Wisconsin Logger Is at Forefront of Change

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Frank & Seth Forest Products pairs new TimberPro 620 rubber-tired carrier and Rolly II processing head

PITTSVILLE, Wisconsin — If Pittsville seems an unlikely place to start a revolution, Frank Frost also seems an unlikely person to lead it.

Pittsville is in Clark County, Wisconsin, about 100 miles northwest of Madison, the capital of the Badger State. The town has approximately 850 residents. The county’s largest town is under 3000 people. You get the picture.

Frank is the owner of Frank & Seth Forest Products; his son Seth joined the business about 10 years ago. Frank is a quiet-spoken man who loves to be in the woods, whether working or hunting. Though you won’t hear him jumping and shouting about the future of logging or how his operation has the industry’s first rubber-tired carrier with a controlled head, that’s exactly what’s happening.

Change has come about because it makes sense, not because anyone is trying to be the leader of the pack. While the rest of the country is waking up to the benefits of cut-to-length (CTL) technology, CTL is firmly established in the Great Lakes area. So are harvesters — known as processors in this neck of the woods, though the machines both fell and process wood.

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“I’m not interested in running new equipment just for the sake of it,” said Frank. His only goal is “to produce wood.” Yet his machine is the first of its kind to hit the woods: the rubber-tired TimberPro 620 is the first off the block from Pat Crawford’s new company in Shawano, Wis. (Pat founded and previously owned Timbco).

The TimberPro is paired with the newest version of the Rolly II processing head from Risley Equipment of Grand Prairie, Alberta, Canada. Combining these two proven names is bound to prove a hit with loggers who prefer to tackle hardwood stands on rubber.

How did Frank end up being first? As usual, timing played its part. Frank & Seth Frost Forest Products cuts almost exclusively for Stora Enso, which require producers to be on rubber in order to be preferred suppliers. Frank says he was just waiting, looking for an undercarriage that was robust enough to hold the Rolly II head on rubber tires.

The person who helped Frank put the pieces together was Ron Beauchamp, the owner of Woodland Equipment in Iron River, Mich. Frank has an excellent track record with Ron, who sold him his first Rolly II. Frank also owns two forwarders, a Franklin 632 and a Tree Farmer C5F (Franklin now owns Tree Farmer), both purchased from Ron. The forwarders are six-wheel, rubber tired machines.

“I’ve been in the woods almost 30 years,” said Frank. He values the fact that Ron has been selling logging equipment for the same amount of time. “He understands my needs,” he explained, adding that Woodland Equipment has “been good to work with.”

What makes Frank happiest is that Ron could get him the new Risley Rolly II processor onto a rubber tired carrier. “Pat Crawford really built a machine here,” Frank said approvingly of the TimberPro.

Above all, what Frank wants in a machine is reliability. “We don’t get paid for being mechanics,” he noted. “One of the big factors (in the logging industry) is downtime,” said Frank, who does his own maintenance. The less downtime, the more productive the company is.

Another reason he values his relationship with Ron and Woodland Equipment is that the performance of the machines he has purchased from the dealership has been first rate.

Frank & Seth Forest Products operates with three full-time employees. Seth runs the Rolly II on the TimberPro. Frank runs the Franklin forwarder and Jason Vulcking runs the Tree Farmer forwarder. Frank’s wife, Betty, does the company’s books and is also employed by the Clark County Sheriff’s Department as a transcriber. Her help in the business allows Frank to “concentrate on working.”

Winters like the current one in Wisconsin pose a significant challenge. With daytime temperatures hitting 40 degrees late in December, the freeze and thaw cycle is short and conditions are muddy. Frank believes that machines operating on rubber tires cause “less damage” to the ground and minimize disturbance. He’s also been surprised to find they are “so much faster going through the woods.”

When Timberline talked to Frank in December, his new Rolly II/TimberPro had been in use only five weeks, and it was too early to cite production figures. “We’ve been in some real average wood,” he said, which made him wary of giving estimates. Two semis were running behind his forwarders each day, transporting loads of wood.

Frank typically works in hardwoods, such as pin oak, maple and birch. The TimberPro is an agile machine, just what Frank needs in the stands – some plantation – designated for thinning. “One of the things I noticed right away is I don’t have to worry about nicking a tree because of tracking.”

