Loggers Switch States, Find New Challanges

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Hultdins tracks overcome wet conditions; Timbco 445 and Rolly II head handle Kentucky hardwoods.

FREDONIA, Ky. — Brett and Shelley Schultz used to log in Wisconsin, a state where the substrate is very different from the ground where they now work in western Kentucky. They left behind a region known for substantial snow in winter and the significant break-up in spring. But in the trade, they got an entirely new set of challenges.

Brett and Shelley own K.L. Inc. They moved their business from Wisconsin to Kentucky in September 2002. They contract for MeadWestvaco, cutting on both company and private stumpage in Kentucky, doing both clear-cuts and thinnings. One of the things they appreciate most about working for MeadWestvaco is the company’s commitment to total utilization of trees and proper overall forest management.

Shelley and Brett are natives of Wisconsin; she is from Waupun and he is from Elkhorn. K.L. Inc. is based in Fredonia, a town of about 490 people located in the northwestern part of Kentucky and less than 100 miles southwest of Owensboro.

In the Bluegrass State, Brett and Shelley confront a freeze and thaw cycle throughout winter that makes the clay-rich soil under their equipment as pliable and adhesive as the clay a potter uses. (In fact, many potters get their clay from Kentucky; it is known for its stickiness and is identified by names that correspond to the locales from where it comes.)

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In Wisconsin, K.L. Inc. primarily harvested hardwoods. They felled the trees by hand with chain saws and skidded out the three-length wood. Now they are engaged in cut-to-length logging: they use a track feller-processor, pairing it with a forwarder. Different machines, different places, and different species — K.L. Inc. cuts a substantial amount of hardwood for MeadWestvaco, but there is one constant.

While still working in hardwoods in Wisconsin, Brett and Shelley discovered Hultdins Eco-Tracks®. Brett recalls first seeing the tracks at the Lake States Logging Congress in Green Bay, Wis. He and Shelley thought the tracks could be the solution they needed for working in wet conditions.

“We were cutting in spring,” explained Brett. The ground was so soft that their skidder “literally couldn’t drive uphill empty.” Brett called Hultdins soon after seeing the tracks at the trade show and got a set of Eco-Wheel tracks for the skidder.

The difference with the Hultdins equipment on the tires was amazing. Brett said they went from not being able to climb a hill while empty to being able “to pull a full skid of logs.”

The first tracks from Hultdins “just went around the individual tire, instead of around the bogie,” explained Brett. Today, a Franklin 832 eight-wheel forwarder is equipped with the Eco-Tracks from Hultdins.

Eco-Tracks from Hultdins, which is headquartered in Brantford, Ontario, are designed to perform on most types of ground. They have performed extremely well on the soft clay that K.L. Inc. worked on during much of its first winter in Kentucky, according to Brett.

Hultdins makes several styles of bogie tracks: Eco-Track, Eco-Wide and Eco-OF, and the Eco-Wheel track. The equipment minimizes rutting and damage to the ground.

For the most part, the Hultdins Eco-Tracks prevent wheeled machines from cutting ruts in the forest floor. In the event that rutting does occur, the Eco-Tracks can be used to “straddle track back and forth over the rut,” explained Brett, so the “tracks themselves fix the ruts.”

Besides being more environmentally friendly, the Hultdins Eco-Tracks are also user friendly, Shelley noted. “They’re a lot easier to put on than chains,” she observed. In a place like Wisconsin, that counted for a lot because putting on chains in severe winter conditions is no fun.

Shelley operated the first machine she and Brett owned that was equipped with Hultdins Eco-Wheel tracks, a John Deere 548G grapple skidder. They bought the skidder new in 1996 and equipped it with Eco-Wheel tracks in 1997. They were impressed with the Hultdins equipment from the start. “Ever since we got Hultdins, we’ve been year-around” in operation, said Shelley.

Between the John Deere 548G skidder and the Franklin forwarder, Brett and Shelley owned a Timberjack forwarder that also was fitted with Eco-Tracks.

For loggers working in very steep settings, Hultdins makes the Eco-Wide tracks. The cross members of the Eco-Wide are deeply concave to enhance traction. They are for conditions where loggers require extreme flotation, such as steep slopes, very soft substrate or both.

Hultdins also offers a track with narrower cross members than the Eco-Track, the Eco-OF. The ECO-OF tracks provide better traction where floatation is not an issue. Hultdins also recently introduced a widening plate. The widening plates, when welded to existing or new Eco-Track cross members, increase the width of each side of the member by 3.9 to 5.5 inches. Their shape increases protection of the forest floor when the machine turns.

Choosing the best type of Hultdins track is a matter of matching machine to conditions. Brett and Shelley recalled their first encounter with a Hultdins representative at the Lake States Logging Congress. The representative got a good description of their situation and suggested a solution that ultimately proved to be just what they needed.

