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Sawmill Business Finds a Home on the Ranch

Log-Master sawmill plays increasingly bigger role for Montana ranch that saws pine lumber

By Carolee Boyles
Date Posted: 1/7/2003

MILES CITY, Montana ó Ask Max Bartholomew what he does for a living, and youíll get different answers at different times. One day heís a cattle rancher, running cattle on the ranch his parents own. Another day heís a wheat farmer.

But the days he likes best, heíll tell you, are the days he gets to run his portable sawmill. Bartholomew has been in the sawmill business on and off for 15 years or so, with small sawmills and a circle sawmill. He used a ground-level sawmill for a time. "It was all pretty intense labor, with no hydraulics at all," he recalled.

"We have the timber here on the ranch," said Bartholomew. "We cut Ponderosa pine and make everything from corral planks to log homes." In fact, he recently milled siding for a house being constructed for retired NASCAR racer Richard Petty.

The Bartholomew Ranch is about 170 miles east of Billings and 100 miles from the North Dakota border. The sawmill operations have grown increasingly to the ranchís income, and in recent years lumber sales surpassed the revenue earned from cattle.

"We started getting more orders than we could put out," Bartholomew said. Most customers are other ranchers or other individuals who live in the immediate area. He has one wholesale customers in Three Forks. "I cut the logs into cants," Bartholomew said, "and they put them on a re-saw and turn them into one-inch boards for lumber yards. If itís good enough, theyíll turn it into molding."

With the rapid growth of the business in recent years, Bartholomew started looking into purchasing a high-volume, high-performance sawmill. After doing some research, he decided to invest in a Log-Master LM4 with a 50 hp CAT engine. He took delivery of it last summer.

"Itís an unbelievable mill," he said. "Nothing else holds a candle to it in terms of production, horse power, or cutting ability." The Log-Master LM4 has enabled Bartholomew to increase production. Running it on a part-time basis, he has cut about 60,000 board feet of lumber. "Iíve made $17,000 in five months, and I made my first payment on the mill," he said. "That was important!"

When Bartholomew ordered the Log-Master, he asked for one special modification. Instead of the standard 22-foot bed, he wanted a 24-foot bed so the mill could handle longer timbers. "I donít want to cut anything any bigger than that!" he said with a laugh.

Log-Master specializes in heavy-duty, high-performance band sawmills and offers five models. They are powered by Cummins, Kohler and Caterpillar engines that range in power from 24 hp to 115 hp in diesel motor and 13 hp to 115 with gasoline motor.

The Log-Master LM4 will saw logs up to 36 inches in diameter and 24 feet long. It has 30-inch band wheels and runs a 1 1/4-inch blade. Features include a six post head rig and full hydraulic functions, including head feed and lift and guide arm, and all log deck functions, such as log loading, clamping and turning. The sawmill has photo-electric setworks with 14 pre-sets, a board drag-back system, and remote control operator station.

When he purchased the Log-Master, the company delivered the mill, set it up, and taught him how to operate it. Just before Thanksgiving, Bartholomew had some minor difficulties with the sharpener. The next thing he knew, someone from Log-Master arrived at the ranch, ready to help him solve the problem.

Bartholomew takes the slabs generated by the sawmill, bands them, and gives them away for firewood. "Thereís a lot of demand for firewood," he said, "and I hate to see anything wasted."

One of the biggest challenges to running a sawmill is the labor involved in moving logs and pulling boards, Bartholomew noted. "Even though this is a really good mill, it still takes a lot of effort, and Iím going to turn 40 here before too long," he said. "Itís starting to show on me. Other than that, I donít have any big challenges other than just getting everything done."

His most immediate goal is to earn enough money with the mill to make his second payment by the fall of 2003. Beyond that, he wants to continue building log homes. "Iíve done three and loved it," he said. "Iíd really like to do more -- after I get the mill paid for and I donít owe anyone."

Heís confident he will reach his goals. "My wife gives me a lot of support," he said. "And if it werenít for my parents, I wouldnít have the lumber to cut. Beyond that, itís just hard work."

(Editorís Note: For more information on Log-Master portable sawmills, call the company at (800) 820-9515.)


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