New England Logger Adds Second Timberline

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Timberline SDL2a delimber-processor fits the bill for tough, durable machine to work in big hardwoods.

MONSON, Mass. — Just over two years ago John Burson, the owner of Rocky Mountain Wood Co., purchased a Timberline SDL2a delimber-processor for his business. Recently, he added a second Timberline SDL2a.

The decision to deploy two Timberline machines was easy, said John. He liked the results he got with the first machine, including greater flexibility and recovery of every useable piece of wood. The results his company achieved with the first machine sold him on buying a second one.

Mobility drives Rocky Mountain Wood Co., which runs three land-clearing crews and sometimes adds a fourth. “With one phone call, we’re there,” said John.

The 21 employees tackle a wide range of jobs, everything from clear cuts to selective cutting of hardwoods to stump removal. Rocky Mountain Wood also consolidates and grinds wood waste collected by municipalities. It even does a bit of excavation, although less and less, said John. The company also has a sawmill, purchased early last year, that is run on a part-time basis. Land clearing on tracts up to 200 acres accounts for much of the company’s work. Rocky Mountain Wood clears land for residential and commercial development, road improvements, rights-of-way and golf courses.

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Cutting in stands of mixed hardwoods on the hilly terrain of eastern New York and south-central New England is difficult work. But the Timberline SDL2a delimber-processors give John just the machines he needs in these conditions. The long boom on the Timberline SDL2a makes it easier to maneuver among the mixed hardwoods where the company does much of its select cutting. John hopes to add a cut-to-length combo forwarder machine from Timbco in the future.

The Timberline SDL2a can work with small diameter trees, such as pines down to 4 inches and hardwoods down to 8 inches, said John. It also can handle big wood — up to 32 inches in diameter. Because of the large hardwood trees he encounters on some job sites, John needed a delimber-processor that was tough, durable, and able to handle big wood. He tried several machines before settling on his first Timberline SDL2a.

“This particular machine is built very, very heavy,” said John. “This far surpasses what a typical cut-to-length machine will do.” He is expecting the Timberline to last a long time, he added.

When John decided to purchase a second Timberline SDL2a, he opted for a slightly different configuration from the first one. He chose wider tracks for the second machine because he wanted even more flotation. With the wider tracks, he also ordered a machine with a larger engine. The combination of more horsepower and wider tracks add up to an easier time on steep hills.

John’s new Timberline SDL2a runs on a Cummins 260 hp engine; the older machine runs on Cummins 215 hp engine. The Cummins 6-CT with 8.3-liter capacity currently stands as the engine of choice at Rocky Mountain Wood. The same motor powers John’s three Timbco feller-bunchers. Having the same motor “standardizes a lot of maintenance,” noted John. That saves time and money.

To get the best array of equipment options on the new Timberline SDL2a machine, John said, “We worked hand-in-hand with the dealer.” John bought his new Timberline SDL2a from CJ Logging Equipment Inc. in Boonville, N.Y. Mark Bourgeois, president of CJ Logging Equipment, has worked with John since 1993, helping him get the equipment tailored to his company. It’s an experience he enjoys. “John is just a very ingenious guy,” said Mark.

Mark and John share a keen interest in merchandising wood. Both men see the merchandising process as starting at the source — looking at the raw material available and determining how it can best be harvested and sold. Mark understands logging thanks to first-hand experience. He helped his uncle to log, and then left the business to go to college and pursue other interests. Later he became interested in returning to the forest products industry, and he began selling equipment.

CJ Logging Equipment serves a geographic region characterized by hills and valleys, so Mark strives to provide customers with machines that have excellent flotation and can maneuver and perform well in this terrain. The Timberline SDL2a delimber processor is a good fit for Rocky Mountain Wood because it has a cab-leveling feature, Mark noted.

The newest Timberline SDL2a has new computer technology that is specifically designed for bucking hardwoods that often are not straight. The machine has other improvements, too. “The knives are stronger, the boom cylinders are bigger, and the computer features allow faster processing,” said John.

Many of the improvements were the result of input from loggers with experience using the earlier version of the machine. John spent about three days at the Iron River, Mich., facility of Oldenberg-Lake Shore Engineering, the company that manufactures the Timberline SDL2a. “They were real curious as to what changes we thought were needed,” said John. There was a nice fringe benefit to the days spent at the Oldenberg plant: “I actually got to see my machine going through the line,” said John.

Brian K. Norin, a fluid power technician at Oldenberg, described some of the improvements to the newer version of the Timberline SDL2a. The boom drive sprocket is now machined from one piece of high-strength steel. The absence of seams adds to longevity. The top saw valve has also been modified from the earlier design to increase production. And a remote engine oil filter and increased access to the oil pan are now standard features.

The diverse terrain and forest conditions where Rocky Mountain Wood operates mean that the company must have an array of dependable, versatile equipment. Besides the Timberline SDL2a machines, John has a Tigercat 845 feller-buncher and three Timbco 445 feller-bunchers. He equipped all three Timbco machines with new Quadco 22-C heads, which have 360-degree rotation. Logs are moved with a John-Deere 648E skidder, Timbco 415 forwarder and two Tigercat 630 skidders.