“It’s really made for the woods…It isn’t just a piece of tin,” Frank said enthusiastically. There are two features he particularly appreciates. The reversible fan on the TimberPro keeps the radiator in a normal temperature range even on long days. The carriage “levels 22 degrees forward for felling and processing on hills,” Frank said, an important capability given the gently rolling hills of southern Wisconsin.

The TimberPro can be used to carry other brands of harvesting and processing heads, as well as feeler-benchers, but the Rolly II on the TimberPro was the best choice for the work that Frank does. The combination gives him “the only directional head” on rubber tires. “We take all this hardwood, and you have total control over the tree at all times. You can put the tree down where you want it without doing damage on other trees.”

The Rolly II easily handles hardwoods and is not slowed down, said Frank. Risley made some good improvements to the Rolly II, noted. “It’s got a lot more roller power,” he said, and fast saw speed. “This is the first (processor) with this much flow going into it.”

Seth is a superb operator, according to Frank, and quickly mastered the use of the DATA computer, which can measure the diameter and length of trees as well as calculate daily production volume.

The smallest hardwood species Frank’s crew cuts is about 5 inches in diameter, and the smallest softwood species, about 4 inches. The Rolly II head “really holds up good in that kind of wood,” said Frank.

His verdict was confirmed by Pat, who saw the Rolly II in action on one of Frank’s jobs. “I was amazed to see what it could do to hardwood,” said Pat.

Pat is a bit of a legend in the Great Lakes region. He has a reputation for building hard-working, reliable machines at a reasonable price and is understandably seen as a “people’s champion” in the logging industry. He started out as a timber feller in 1951, beginning a career in forestry whose only break was for military service. Pat founded and previously owned Timbco, and when he sold it he kept the option to buy its wheel division.

Pat, 77, chose to exercise his option and effectively start over rather than retire to a life of leisure. The move would only surprise those who don’t know him personally. “I have a fanatical love for the forest industry,” he said with a grin. “I also see greater opportunities for future growth in rubber-tired carriers.”

Pat has a talent for conceptualizing and implementing ideas despite not being “an engineer per se.” This is matched by the perseverance to follow through on his ideas. For example, when cut-to-length technology was in its early stages in Scandinavian countries, Pat traveled there to learn more about it. He concluded that wheeled machines in North America would have to support a heavier kind of processor head – one that could tackle hardwoods. The TimberPro, a machine that has been a “concept in mind four or five years,” can support a head up to 6000 pounds. John Lambert is one of the first employees whom Pat brought on board at TimberPro, and his expertise in hydraulics and fabrication has helped TimberPro translate Pat’s ideas into machines.

The story of how the Rolly II came into being is a similar tale of dedication. Risley Equipment is part of Risley Manufacturing Ltd., a family-developed company in Alberta, Canada that makes five different processing heads, tree-length delimbers and disc saw heads. Risley boasts strong expertise in hydraulics and metal fabrication and has an enviable track record of producing robust, reliable equipment. The firm employs more than 200 people, including an engineering staff of 20 and an electrical staff of 11.

The engineers became well acquainted with Ron when they were developing the Rolly II head in the 1990s. Woodland Equipment is one of the oldest Risley dealers in the U. S., and Ron was intimately involved with the Rolly II program — particularly the saw bottom and computer system. He spent long hours on the shop floor in Grand Prairie, championing elements he knew were needed for the Rolly II to sell in the Great Lakes states.

“To me,” said Ron, “it’s all about the chase. You have to keep on trying to improve, to push things a bit further. I was delighted to be able to work so closely with Risley. They are 100 percent committed to quality.” His dealership has nearly 100 satisfied Rolly II customers.

The state-of-the-art approach Risley takes to designing and making forestry equipment includes collaboration with research facilities such as the Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada (FERIC). In 1995, for example, Risley and FERIC worked together to test laser technology for measuring log volume on a delimber-processor and on a truck.

It says something that men with so much experience and history in the woods (don’t even try and call them old-timers!) are at the forefront of change. Frank has spent 30 years logging, Ron has been selling logging equipment nearly as long, Pat has five decades under his belt, and Risley has been around for 40 years. Yet these are the players involved in an industry first. It’s enough to make you feel optimistic about the future.