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North East Loggers Use Fellers, Hand Sawing
Rottne cut-to-length machines are a good match for 3 contractors; Blondin credited with strong support.
By Carolee Boyles
Date Posted: 5/1/2003
Ask a logger in Vermont who John Adler is, and he’ll tell you that John is the "Game of Logging guy."
As an instructor with the Game of Logging, John goes to timber harvesting jobs and trains loggers in everything from using a chain saw to running equipment. He also trains people in other industries or organizations who are involved in removing trees, such as utility crews and state employees.
"It’s fun," John says. "It’s different from the day in and day out of logging. And one of the really nice things I’ve been able to do is glean a lot of good ideas from all the people I’ve met and worked with as I’ve traveled."
Besides working with the Game of Logging, John also owns Eagle Forest Improvement in Chester, Vermont, which he said is a "fairly typical" logging business. He buys stumpage, cuts the trees and gets them to the landing, where a contract trucker hauls them to various mill customers. John cuts hardwoods such as oak, maple and birch for sawmills, veneer manufacturers and plywood mills, and spruce that goes to Canadian dimension stud mills.
"The majority of the wood that we cut goes into furniture of some sort," he said. "The veneer wood sometimes goes as far as Italy. Plus, there’s always a mix of firewood that we sell to local homeowners for home heating."
John has worked in logging since graduating from college. "I grew up in Maine and went to Paul Smith College in upstate New York for forestry," he said. "When I came out of college, I went to work for a sawmill for seven years, working on their logging crew."
At that point he decided to start his own business, and he bought a farm tractor and a wagon. "Using that equipment, I could see that a cut-to-length forwarder system would work well," said John. "But what I needed was a forestry machine. So I purchased a very old forwarder, an antique four-wheel machine — but still one that was much better than a farm tractor."
Several years later, John was ready to upgrade his equipment. This time he purchased a used Blondin forwarder. "For me, that was a big upgrade," he said. "I ran that for four or five years and then was able to trade it in on the Rottne Rapid Forwarder that I have now. It’s the same size machine as the Blondin, but it has more modern hydraulics and hydrostatic drives, so it’s much more productive."
This year John took the step to mechanize the cutting end of his operation with an additional investment in a Rottne SMV harvester. The harvester will be set up to use either the softwood processor head in spruce and red pine or with a Bell felling head for felling and bucking white pine and hardwoods.
One of the things John likes about using the Rottne cut-to-length equipment is that he is able to maintain a clean, neat work site. "Using this equipment lets us harvest wood very systematically," he said. "I find it much easier to do a very nice job in the woods with a cut-to-length operation and carrying the wood out on a forwarder. We know that the general public judges the quality of a logging job by what the landing looks like because that’s often the only part of the job they see. With the forwarder, the wood on the landing is sorted into piles of products, and it looks clean and organized." That kind of job site creates a more favorable public image of logging, he noted.
The Rottne forwarder also allows John to work more days a year, under more adverse weather, than conventional tree-length logging equipment.
"By cutting trees into their products in the woods, many times we can keep cutting for weeks even though the ground conditions are such that we can’t get the wood out," John noted. "Then when things dry up or freeze up, we can go in and get the wood out. That flexibility gives me more days per year when I can be productive."
The support from Rottne and Blondin has been nothing shy of excellent, John reported.
In Charleston, New Hampshire in the Connecticut River Valley along the Vermont-New Hampshire border, the employee-owners of Long View Forest Contracting Inc. harvest timber on private land and supply it to local mills.
The region is 70% forested, mostly with hardwoods and Eastern white pine. The hardwoods are primarily oak, maple and ash. Long View Forest Contracting cuts all of them, which presents challenges to the business.
"We work with a lot of different products and a lot of different markets," said Russell Barnes, one of the company’s founders. Long View’s seven employees must continually educate themselves about changes and trends in the timber industry in their region. The wood they supply goes to companies that make products as varied as tool handles to drum sticks. "We also supply wood to mills that make plywood for laminated gun stocks, other specialty plywood, and antique drum reproductions, including some for the U.S. Army Band," Russell added. On a recent logging job, the company supplied wood to 15 markets.
