New Rayco Mini-Crawler Gives Amish Mill a Lift;

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Rayco Loaders a Welcome Addition to Allegany Hardwoods, Where Horse Teams Still Get the Wood Out

PIKE, New York — A native of New York state, John Hershberger has also lived and worked in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. For a time, he even divided his logging and sawmill operations between the two places. He recently consolidated his business interests under the name Allegany Hardwoods, which is now located exclusively in New York.

In one way or another, for 13 years John has headed up a timber business of his own. He brought substantial experience to his first logging operation. “I grew up in it,” he said. “Dad logged and had a farm.”

Today, Allegany Hardwoods is a logging and milling business. It is headquartered in Pike, a small town just west of the Finger Lakes region of New York and about 35 miles southwest of Buffalo. Pike is within Wyoming County, a thinly populated county of about 40,000 residents.

Horses — not horse power, but real horses — move 90% of the timber that Allegany Hardwoods harvests. “We can do just as much with horses,” said John. Erosion control and other environmental reasons persuaded him that skidding logs the old-fashioned way — with teams of horses — was the right choice for the way he works.

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When ravines and steep terrain make a winch a necessity, which is about 10% of the time, John puts a John Deere crawler to work instead of the horses. Otherwise, he relies on five teams of horses for skidding.

Three teams of two horses each are used at a logging site. Each team works for as many as five days. The horses need rest after working five days in the woods, so John rotates them in and out. For the last four years John has used Percheron horses, but he added two Belgian horses late this year.

John is no stranger to mechanized skidders. He used skidders before switching to horses. However, the heavy equipment often left ruts in the forest floor, John noted. “The landowners weren’t happy” with the results, he said, and neither was he.

Because he “grew up with horses on a farm,” John was certain that could harvest timber and skid the trees out of the woods using horse teams. That was the approach he decided to take.

Although the horses replaced skidders on most jobs at Allegany Hardwoods, one thing remains unchanged: the company’s use of chainsaws and hand felling methods of harvesting timber. John uses only one type of chainsaw: Stihl. They are the “only chainsaw that holds up to the kind of work we do,” he said. Allegany Hardwoods works mostly in hardwoods like cherry, hard maple and red oak, although the loggers sometimes get into some softwoods, such as hemlock.

At the sawmill, John has just added two Rayco Mfg. 9000 mini-crawlers — also referred to as loaders — for moving and handling logs. The new Rayco machines are just what he was looking for in loaders because they are “small enough” to maneuver in tight situations. As it happened, he had an opportunity to get a real feel for the loader before he put it into service. Rayco sent him the prototype loader. John tested it provided feedback to the manufacturer, which is headquartered in Wooster, Ohio.

“The machine is absolutely amazing,” said John, pointing to “what it will do for the size of it.” The crawler is operated with two joy sticks. John said the crawler is “very comfortable” and one can “sit in it all day and not get tired.” He considers the new Rayco crawler to be unique because it is simple to use “yet very efficient.”

John bought the Rayco crawlers strictly for use at the mill. “Our plans are not to take the loader into the woods,” he said. In the event he did, though, the machines conform with his protocol for equipment: the Rayco crawlers move on tracks, which is the norm at Allegany Hardwoods. “We don’t use rubber tires,” said John.

John first saw the Rayco crawler in an advertisement. “We invited him to come down” to Wooster, said Kevin Berger, a Rayco representative who specializes in doing demonstrations and setting up equipment for customers. “I took a prototype loader up to him. We just kind of worked the machine.” John liked the prototype so much that he decided to buy two of the crawlers.

The Allegany Hardwoods sawmill has no debarking system. It is equipped with a Frick head rig and band resaw and a Crosby edger. There is also a band resaw that was custom-made by an Amish colleague of John.

The mill also has a grinder supplied by Advanced Recycling Equipment. Slabs and all waste wood are processed by the grinder, and the grindings are sold for livestock bedding. There is a good market for the livestock bedding — the company delivers about one and a half loads per day — because there are many dairy farms in the region, and each averages about 300 cows.

