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Wisconsin Father-Son Loggers Keep It Small: Team Relies on Cat 550 Wheeled Harvester with Prentice PD-46 Dangle Head

Wisconsin Father-Son Loggers Pleased with Cat-Prentice Combination

By Staff
Date Posted: 5/1/2008

      One day 12-year-old Brian McKinney was driving his dad’s tractor and got mad at the bucket because it stuck out too far in front. So, before his father got home, he took it off, tore it apart and fixed it to the back of the tractor. His father laughs about it now, but at the time he wasn’t happy about having to plow snow in reverse.

      That incident, along with all the chain saws he took apart, turned out to be good training for Brian, who now works as a logger in central Wisconsin. Even today when he talks about making his own adjustments to machinery he says, “Always got to play.”

      Brian, 28, loves his machines. He was running slashers and pole skidders when he was a boy. When he graduated from high school, he bought a used Tree Farmer pole skidder and went full time into logging.

      He ran the pole skidder for three years and then bought and sold a feller-buncher, a forwarder and a logging truck. His first new machine was a track harvester with a dangle head that he bought a couple years ago. Last year he bought a brand new truck but sold it three months later. (“It’s hard to get good drivers and hard to make money with it,” he said.)

      Brian and his father, Dan, are a two-man crew. Brian owns and operates a cut-to-length harvester and Dan owns and operates a forwarder. They have been under contract to Stora Enso for the last three years. Dan sold most of what he cut for almost 30 years to the company’s previous owner, Consolidated Papers. The men just signed on for another year with NewPage, which recently acquired Stora Enso.

      Even when everything was up in the air and they weren’t sure what would happen with the Stora Enso acquisition, they weren’t overly concerned. “We would have found something,” Brian said.

      “As long as I have been logging, I’ve always heard negative stories about the industry,” said Dan “We never had trouble. It always seemed to work out. We always got rid of our wood.”

      “There are always other markets,” Brian added. “Sometimes you just have to look harder.”

      Brian recently traded in his harvester and bought the first rubber-tired Cat harvester from Fabco in Wausau, Wisc. He put a Prentice dangle head on it. He chose the Cat 550/Prentice PD-46 combination primarily because he wanted to be able to cut bigger wood.

      “On the job we’re doing now,” he said, “there might be only one tree we need to cut by hand. With the Cat we can do pretty much anything in the woods, and it is made for hardwoods and will last longer. It’s built better. Kevin Marshall (in Antigo, Wisc.) has five of these heads, and three of them have 10,000 hours on them.”

      Brian also made a deliberate switch from a track machine to a wheeled machine. “I definitely wanted rubber tires,” he said. “It’s faster in the woods, easier on the operator. It gets through marked wood a lot better, too. It’s hard to explain because the harvester looks so much bigger, but it seems to sneak through the woods. The track machine always wanted to go straight, and I had to be careful with stumps and stuff.”

      Brian keeps bogie tracks on his tires all the time for more stability. He has driven the Cat harvester down steep hills that he would not have attempted with any other machine, he said. Brian is also pleased with how it maneuvers in swampy areas. “It floats really good,” he said. “We were cutting in a black ash swamp, and it held up good.”

      Brian has been pleased with the machine’s fuel economy. The equipment has been using about 40 gallons per day, he reported.

      Although he might consider buying a used forwarder or loader, Brian would not buy a used processor because “some people beat the heck out of them,” he said. His philosophy is to buy new equipment and take care of it.

      He greases the harvester every day and does all the preventive maintenance. Brian prefers to take his time and look over everything. “There isn’t anything that is hard to get at in the Cat harvester or the Prentice head,” he said.

      The harvester Brian previously owned also was equipped with a dangle head. He stayed with a dangle head for the Cat because it is more productive, according to Brian. “It just gets around better,” he said. “With a fixed head it is always facing straight, so you have to be perfectly lined up to the tree. With the dangle head you can sneak around to the back side. It’s just a lot faster for me.”

      Brian and his father produced 52 cords of wood the day he was interviewed. They average about 40 per day. The double-bunk forwarder does not keep pace with the harvester. For example, the next day Brian cut 16 cords in one hour. “I cut and then I go drag the roads, push out trucks,” and do other tasks while his father is getting the wood out, he explained.

      The McKinneys are not ready to add another forwarder. Dan is 67 and may retire soon, and Brian will need to hire someone to run the forwarder.

      Brian balances his work with time for his family and the community. He is married with an 8-year-old son. On the days when his wife, Jenny, works, Brian makes sure their son, Cole, gets on the school bus.

      A member of the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association, Brian participates in training sessions and attends annual meetings. “The association does a lot for us,” he said — “changing laws and pushing for new laws to help us. They also do a lot to get the word out that the loggers are trying to do a good thing.”

      Brian also is a volunteer “first responder” in his town of Gleason. After completing 80 hours of training, he is qualified to provide emergency medical care to accident victims until an ambulance arrives.

      Brian’s biggest concerns for the future are the cost of fuel and equipment. At least at this stage of his life, he plans to keep his business small.

      “Just a processor and a forwarder are good for me,” said Brian. “To grow bigger with the way things are now, there would be nothing left by the time I paid an employee, made my machine payments and paid for the fuel. I make a good living now.”


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