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Gardner & Sons Continues Growth: Newest Addition Is John Deere 753J Track Feller-Buncher
Maine Company Adds John Deere Track Feller-Buncher
By Diane M. Calabrese
Date Posted: 5/1/2008
LINCOLN, Maine – Things change. Given that truism, the more time that one spends in an industry, the more one becomes simultaneously a witness to and an agent of transformation.
When Scott Gardner, vice president of W. T. Gardner & Sons, Inc., started logging, it was an around-the-clock proposition. “I bought a feller-buncher in 1987, then a grapple, then a limber,” said Scott. “I was living in the woods.”
Scott was on the leading edge of moving his father’s company from a trucking business that contracted to haul wood for loggers to a business that competes across a wide swath of the wood products industry. Full mechanization and extensive diversification followed fast. They transformed W.T. Gardner & Sons, which was founded in 1961 by Scott’s father and the president of the company, Bill Gardner, into the multifaceted enterprise it is today.
Tom Gardner, Scott’s brother, is also a vice president at W.T. Gardner & Sons, which is now one of several affiliated firms under the umbrella of Gardner Companies. The affiliated businesses include logging, a sawmill, planer mill, chipping operations, timberland management, trucking and more.
New equipment is added and old equipment is retired as changes and needs dictate. In January, the logging arm of the company got a big lift when a John Deere 753J track feller-buncher went into service.
The John Deere 753J, which the manufacturer has nicknamed ‘the Bruiser,’ began getting good reviews from its operator right away. “It’s got more reach with the boom,” said Terry Davis, operations manager at Gardner. Stability was improved, too, he noted. “It’s a lot more stable.”
Logging in the Pine Tree State puts the John Deere machine to the test daily. “It’s pretty rugged terrain,” said Terry of the Maine landscape. Moreover, there is plenty of snow in winter. The track machine has been a good match for all conditions.
Scott and Terry initially have been pleased with the performance of the machine but not surprised. W.T. Gardner & Sons has a history with John Deere. Gardner began buying from John Deere in the mid-1980s, explained Scott. And Gardner has been purchasing from Nortrax Northeast in Bangor, a regional John Deere equipment dealer, for as long as that dealer has been in business.
In fact, the Gardners came to expect that the John Deere 753J would meld the best properties of John Deere and Timberjack. (John Deere acquired Timberjack in 2000.) “It’s basically the same Timberjack machine that we’ve been buying,” said Terry. The reliability of the John Deere brand is what sold him on the machine, he added.
The new John Deere 753J track feller-buncher has experienced the full range of operating conditions that loggers for Gardner tackle. “We selectively cut,” said Scott. The John Deere has easily taken down any tree in line with the specifications for the machine, he explained, which in this case is 22 inches in diameter.
Gardner chose the standard cutting attachment, a Waratah FS20 disc saw head, for the John Deere 753J. The head can be swung around the full circle of the carriage.
A reversible radiator fan from Flexx-Aire is optional, and Gardner selected it. “It will save an hour and a half to two hours per day” in downtime, said Terry. That will be especially important in summer, he said, when hot temperatures make a radiator and cooling system more vulnerable to clogging debris. The optional feature lets the operator reverse the radiator fan, blowing out dirt and debris that accumulates around the radiator.
Gardner reported good fuel economy with the new John Deere machine. “Its fuel economy is pretty good,” said Terry. So far, the John Deere 753J had been “slightly better” in fuel efficiency than the manufacturer predicted, according to Scott.
The machine design simplifies routine maintenance. “It’s very user friendly,” said Terry. “The way the compartments open” provides quick, unobstructed access.
Scott and Tom both earned a business degree from Husson College in Bangor. Scott’s introduction to the company began quite early. “I was kind of like raised into it,” he said. “Dad started building roads in 1961.” Scott began helping his father during breaks from school beginning in eighth grade.
Experience is a great teacher, and Scott has put all that he learned from hands-on experience as well as his formal education into the family business. He enjoys being a business owner. “It’s just the growth,” he said. “Year after year, we’ve diversified more.”
W.T. Gardner & Sons got into the sawmill business with the purchase in 2001 of an entity that now operates as Chester Forest Products. “We put in a state-of-the-art planer mill,” said Scott. The lumber mill produces mainly hemlock studs and landscaping timbers.
Twelve years ago, W.T. Gardner & Sons was already on a trajectory that would strengthen it in a fiercely competitive market. “In 1996, we built the first wood chip mill,” said Scott. That mill originally supplied chips to a paper and tissue products manufacturer.
The most recent addition to Gardner Companies came in the spring 2007, when it purchased another hardwood chip mill. The business now operates four chip mills – three primarily for hardwood and one for softwood.
Gardner Land Company was founded in 1994. “The sole purpose of the company is to acquire and manage timberland to the standards set forth by the Gardners,” said Scott.
The logging affiliate, Gardner Logging Services Inc., was formed in 1987. “The philosophy of Gardner Logging Services is to manage the growth of forest to an uneven age,” said Scott. “This allows continued new growth to the forest and provides a 10 to 20-year span for selectively cutting mature growth.” Two foresters are on staff at Gardner to manage company timberlands.
Mill operations at Gardner occupy about half the workforce in the aggregate of companies.