John raved about the performance of the Quadco heads, describing them as “excellent.” They are agile and also have the ability to extricate wood. The ability to work in and recover this kind of wood has had a direct impact on John’s business. “We can use more wood,” he said, which makes the Quadco heads a very important part of his company. “We’re salvaging our wood more than ever, looking for alternatives to the chip market,” which has not been good.

Two Serco 8500 log loaders are used on trailers. They are “excellent,” said John, adding he likes the Serco loaders “really well” and points to the real “quality” in the way they are built. A Hood 24000 mobile slasher has been in use since 1989; it has been refurbished and continues to preform well.

Stump removal equipment includes two John-Deere excavators, a 230LC and a 270LC. Each is equipped with CBI shears, which have earned praise from John. “They really work great,” he said. A CBI shear is used to split stumps and remove debris, such as rocks and dirt. John also invested in a Komatsu 270 excavator recently; it adds to the repertoire of the stump crew. The company also is equipped with two Volvo 120C front-end loaders.

John has a sharp eye for quality in equipment. His father worked for an engine ignition systems company, and John learned an enormous amount from him about small engine maintenance. He enjoys the work associated with keeping older equipment going strong.

While he was still in high school, John worked for Chain Saws of New England, in Springfield, Mass. Repairing chain saws, he got to know loggers and eventually started working for loggers. He quickly started a logging business that he worked at part-time while he was in high school. He began with a model C5 Tree Farmer cable skidder, a used International dump truck and a Husqvarna chain saw. Right from the start, John merchandised wood astutely.

As soon as John graduated from high school, John incorporated Rocky Mountain Wood Co. It was going to be “Rock” Mountain, a name he chose because of the rock-littered New England terrain, but a local government agency that issued him a business permit accidentally added the “y,” and John decided to let it stick.

John started Rocky Mountain Wood in 1979. He mechanized the company’s logging operations 17 years ago. When a chain saw is needed occasionally, John still uses Husqvarna as his saw brand of choice.

Firewood sales that fueled the early days of John’s enterprise are still part of the business. He has a Multitek Model 2040XP firewood processor, and the company uses it to convert all low-grade logs into firewood. Logs processed into firewood include hickory, ash, black oak and white oak. John also sells some logs to other firewood suppliers that are equipped with firewood processors.

Rocky Mountain Wood operates within about a 120-mile radius of Monson, a town of about 8,000 residents that is about 14 miles east of Springfield. The region where the company operates encompasses western Massachusetts and portions of Vermont, Connecticut and New York.

Low-grade wood that cannot be marketed for lumber, processed for firewood, or sold for a reasonable price to the chip market is processed into mulch. John has three Morbark chippers and also a Morbark 1300 tub grinder. He has been pleased with the performance of the tub grinder but plans to replace it soon with a horizontal grinding machine for safety reasons.

Mulch is produced through a double-grind and composting process. Grindings are processed with a large screen and then allowed to compost about a year. Then the material goes to a McCloskey 724 trommel and then through a second grind and is processed by a finer screen. The process produces a rich, dark natural mulch; at the same time, the double-screening enables the company to remove and recover top soil that can be sold for additional revenue.

When TimberLine spoke with John, he was in the process of moving more of his yard operation to Wilbraham, Mass., a town about six miles west of Monson. John bought an industrial facility in Wilbraham in Jan. 2001, culminating five years of negotiations for the property, which includes a sawmill and planing mill.

The sawmill specializes in making products from low-grade hardwood logs. It produces mainly custom wood products, such as beams, grade stakes and surveying stakes.

John has temporarily shut down the sawmill with plans to update and resign it for custom sawing. For now, his company sorts out and grades saw logs from its operations, and they are sold to other sawmills.

In order to minimize down time in the field, John runs several on-site service trucks with welding and air tools. “We’ve got hose makers, wrenches and parts on shelves,” said John. The service trucks are in addition to the Kenworth and Peterbilt tractors that pull a variety of trailers. One new truck, a Peterbilt, has a Stellar hook lift that John said “works out really well for firewood, mulch and sawmill products.”

Buying new equipment requires considerable research into the machines and their manufacturers and dealers, John noted. “You’ve really got to pick equipment carefully,” he said. “The back-up support and service from these companies is so important.” He investigates thoroughly and asks for equipment trials before making a buying decision.

The summer of 2002, which was exceptionally hot, was a greater test on his equipment than the typical harsh New England winter, according to John. The hot temperatures were tough on his workers and the machines. Equipment required more service and filter changes than normal because of the dry, dusty conditions, but the machines held up well.

John tries to do everything he can to make working for Rocky Mountain Wood a good opportunity. “We’ve got some very talented people that work for us,” he noted, and he wants to keep good employees. “We’ve got some state-of-the art equipment,” and that’s a plus to workers. He also is starting a 401k and profit sharing plan for employees.

John strives for balance between his family and his business, and he is striking that point better these days because of some managerial help he has assisting him. He participates in safety seminars and other continuing education opportunities, as well as attending trade shows and reading industry publications in order to keep his business on the leading edge of industry trends. Despite the constant challenges of environmental regulations and government permits, John said, “I love the business.”