Long View Forest Contracting was founded by Russell, Jim Hourdequin and Jack Bell in 1999. Jim is the business manager, and Jack coordinates woods operations. Since Long View’s founding, two formerly independent contractors, Jeff Putnam and Jerry Lepisko, have joined the business. "We’re very fortunate to have a team of people with different skills and experience," said Jim. Long View runs two crews, each equipped with a Rottne Rapid Forwarder. The business produced 1.6 million board feet of saw logs during 2002.
Although Long View Forest Contracting has been in business only four years, many of the employees have worked in the forest products industry much longer. Russell, 52, began logging as a young man, working as a sole proprietor. Over time he became friends with a dealer of forest equipment. One day the dealer came up with a used Blondin forwarder for sale. Russell tried the machine, liked it and bought it.
He also liked the service he received from the dealer. "It’s like being a member of their family," he said. "They take care of us." So when Long View formed and it came time to buy another forwarder, Russell knew where to go. He went back to the same dealer and bought a Rottne Rapid Forwarder. "We’ve never even looked at the other machines," he said. "We’ve had no reason to look around, so we never have."
After working alone for 30 years, Russell met Jim while attending some lectures at Dartmouth College, where Jim was a senior at the time. They discovered some common interests, and Jim discussed the possibility of working for Russell.
"I had been interested in working in the woods and learning about the forestry trade," Jim said. "So it was my intention to work for Russell for a few years after graduating from college."
Then along came a friend of Jim’s who also wanted to work in the woods, Jack. Before Jim graduated, Russell had already hired Jack; Russell and Jim went on to work together on a non-profit organization to reduce worker’s compensation insurance rates.
Two years later, the three decided to form Long View Forest Contracting. They created the corporation, found investors, bought out Russell’s equipment, and purchased a new Rottne Forwarder.
As a result of forming the company, Russell said, things have changed in every way imaginable. "First, we’ve grown," he said. "I used to have just one or two employees. Because of our growth we acquired the second forwarder and hired more people. And everything has become much more business-like. When I was running things alone, it was a sophisticated shoe box. But Jim and Jack are real managers."
When asked about Long View’s growth, Jim and Jack were quick to point out the contributions of Jeff and Jerry. "Jeff and Jerry have experience with cable skidding and other logging systems," said Jim. "Before Long View, they successfully ran their own businesses. They bring a lot to the table."
The company also has grown in the volume of business it’s doing, from around $100,000 in annual sales to over $500,000. Because of the increase in volume, Long View’s marketing has been altered drastically. "Our relationship with our mills has changed," Russell said. "Now we can sort more, so instead of seven logs of one product we have a whole truck-load. And that volume helps in our marketing."
The company, which utilizes hand felling, harvests trees very specifically for different customers. Not only must the cutters know how to fell a tree, they must know the specific criteria of each customer, including species, quality, length and diameter. They also must know the relative values of each product supplied by Long View so they can decide how to get the most value out of each tree.
"Each cutter carries a card that has all the products and all the basic specifications on it," Russell said. "When the cutter gets to a tree, he can look up sugar maple, and then he can look up all the various products a sugar maple tree can be cut up into. He can see what he has in each tree, and how to maximize that." A new card is made up for each job because markets and prices change constantly, and the cutters need the most up to date information to make good decisions for merchandising wood.
Once the logs are delimbed and bucked, the Rottne Rapid Forwarder comes through, picks them up, transports them to the roadside or landing, and then the operator sorts them into different piles for trucks to take them to different mills.
The company could not operate efficiently without the cut-to-length forwarders, said Russell. "The system we use with the forwarders is a more environmentally benign way of harvesting trees," he said. "With the forwarders, we do the least amount of residual stand damage. That’s what really attracted us to this type of system, and the Rottne forwarder handles that very well."
