NY C-T-L Logger Focues on Softwood Niche

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Phillips Logging relies on Rottne cut-to-length machines for operating in western New York forests.

ELLICOTTVILLE, N.Y. — At any one time in the mid to late 1930s, between 175,000 and 500,000 men were in the service of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). They worked in rural areas creating parks, constructing cabins and trails and planting trees.

Today, in western New York, Jeff Phillips and his logging company are making final cuts in many of the pine plantations that were planted by members of the CCC.

Jeff owns Phillips Logging, a cut-to-length logging company that is based in Ellicottville, about 50 miles east of Lake Erie. Phillips Logging performs everything from first thins to final felling. In order to be able to conduct that wide range of logging, Jeff requires equipment with flexibility. The company’s main two machines are a Rottne Rapid forwarder and a Rottne SMV harvester.

Phillips Logging has been mechanized since Jeff started the company nine years ago. When he decided to invest in a new harvester and a forwarder a few years ago, he had a good idea what he wanted to buy. He bought the two cut-to-length machines from Blondin Inc., the Pennsylvania-based U.S. affiliate of Rottne, a Swedish manufacturer.

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Phillips Logging works a lot on relatively flat terrain, Jeff noted, because much of the timber he buys was farm land planted in pines. The company does encounter hilly terrain, though. “Periodically we work on steeper ground,” said Jeff, and in that case the stability of the Rottne harvester is doubly important.

Jeff buys standing timber from private landowners and state forests, harvests the trees and sells the wood. Phillips Logging cuts a variety of species and sizes.”I like to get five trailer-loads per day,” said Jeff. With the pair of Rottne machines, he meets that goal.

The Rottne harvester is “the best sort of machine to be able to compete in small-diameter stands,” said Jeff. “When we work in ideal timber size” for the harvester, said Jeff, “it’s amazing” the production that it can achieve.

“The reach on the new harvester” is great, said Jeff. It has a reach of more than 30 feet, Jeff noted, and the six-wheel machine has excellent stability.

The winter of 2001-2002 generally was mild across the nation. Nevertheless, operating near the eastern shore of Lake Erie in a region known for heavy snow, the Rottne forwarder and harvester were put to the test. They performed well, said Jeff.

A native of Buffalo, Jeff got interested in logging through a movie, “Once a Great Notion.” The 1971 film, which starred Paul Newman and was based on the novel of the same title by Ken Kesey, tells the story of a logging family that decides to honor a contract when other loggers mount a strike. Jeff was so captivated by the film’s logging scenes that he moved to Oregon to get a job in logging.

Logging in Oregon was everything Jeff expected it to be, and he loved the work. But he did not like the weather. “It rained too much,” he said, virtually every day. He moved back to New York and began working for another logger and later founded his own company.

Phillips Logging supplies wood to several different mills. Norway spruce logs go to the sawmills of Daaquam in Quebec to be processed into dimension lumber. Red pine logs are sold to Angelica Forest Products in adjacent Allegany County; the company is a large producer of landscape timbers. Pulpwood is supplied to a MeadWestvaco paper mill.

Phillips Logging uses its own tractor-trailers to deliver to Angelica and MeadWestvaco. The loads going to Daaquam are back-hauled by Daaquam trucks after delivering lumber to the U.S.

Jeff’s initial interest in the Rottne equipment was sparked by the personal service he received from Rikard Olofsson, a Blondin representative. He met Rikard at Blondin’s exhibit at the Northeastern Forest Products Equipment Exposition, also known as the Northeast Expo, in Bangor, Maine several years ago. “At the show Rikard took time to talk with us,” said Jeff, and explained how cut-to-length equipment could be used for applications in a region known mainly for selective cutting of hardwoods. Jeff bought his first Rottne forwarder at the trade show.

Jeff has continued to rely on Blondin and Rikard and has a good business relationship with the supplier and
representative. Jeff wanted help with modifications on the harvester he bought last year, and he got it. “We updated the feed motors on the Rottne SMV harvester,” he said. The machine now has more powerful 1000 cc feed motors. The retrofit makes the harvester “a real good match” for the conditions where Phillips Logging cuts.

Blondin calls itself a “cut-to-length company,” and its representatives have an acute knowledge of cut-to-length logging. The Rottne equipment sold by Blondin is designed to enable loggers to harvest trees in a wide range of species and sizes.

Blondin’s staff has been responsive whenever Jeff has needed assistance. “The service has been real good,” said Jeff.

Rottne puts an emphasis on flexibility. For example, the Rapid eight-wheel forwarder is just one of many varied designs available. Rottne also manufactures a six-wheel version, and loggers may choose from different wagon lengths, articulation, load bunk size, and other features. Rottne forwarders can be equipped or modified to work as clambunks or scarifiers.

Rottne offers the same flexibility in its harvester line. They harvesters are designed to be as suitable for first thinning as for final felling, and Jeff has found his SMV harvester has been equal to either task. Moreover, the Rottne equipment enables Jeff to minimize ground disturbance and damage to residual trees, which is a particular concern of state forestry and environmental officials.

The Rottne harvester and forwarder are the main logging machines of Phillips Logging, but Jeff’s company has some other equipment that also serves him well. The company is equipped with two loaders, one Prentice and one Hood, and a CAT D4H dozer. The loaders and dozer do a good job, he said, and he has “no complaints at all” about them. Jeff also owns three tractor-trailers, a 2002 Peterbilt, a 2000 Peterbilt and a 1996 Freightliner.

Phillips Logging operates year-round. The company has four to eight employees, depending on the time of year. Bob Sherman, who has been with Jeff since the company began, serves as foreman and runs a loader. He also plays a key role in keeping apace of equipment maintenance; Bob is very good at diagnosing and troubleshooting problems with equipment and trucks. All of the employees help perform routine and preventive maintenance on the equipment.

Jeff’s business is built around harvesting softwoods, which gives it a unique niche in a region known for its hardwoods. In fact, the region within a 100 mile radius of Ellicottville — where the company normally works — encompasses part of the Allegheny Mountains, which are especially known for hardwoods, including cherry.

The decision to focus on softwoods was a strategy that Jeff based on his logging experience in New York and Oregon. The company he previously worked for in New York operated with chain saws and skidders, performing select cuts in hardwood forests. In Oregon, he worked in a company’s yarder operations.

Logging in the Pacific Northwest is “totally different,” Jeff noted. Then again, what he is doing in New York is quite different from other loggers in the region. “Everything here is geared to hardwood,” said Jeff, “so I got into softwood.”

Even though the region and its mountains are known for hardwoods, there are abundant softwood forests. Trees planted by the CCC are now forests in late maturity, and there also are forests of trees that were planted during the 1960s.

The challenges and variables of logging still hold Jeff’s interest. “There’s never a dull moment,” he said.