Terry brings an early mechanical background to his position. “I was raised in a family-owned repair business,” he said. “I graduated from autos to forest equipment.” Terry also worked for John Deere for a time.
W.T. Gardner & Sons performs all its own maintenance except for warranty work. On-site mechanics have full fabrication and welding capabilities and are experts in their trade. They have access to Nortrax technical staff if they require a quick answer, recommendation or second opinion.
If there is ever a question about the John Deere 753J, for example, Gardner’s mechanics have no difficulty getting it answered from Nortrax, said Scott. Over the years, Scott and his team have gotten to know Mark Kneeland, territory manager for Nortrax NE, quite well.
With 150 employees and more than 150,000 acres of timberland, W. T. Gardner & Sons aims to make the most of every bit of timber. The company is equipped for processing small diameter or low-grade trees, too. A Bandit Industries model 2400 track chipper converts about 2,500 tons of wood to chips each week for biomass fuel markets. The Bandit can process trees up to 24 inches in diameter into chips.
W.T. Gardner & Sons even has its own road and bridge building operations to enable it to reach logging sites.
Much of the equipment used for timber harvesting is supplied by Nortrax. The company’s inventory of machines and equipment includes a Timberjack 608 feller, four ProPac stroke boom delimbers, four John Deere skidders, and Link-Belt and John Deere carriers.
Being able to get what is essentially a Timberjack feller-buncher on a John Deere carrier, or the 753J track feller-buncher, really got the attention of Terry. He liked both John Deere and Timberjack machines, and then John Deere acquired Timberjack.
The John Deere 753J drew favorable reviews from its operator, Lou Day, immediately, said Terry. “It has more power, more reach,” he explained, and that makes the efforts of Lou easier and more productive.
What really increases the productivity of the machine, though, is the ability of John Deere 753J to send sufficient power to the tracks to move toward a tree even while it is cutting. “Lou can cut a tree and be swinging, tracking and still have power to cut and pile logs,” said Terry. Power is supplied by a John Deere 6081H engine, and the hydraulics feature a variable axial-piston main pump. With the standard Waratah cutting head, the JD 753J has a reach that extends to 27.5 feet.
John Deere gives loggers the opportunity to customize the 753J. In addition to the radiator reversible fan option, customers can select a narrow gauge undercarriage instead of a standard gauge undercarriage. There also are options for the size of track shoes (24-inch single grouser, 24-inch double grouser, 28-inch single grouser, 30-inch double grouser, or 36-inch triple grouser with upper track rollers), upper track slides or upper track rollers, summer oil or all-season oil, and heavy counterweight or platform counterweight. The optional features enable the company to select the best machine for a given application.
The performance of the JD 753J is something that Scott and Terry take almost for granted. They expected to get everything promised, and they did. Their experience with John Deere across the years is extensive and includes construction equipment, such as excavators, dozers and wheel loaders.
In addition to its own crews, W.T. Gardner & Sons also relies on contractors for cutting. Contractors deploy all harvesting methods, including hand felling with chain saws and mechanized harvesting equipment.
Employee well-being and safety receive paramount attention in the workplace at Gardner Companies. In the well-being category, limited travel applies. “We try to keep our employees close to home,” said Scott. For that reason, most jobs are within a 50-mile radius of the company’s headquarters in Lincoln, Maine, a town of 5,500 residents about 50 miles north of Bangor.
The east-central Maine region puts W.T. Gardner & Sons in the midst of three types of forests – mixed hardwood and softwood stands, predominantly softwood forests, and predominantly hardwood stands are equally represented. The availability of different types of wood allows W.T. Gardner & Sons to satisfy market needs as they shift.
Although W.T. Gardner & Sons has expanded, modified and restructured across the decades since Bill launched the business with just one truck, much has stayed the same: Gardner has an enduring commitment to Maine, the local community and its dedicated employees.
The affiliated businesses of Gardner Companies are members of many professional organizations. On the list are the Maine Forest Products Council, the Forest Products Association, the Maine Better Transportation Corporation, Professional Logging Contractors of Maine and the Forest Resources Association.
Belonging to professional organizations gives the Gardner Companies the opportunity to contribute to policy development. Safety, for example, matters to everyone, and being part of groups that promote worker training and safe workplace practices benefits all. A safe workplace keeps premiums for workers’ compensation and other forms of insurance reasonable, noted Scott.
Besides their involvement with professional organizations, Scott and Tom are engaged in the community of Lincoln. Both graduated from Mattanawcook Academy, and in 2006 they constructed an athletic facility at their alma mater.
Tom and Scott have served as resource professionals for the Maine Tree Foundation Teacher’s Tour. Tom has been a volunteer assistant football coach at his former high school. Scott has served on the board of directors that oversees the athletic facility associated with school and in support of the entire town.
Gardner Companies is a big enterprise. Fuel chip production alone amounts to some 300,000 tons per year. It takes a great deal of time to oversee such a business.
In his free time, Scott likes spending time with his family, which includes three active children. He also enjoys riding dirt bikes, snowmobiling, playing golf, fishing and hunting.
At one time, Terry spent his free hours working on motors, but these days he takes a different, quieter sort of respite. “I like to lounge, relax …fish,” he said.
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