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Experience Teaches Grezenski Forest Products

Wisconsin Company Expands Cut-to-Length Operations by Adding Ponsse Cobra Harvester, Bison Forwarder

By Staff Writer
Date Posted: 11/1/2000

Wisconsin Company Expands Cut-to-Length Operations by Adding Ponsse Cobra Harvester, Bison Forwarder

By Diane Calabrese
Contributing Author

STEVENS POINT, Wis. — Forty years add up to a lot of experience, the sort that James Grezenski has. He began working as a logger in 1960, the year he graduated from high school, and in 1961 he started a logging business. Today, James and his wife, Barb, own Grezenski Forest Products, which was established in 1966.

James knows the forest products industry from the ground up. His company includes a logging arm as well as a sawmill and also owns timberland.

Four decades in logging have made James an exacting buyer, one who knows precisely which equipment capabilities are most important to his operation. So when he bought two Ponsse machines a year ago, a Cobra HS10 harvester and a Bison S15 forwarder, he settled on them because they proved to be a very good fit for his company.

James needs forestry machines with agility that can handle selective cutting in remote areas. Beyond the challenge of access, there are several reasons why versatility is a must for the logging equipment deployed by Grezenski Forest Products.

The company handles a diverse mix of trees, substrates and job requirements. "Every job is different," said James. "We cut anything from hardwood to aspen to natural pine stands to plantation pine." The company cuts a long list of species, including ash, basswood, birch, elm, maple, poplar, pine and more.

The types of terrain are equally varied as the stands. "We’ve got them all," said James. "Level or hilly, it could be rocky or swampy." The slopes may be gentle by Appalachian or Rocky Mountain standards, but Wisconsin is by no means flat. There are plenty of rivers, too, fed by creeks and other low-lying wet areas.

The scope and kind of work vary as well. The company does work on both private and public forest lands, and there is its own sawmill to supply with logs.

With the purchase of the Ponsse forestry machines, James has moved Grezenski Forest Products increasingly into cut-to-length (C-T-L) logging. The cut-to-length crew complements chainsaw felling.

"We limit cut-to-length to about 20 inches [in diameter]," said James. "The biggest trees we cut are hardwoods, 40-inch diameter hardwoods. We use chainsaws, Stihl 44s, for those."

Ponsse estimates that 30% of the world’s mechanized logging is now cut-to-length. James made the decision to add c-t-l after assessing the same criteria most loggers do. He was attracted by the ability to harvest timber from smaller, select stands.

Logs destined for the Grezenski Forest Products sawmill are cut to 8-foot, 10-foot and 12-foot lengths. Pulpwood is cut to 100 inches and delivered to paper companies.

The ability of the Ponsse Cobra and Bison to make the most of selective cuts is enhanced by one feature they share. "They both have a 33-foot boom," James said, stressing how the length of the boom makes a huge difference in logistics. Basically, the long boom means the machines can stay put longer and keep working longer. They spend more time producing — cutting, processing and loading wood — and less time simply moving to trees and bucked logs.

With the Ponsse Cobra HS10 harvester, it is not just the long reach that makes logging easier; it is the structure of the boom. "It is triple telescopic," explained James. The retractable length is a good match for the type of stands — tight spaces and slopes — where Grezenski Forest Products often logs.

"The booms are especially useful in hilly areas," said James, because they reduce the need to reposition the machine. Moreover, because the Ponsse Cobra HS10 harvester has separate hydraulic systems for the processing head and the boom, the two can act simultaneously and independently.

There’s another feature James especially likes — the wheels. "We decided to go with [a machine] on rubber [tires] because it’s more maneuverable," he said. It does well on "any kind of terrain."

The Ponsse Cobra HS10 harvester has eight wheels and the Ponsse Bison S15 forwarder has six. The wheels contribute to an even weight distribution that further reduces impact on the substrate.

The Ponsse Bison S15 forwarder can carry 12 tons of wood and has a traction force as high as 16 tons. Its dead weight tops out at just over 13 tons.

Smoothing out the ride at all rpm levels is a computer-controlled hydrostatic power transmission. By optimizing power for the drive, it contributes to what Ponsse labels "ground-friendly mobility."

The way the Ponsse machinery has performed in the woods, reducing tearing and rutting of the forest floor, has turned some important heads. Foresters have commented favorably to James on the quality of the conditions after the machines have finished at a job site.

Grezenski Forest Products previously has operated cut-to-length machines. James paired excavators with processing heads. He kept one of the combinations, a John Deere 120 excavator equipped with a Fabtek 4-grip processing head.

When he decided to replace equipment, his machinery operators tried out machines and equipment from other manufacturers. "[The Ponsse] was a little more adaptable than the others," said James. "The operator liked it."

James puts a premium on two aspects of his business. One is the input of his machinery operators. He counts on them to exercise their own discretion in deciding how to work a job site. The other is the "expectations of the customer."

"We take pride in our logging," James said. "We leave a very clean site. We use sustainable forestry practices."

Small limbs are chopped up and dispersed over the forest floor so there are no piles of slash left when the job is done. James often takes a prospective customer to a completed site and shows him the kind of work Grezenski Forest Products does.