The Advanced Recycling Equipment machine was modified by the manufacturer — at John’s request — to run on diesel fuel instead of electricity. Because John is Amish, he does not use electrically powered equipment; the machines in the mill are powered by John Deere diesel motors.

Wood waste from logging operations is limited. Tops are left in the woods. Low-grade logs and some limbs are removed for firewood.

The sawmill employs six men. Four men work in the logging operation; one fells the trees and removes the limbs and tops while the other three work with the horse teams to skid out the logs. The four men produce the equivalent of about 40,000 to 50,000 board feet each week.

Logging with horses requires care, and not just any horse can be harnessed to work in the woods. The horse must be old enough and well trained. John usually begins to acquaint a horse with logging when it is about three years old. The horse also must have a disposition suited to the job. For one thing, the sound of chainsaws makes some horses nervous.

“There are horses that don’t qualify for the woods,” said John. Some are “spooky” and others are easily distracted; they will never work in the woods, no matter how good the trainer, and John has an excellent trainer. A young man with a lot of experience has been training horses for John for several years.

Part of the training for the horse is mental, but much of it is physical, said John. A horse has to be “muscled up” before it can do a full rotation on a team.

Equally important as selecting the right horses and training them properly is finding men who know how to work a team of horses. “It is harder to find a teamster than to find a skidder driver,” said John.

Allegany Hardwoods sells the veneer logs, and most of the other logs — cherry, maple and other species — go to the sawmill. Logs that will be sawn into bending stock — mainly cherry — are taken to John’s home, where he has a Lumbermaster portable sawmill. The green bending stock is sold directly to furniture makers and also some to some remanufacturing companies that bend the stock to form components for chairs and in turn sell them to furniture makers.

Most of the lumber produced by the sawmill is sold green to furniture manufacturers and lumber wholesalers. Allegany Hardwoods is not equipped with kilns for drying lumber.

The company conducts logging generally within a 50-mile radius of the sawmill, usually working five days a week. Trucking is subcontracted.

John prefers to do select harvesting work although landowners sometimes want to clear-cut tracts containing trees that are 12 inches in diameter and larger.

“I do a lot with cherry…That’s my specialty tree,” said John. “It’s just amazing to me that there’s that nice cherry in western New York.” The high quality of the cherry timber available in the region was one reason why John decided to consolidate his logging and milling in New York. “Because my specialty is making bending stock,” he continued.

John takes a lot of satisfaction in logging and milling the wood into quality hardwood lumber and bending stock. Part of his satisfaction comes from knowing the trees were harvested in a way that promotes sustainable forestry. “We need to take care of the resources a little better,” said John.

He has become committed to conservation. “When I first started logging…I didn’t realize what I was doing,” he said. John used skidders when he first started out. “I saw root damage along the skid trail,” he recalled. “I look back at skidders…I can’t believe what I was doing.”

John became committed to forest management and harvesting practices for long-term use. Forests may be harvested and conserved at the same time, removing trees to meet current demands for wood and managed for growth that will supply wood for future generations. “Environmentally, we need to take care of the woods,” said John.

Consumers are growing more aware of the need to manage forests sustainably, John noted. “There are people who don’t want to buy a chair,” he said, if they think a forest was damaged or harmed in order to provide the wood.

John is not totally opposed to using mechanized equipment. Some times a skidder is needed. “A skidder is okay in the right situations,” he said, “and it depends a lot on who’s running it.”

Taking time away from the rigors of running Allegany Hardwoods, John has a very definite focus for recreation. “My sport is walleye fishing,” he said. Nearby Chautauqua Lake is a favorite spot, a place where he finds a respite by sitting in the middle of the placid lake, waiting for the fish to bite.

John enjoys his work immensely, too. “The thing I like about logging,” he said, “is that it’s a challenge. You never know what’s inside a tree until you harvest it.”

Above all else, “It’s the challenge that I like.”