work.

            Mining jobs were available in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, but they did not interest Ron and his dad. They decided to start logging. They got going with a chain saw and a cable skidder.

            Throughout its 23-year history, Belmas Logging has altered course and adjusted as needed. The company has been doing cut-to-length logging and has been fully mechanized since 2000. The most recent adjustment came in November 2006, when Ron purchased a new TimberPro 630 carrier with a Risley Equipment Rolly II harvester from Woodland Equipment in Iron River, Mich.

            Ron wanted a wheeled carrier, and he wanted a harvester that could keep working long hours with little maintenance or repairs. He got both with the six-wheeled TimberPro 630 and the Rolly II. “We’ll run them up to 70 hours per week,” he said.

            Although pairing the TimberPro 630 with the Rolly II was new to Ron, the Rolly II was not. It replaced an older Rolly II. There was no question he would stay with Risley Equipment and the Rolly II, said Ron.

            Asked why he has continued to rely on the Rolly II for Belmas Logging, Ron quickly cited many plusses. “It holds up pretty well in the hardwoods,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of maintenance problems — no hoses and such.” All that, he explained, and “we cut 24-inch trees” not infrequently.

            As for why he selected the TimberPro, Ron said it was because he wanted a reliable carrier on wheels. The rubber-tire machine helps reduce the time it takes to move around on job sites as well as traveling short distances on the same tract of forest. “You can travel a lot faster,” said Ron. “We can move our equipment” just by driving the TimberPro. The TimberPro travels by lowboy trailer when it is being moved over public roads.

            The quality of the equipment was the main reason Ron selected the TimberPro and Rolly II. Another consideration helped seal the decision. Belmas Logging has been buying machinery from Woodland Equipment for more than a decade. “In 1993, I bought a Franklin feller-buncher that had a Risley” Roto Saw, Ron said.

            Over the years, Ron has gotten to know Ron Beauchamp, the owner and president of Woodland Equipment. He has also formed relationships with people like Wayne Goldberg, manager of the service department. “We deal with the parts people and the service people (at Woodland Equipment),” he said. “They do a fine job.”

            Woodland Equipment strives to meet the machinery requirements of cut-to-length logging operations. Besides selling TimberPro and Risley Equipment machines, Woodland Equipment also refurbishes them.

            In business for 32 years, Woodland supplies equipment to the forestry industry and the construction industry. It has a special rebuild program for the Risley Rolly II. The program gives loggers who do not want to invest in a new harvester head the option of having their older model updated and remanufactured.

            The rebuild program for the Rolly II at Woodland Equipment begins by taking the processor down to the bare frame. Cylinders are either repacked or replaced, motors are rechecked or replaced, and structural bracing is added as needed. A new computer from Woodland Equipment is also installed. The cost of refurbishing and upgrading a Rolly II processor is about 40% of the purchase price of a new one.

            Woodland Equipment takes a less-is-more approach to the replacement computer for the Rolly II. The dealership learned that many customers did not need as many features and capabilities in the on-board computer. Woodland Equipment uses a replacement computer that dovetails more closely with what the loggers actually do and need. The replacement comes with a two year warranty.

            The TimberPro 630 is built to carry and power a heavy attachment like the Rolly II. TimberPro is manufactured in Shawano, Wis. By tapping his extensive knowledge and experience of the logging industry and loggers, designer Pat Crawford developed the TimberPro to be strong enough and powerful enough for a large harvesting head. Particularly in tough hardwoods, it takes a big carrier and processor to fell and process trees.

            A wheeled carrier has other advantages. One is the comfort for the operator from the added cushioning of the tires. The ergonomic benefits go a long way. Many operators report being less tired at the end of the day after running a wheeled machine on tires than a track carrier.

            The TimberPro 630 comes standard with a reversible radiator fan. The reversing feature enables the fan to blow out dirt and debris from the radiator and air intake screens. A clean cooling system allows the engine to run cooler, enhancing the life of the engine, transmission and hydraulics.

            Ron and his son cut trees up to 24 inches in diameter. The TimberPro 630, powered by a Cummins 300 hp engine, handles them with ease. In fact, some customers of Woodland Equipment use the TimberPro 630 to cut 40-inch trees on stump.

            The TimberPro 630 and TimberPro 620 are effective in select cuts and thins, too. The cab is on a large swing bearing, and continuous swing is standard on all TimberPro machines. The engine is located behind the cab. The combination gives the operator a clear view and eliminates tail swing.