Calvin Johnson Logging is a similar logging business in Chelsea, Vermont. "We buy stumpage, cut it, bring it out of the woods, and truck it to the mill," said Calvin, one of four partners in the business. "We’re one of the bigger companies in the area," he added. "There are a lot of one-person operations near here."
The company cuts a lot of white pine, spruce and fir; it also cuts northern hardwoods, such as maple, ash and beech. A lot of the wood is sold for pulpwood. "With any of the softwoods and all the hardwoods, all the non-log products go as pulp," Calvin said. "We also sell a lot of firewood to individual homeowners as fuel to heat their houses in the winter."
Calvin, 30, has been logging since he graduated from high school and comes from a logging family. "My grandfather logged and my father logged," he said.
He started out with only a chain saw and a skidder. "A couple years after I started, my younger brother graduated from high school and wanted to do what I was doing," he said. "So we bought a bulldozer. A year later I had an opportunity to buy another skidder, and I hired a local guy to run it."
Six years ago, Calvin hired a fourth person, and the four of them decided to create a partnership; Calvin is the controlling partner and the other men are limited partners.
"There are some advantages to doing things this way," he said. "It made some of our insurance costs lower, and let us offer some other benefits, like health insurance, to ourselves. And if anything ever happens, no one can come after me personally — it stops where the business stops."
Calvin also has involved his father in the business. "Now my father does all our trucking, so that almost everything we do is in-house," he said.
In 2002, the partners were thinking about purchasing a forwarder. At a trade show in Springfield, Vermont, Calvin talked to Rikard Olofsson, the president of Pennsylvania-based Blondin Inc., the exclusive U.S. importer and distributor of Rottne machines. Rikard told Calvin that every now and then he has a rebuilt Rottne that he sells with a warranty.
"About a month after the show I was in contact with him again, and he had one," Calvin said. "I made a trip to Pennsylvania and spent about a week with him, going through their facility, their product support and their parts department." During the course of the visit, Calvin decided to buy the rebuilt machine, and while he was at Blondin, he went through a two-day training course on the forwarder.
"Plus, after they delivered the forwarder, Rikard stayed with me for a couple of days making sure I got the hang of the machine they way he wanted me to," Calvin said. "I’ve bought a lot of machines since I’ve been business, but never have I had a company do anything like that. They’re a real first-class outfit."
The forwarder has changed — and improved — his company’s operations, said Calvin. "We’re dragging fewer trees. We’re picking them up right where they hit the ground. This does less damage in the woods. A lot of landowners are really happy that we’re carrying stuff out of the woods instead of dragging it."
The forwarder also has enabled the company to work in wetter conditions and on jobs with a limited area for a landing. "We can keep a landing area pretty small because we can pile stuff up," said Calvin. "And it’s make our landing clean-up time very fast because when we’ve finished the job, about all we have left is a pick-up load of bark to clean up instead of a bunch of blocks. Generally we don’t even have to re-seed the landing because we don’t disturb the grass."
The Rottne forwarder has proven to be durable and easy to service, and Blondin has provided good support, according to Calvin. "Any problems I’ve had with it have been real minor," he said. "And usually within 10 minutes on the phone with one of the (Blondin) guys in Pennsylvania, I’ve got it figured out. They’ve been very helpful, and they have about every part you can break, so I can have a part the next day if I need it."
Calvin hopes the markets for pulpwood improve soon. "The markets for pulpwood here have been pretty depressed," he noted. "And because they’ve been depressed, the price has been down. It doesn’t cost any less to do the work, but we’re getting less for our product."
As he looks toward the future of the company, Calvin is pretty comfortable with where everything is headed. He may mechanize the business further by adding a cut-to-length harvesting machine.
"But that’s a ways down the road," he said. "There’s not much more that I need. My business is pretty well rounded now. My goal at this point is just to run the business as efficiently as I can and work on updating some of my equipment as technology changes."
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