In Kentucky, K.L. Inc. cuts and thins some hardwood as well as loblolly pine and other pine species. In Wisconsin, K.L. Inc. harvested almost all hardwood.

When they first deployed their Timbco 445 with its Rolly II processing head to harvest hardwoods in Kentucky, they got some skeptical looks, said Brett. However, they knew from experience how well the Timbco and Rolly combination performed in hardwood.

“We did a lot of homework before we bought” the equipment, said Brett. The Rolly II processing head has proven to be very durable and requires little maintenance, he added. Maintenance time and costs have been dramatically reduced.

The Timbco 445 hydro-buncher with the Rolly II and the Franklin 832 forwarder are the key pieces of equipment for the three-man operations of K.L. Inc. The company also owns a Portable Workshop trailer, a 2003 Western Star log truck, and two Pitts trailers.

Since starting a family, Shelley has moved to doing all the paperwork for the business. But she still enjoys the opportunity to get out to the job site whenever possible.

Brett and Shelley bring very different experiences to their company. Nevertheless, by following different paths, they both arrived at the same point. They share a passion for logging and respect for the industry.

Shelley was a business manager when she met Brett. She got hooked on logging very quickly as she learned more about her future husband’s work. Soon, she started working with him. Then, they married and became business partners.

“We live and breathe logging,” said Shelley. “We are totally committed to the industry.”

An active member of Lake States Women in Timber (LSWIT) group, Shelley takes every opportunity to learn all that she can about the political side of the industry. In addition to Shelley’s affiliation with LSWIT, K.L. Inc. is a member of the Forest Resource Association.

The best part of being in the business, she said, is working with her husband. “I love working with Brett,” said Shelley, who was 19 when she started working with him. “Brett is a great teacher, so smart, intelligent,” she said.

Just as Shelley recognizes Brett’s strengths, he is grateful for all that she brings to K.L. Inc. “Without her, there’s no way I could do it,” he said.

Brett has acquired rather extensive and varied experience in logging. “The biggest thing I probably learned in business,” he said, is to “trust yourself on decisions.” For example, sometimes he has faced decisions about making a sizeable investment in equipment. Those kind of decisions require carefully gauging the return on the investment. Brett has made decisions that have allowed him to keep upgrading equipment and growing the business.

Other loggers in Kentucky were forced to stop work for two months in the winter of 2002-2003 because of poor logging conditions, according to Brett. “This has been the worst winter Kentucky has seen in years,” he said. “It was raining, then snowing, then freezing, then thawing.” With the Hultdins Eco-Tracks, the Franklin forwarder was able to keep pace with the Timbco, and K.L. Inc. kept right on working.

“Brett runs the Timbco,” said Shelley. “But he can run anything. He makes it look so easy.” It took Brett about six months to start running the Timbco at optimum production capacity, and Shelley attributed his short learning curve to Brett’s strong knowledge of mechanics and logging.

Brett’s parents owned a summer resort, and as a teenager he worked in the business, building docks and boardwalks out of logs. The resort was situated 65 miles from the closest town in the Red Lakes district of Ontario. The setting gave resort-goers a rustic experience and required resourcefulness from its operators. One of the projects Brett helped build was a 350-foot dock constructed with logs. He also did some duty as a fishing guide.

When Brett graduated from high school, he linked up with a logging company, felling by hand. He bought enough standing cedar in Wisconsin to keep them busy for a year. Then Brett, with a partner, went out on his own. They used a Farm-All tractor and a three-point winch to skid out the logs; the axles kept breaking, said Brett. That was in 1987.

After three months, Brett bought out his friend and purchased a 1970 Pettibone skidder. He bucked all the logs into 8-foot lengths and “had to throw them up by hand onto the pile.” Even with that labor-intensive approach, he and one employee produced about two loads per day.

When the market for cedar deteriorated, Brett switched to hardwoods and bought a 1976 John Deere 440-B skidder.

Later, Brett upgraded to a John Deere 548D-8S model grapple skidder, the machine he had when Shelley met him. “He was cutting by hand,” recalled Shelley. “We then upgraded to a John Deere 548G, which we bought new in 1996.”

The Pettibone skidder that got Brett started as a business owner actually has a bit of a tie to the Franklin 832 forwarder that K.L. Inc. relies on today. Roger W. Drake, the founder of what is now Franklin Treefarmer in Franklin, Va., once worked as a distributor for Pettibone. He went on to launch his own equipment line with the design of the Franklin Logger, which made its market debut in 1962.

The Franklin forwarder is the second piece of equipment that Brett and Shelley purchased from Woodland Equipment in Iron River, Mich. (The first was the Rolly II processing head.) Brett said he has been very satisfied that Woodland Equipment can help K.L. Inc. with all its existing equipment as well as give the company high quality service and advice regarding new equipment.

When Brett and Shelley take time away from the business, they enjoy spending time with their two sons, Beckett, 3, and Barett, 2.