"On average, we cut 85 cords of pulpwood per day," said James. That wood heads to pulp and paper mills, including Stora Enso of Wisconsin Rapids and Finland. In August, Stora Enso acquired Consolidated Papers, which Grezenski Forest Products had long supplied.

Grezenski Forest Products also harvests timber to feed its sawmill. "Seven million board feet a year are produced by the sawmill," said James. The output includes grade lumber for the furniture industry and moulding. Low-grade lumber is sold to pallet companies.

"We have our own lumber inspectors grade on the green chain," said James. The two full-time graders, both of whom obtained certification at the National Hardwood Lumber Association (NHLA) training program, are crucial to getting top dollar for the mill’s output.

Supporting the decisions made by the professional graders and sawyers are some important machines. One relatively recent addition, Silvatech scanning and optimization technology, is an extremely good example of how technology can lead to gains in productivity. "I’ve had [the Silvatech] about two years," said James. "It paid for itself in six months. It sets the first board for you, so you don’t [waste wood]."

A Morbark debarker prepares the logs for break-down, and the bark is fed to a Rotochopper grinder to be converted into mulch. The Rotochopper has a coloring system, although the company is not currently producing colored mulch because of market conditions.

The mill is equipped with a Cleerman linear position carriage. Logs are squared up by a 6-foot McDonough band saw and proceed to a 5-foot McDonough band resaw with merry-go-round for further processing.

The mill also contains a Mellott log deck and several pieces of Mellott transfer or conveying equipment: a drop belt to convey slabs, rollcases to feed material to trimmers, a vibrating conveyor for moving material to the chipper, a cant dump and green chains.

Slabs and other scrap are routed to a Morbark chipper to be processed into chips for paper companies. Sawdust is collected into walking-floor trailers and sold for farm bedding.

"Good service" and "excellent performance" are two of the reasons James has a trio of Morbark machines. Proximity is the third: a Morbark dealer is only 60 miles away. "There is good parts availability, and they do a fine job," said James.

Grezenski Forest Products has 25 full-time employees. It sometimes subcontracts for chainsaw crews. The Grezenskis’ son, Mike, runs the yard and supervises maintenance at the sawmill.

Other family members also work in the business. Barb works in the office along with the Grezenskis’ daughter, Patti, and Mike’s wife, Wendy.

The sawmill has a file room and a full-time filer. The file room is equipped for "filing, benching, welding of teeth," and anything else that is needed for blade maintenance, explained James. The company does most of its own maintenance on the machinery.

Grezenski Forest Products does its own log hauling. The company has three Mack CL700 trucks and three Rosa trailers. It also is equipped with two Prentice F90T loaders and a Serco 7000 loader.

Grezenski Forest Products has lumber customers on the West Coast, the Southeast, and in Canada. Deliveries are made by contract truckers.

Stevens Point is located in central Wisconsin about 100 miles due west of Green Bay. The company does almost all its logging within a 100-mile radius.

The average high and low temperatures in Stevens Point in January are 23 degrees and 4 degrees. The average yearly snowfall is 40.7 inches. Given the winter weather, Grezenski Forest Products has gotten a real boost from the two Ponsse machines. "There are heaters on the hydraulics and engines," explained James. Even in the coldest weather, the Ponsse harvester and forwarder "are warmed up just like toast" and "ready to go."

The workday begins at 5 a.m. and ends at 6 p.m., five or six days each week. Machine operators make the decision about whether to work the sixth day. "They know how much they must do," explained James.

Although it is dark when the workday begins in winter, darkness is not an obstacle because the Ponsse machines are equipped with lights. "The Ponsse lights are excellent," said James.

Deep snow is no barrier, either. "[They do] an excellent job," said James of the Ponsse harvester and forwarder. "We put chains on the front drives and tracks on the back drives."

The loggers work on private, county and state lands. Many jobs take the crews to nearly pristine areas, and that means logging roads must be built.

For road construction James relies on a John Deere 570A dozer, a John Deere 758 road grader, and a Mack quad-axle dump truck. John Deere garners good reviews from James, who labels its service as "great, excellent."

Service ranks with performance when James evaluates equipment. "Ponsse service is excellent," said James. "The parts availability is excellent. They never let us sit. They’d take a part from a new machine before they’d let us sit."

The community of Stevens Point has a logging heritage that runs deep. About 200 people lived in the logging community by 1850. The man who gave Stevens Point its name, George Stevens, also gets credit for the significance of logging to the region. In 1836, Stevens signed the Lumberman’s Treaty with the Menominee Indians, a pact that allowed European settlers to log and run sawmills along the Wisconsin River. The lumber industry ignited the growth of Stevens Point, which today has a population of 25,000.

Agriculture is also important in the area, and the city supports a brewery and a company that manufactures fishing tackle.

Among the paper-related industries in the central Wisconsin community are Kimberly Clark Corporation and Worzalla Publishing. Wisconsin ranks first among the states in paper products and papermaking machinery.

James grew up in Stevens Point. Even in high school, James logged part-time. He tried other jobs but liked none as well.

Although he does not take time for specific hobbies, James belongs to the NHLA, the Wisconsin-Michigan Timber Producers Association and the Wisconsin Professional Loggers Association. The groups help him to keep abreast of changes in the industry.

As for the knowledge that allows him to stretch his company in several directions, he said, "I learned by experience."


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