            The other piece of the equipment in the company’s operations is a Valmet 640.2 forwarder, which was purchased from Roland Machinery Company in July 2005. Ron is the back-up operator for the six-wheel forwarder.

            Ron and his father started their logging company with an initial investment of $25,000 in 1984. They took on the entire spectrum of activities, from buying standing timber to cutting it and marketing the wood. In some instances, Belmas Logging still does that, but not often.

            “Generally, I subcontract,” said Ron. “Right now, I subcontract for Plum Creek Timber. They market the wood.”

            When TimberLine talked with Ron in early August, Belmas Logging was cutting in aspen and pine on a job for Plum Creek. “We log and truck our own work,” said Ron.

            Brad normally operates the TimberPro 630 and Rolly II, and he has a real talent for it, according to his father. “The large hardwoods take some expertise,” said Ron.

            Belmas Logging has three other employees besides Ron and Brad. “The forwarder operator, Bill Nyman, has been with us since 2000,” said Ron. “The main truck driver, Dave Ribich, just started with us this summer.” Ron’s wife, Toni, helps out with administrative duties and serves as the bookkeeper for the business. The company also has some part-time truck drivers.

            Running the business takes a great deal of Ron’s time, but he fills in as needed as the operator of the TimberPro and Rolly II or the Valmet forwarder — or even behind the steering wheel of the company’s log truck. “I haul a little with the log truck,” he said. Belmas Logging has a 2000 Peterbilt with a flatbed and center-bed loader. It also has a 2007 Mack truck and pup truck combination.

            The company tries to produce 350 to 500 cords of wood per week. The crew works after dark at times and occasionally on Saturday and Sunday. The TimberPro is fitted with tracks for winter and when the terrain becomes too hilly for tires.

            The TimberPro cab comes in a choice of three colors — red, green and yellow. Ron laughed when asked which color he chose. His cab is green, but he really did not give color a second thought. He was more interested in the machine’s features, such as visibility and operator comfort.

            “The cab design is just fine,” said Ron. “You can see out all the sides of it, forward, to the right and left.” The TimberPro 630 has a camera mounted on the back to add another layer of safety when backing up.

            Ron was interested in a single-grip harvester, which got him considering the Risley Equipment Rolly II. A single machine that can fell, delimb and buck is efficient, noted Ron. It reduces labor. Moreover, the Rolly II can handle the widest range of hardwood and softwood species with good results, which gives the company great latitude in switching from one type of job to another. The Rolly II features geared rotational control (GRC), which helps operators grasp the stem firmly and control it at all times.

            Woodland Equipment was one of the first dealers for Risley in the U.S. Ron Beauchamp visited Risley in Alberta in the 1990s to offer his observations about logging in the Great Lakes in order to help Risley perfect its equipment.

            Ron is a member of the Michigan Association of Timbermen, which is a participant in the Sustainable Forestry Initiative®. MAT has a self-insuring workers’ compensation fund, which strives to keep insurance costs down with several strategies. For instance, members control and administer the fund, paying back any surplus to members each year. The concept behind MATSIF is to use the know-how of those insured to create a stable, consistent rate structure. The MAT self-insured fund (MATSIF) has the distinction of being the first self-funded association fund in the Wolverine State.

            Plum Creek Timber, headquartered in Seattle, is the largest and most geographically diverse owner of land in the nation, according to the company’s Web site. Prudent management of land is a hallmark of the company’s long-term plan for returning a profit on investment. Plum Creek, which sets high expectations for its contract loggers, owns more than 8 million acres of timberland in the U.S.

            Plum Creek shares its natural resources. In Wisconsin, for example, 98% of company owned land is open to the public to hunt, fish, hike and other outdoor recreation.

            Belmas Logging is based in Ramsay, an unincorporated community of about 1,200 people in Bessemer Township. Ramsay is in the westernmost part of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

            There are many things to like about logging, said Ron. They include working in the outdoors and “tending God’s garden.” He also likes the challenges that go with owning your own business.

            Ron is happy that Brad decided to join him as a partner after finishing high school. “He just wanted to stay in this area, also,” said Ron. Brad likes to spend free time “out West” and enjoys winter sports.

            A native of the Upper Peninsula, Ron is glad he made the decision to find a way to anchor himself and his family in the picturesque region. Skiing and fishing in the Great Lakes are two forms of recreation Ron particularly enjoys when he takes time away from his work.




 






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