N.Y. Loggers Make Transition to Cut-to-Length

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Timbco 425 track machine with Risley Rolly II processing head keeps Blue Ox Forest Products working

MORIAH, New York — Cousins Joe Harvish and Frank Heald own Blue Ox Forest Products. The 20-year-old company takes its name from the famous blue ox that was a companion to the legendary Paul Bunyan. The name just seemed like a logical choice, according to Joe.

Blue Ox Forest Products performs cut-to-length timber harvesting. It relies heavily on a Rolly II harvester, a feller-processor head manufactured by Risley Equipment Ltd. in Grand Prairie, Alberta.

“We went to cut-to-length in 1998,” said Joe. “The timing seemed right…to grow the business, to expand the business.” To make the shift to cut-to-length, Joe bought the Rolly II head and had it mounted on a Timbco 425, a track machine. The Rolly II is equipped with a topping saw and rolling bar options that enable it to process large diameter trees.

Because Joe and Frank work in so many different types of timber and on such varied terrain, they must have an all-around machine that can work in varying conditions. The combination of the Rolly II mounted on the Timbco gives them precisely what they need, said Joe. They can work year-round, even in deep snow, on all sorts of substrate, from sand flats to steep, slippery slopes. For Blue Ox Forest Products, the harvester makes it possible to work in different species and ground conditions as jobs change.

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Joe bought the Rolly II and Timbco from CJ Logging Equipment in Boonville, N.Y. Mark Bourgeois, president of CJ Logging, described how he helped Joe in selecting the right equipment for moving to cut-to-length. “He wanted to do processing,” said Mark. “We felt the Rolly II would be best” for what Joe wanted to
do, which was harvesting low-grade wood. “He wasn’t looking to produce huge volumes.” Joe wanted to be able to work in a variety of stands, using the same means of felling and processing, and getting a reliable amount of material in each place, Mark recalled.

“We do all kinds of cutting,” said Joe: “thinnings, final, selective, seed tree cuts.” That sort of diversity requires a machine with flexibility. Joe said he got it in the Rolly II.

Joe researched equipment options before making his choice. He went to several logging trade shows to compare equipment and also talked to different equipment dealers and loggers that had experience with Timbco and Risley.

Going to logging trade shows and talking to manufacturers and dealers
are important steps in the decision-
making process, Joe added. Ultimately,
after visiting other loggers who were
using the Rolly II, Joe decided that it “seemed like the most versatile equipment for our applications.”

When Joe talked recently with TimberLine, he and Frank were working in spruce-fir. But he said, “We’ve cut everything that’s in the area — Northern hardwoods, white pine, red pine, spruce-fir.”

Cut-to-length is still relatively new in the Adirondack region of eastern New York, where Blue Ox Forest Products operates. Joe had to travel some distance to see the Rolly II in use before committing to buy one in 1998.

The Rolly II head, with its combined felling and processing capabilities, has met all of Joe’s expectations. “It works consistently if it’s in good wood,” said Joe. “If it’s not in good wood,” he explained, the
pace is slower, just as it would be “with any machine.”

One feature of the Rolly II that really sold Joe on it, besides performance, was the rugged design and construction. In addition, the head is easy to service, according to Joe. “It’s an excellent machine to work on,” he said. “They’ve done a terrific job of making a great machine you can work on.” Maintenance has been “very manageable.”

The Rolly II has been in service for five years, but there has been no need to send it off-site for service or repairs.
“I don’t think I’ve had it out for
anything,” said Joe. “I’ve been able to fix everything on it.” The only exception, he explained, has been sending out a part or two for welding.

“When you first see it,” it is “intimidating,” said Joe. “But it’s very serviceable, very versatile.”

Getting to know the Rolly II and acclimated to working with it was key, Joe explained. In performing routine maintenance, he gained familiarity with the machine.

Clyde Norman, Risley’s manager for Eastern North America, said Joe exemplifies the way a machine owner should approach maintenance. Joe does the little things every day that are so important
to keep the head performing at optimum level, he said.

“I just highly respect those guys and what they’ve done,” Clyde said of Joe and Frank. “They’re sort of value-added loggers.” The two men have the ability to find a solution to virtually any problem, he added.

When Blue Ox Forest Products began using the Rolly II, the logging conditions were challenging. “When they got it, they were faced with the worst of conditions,” said Clyde. The men were harvesting wood in timber that had been damaged by an ice storm. “They had rough ground,” too, Clyde added, because of widespread debris. Joe and Frank persevered with the new equipment in those difficult conditions.

Joe trained to operate the Rolly II and runs the Timbco and processor. He did not have previous experience running computerized harvesting equipment, Clyde noted, but Joe has readily adapted to working with the sophisticated computer technology on the Rolly II. The computer helps Joe to maximize yield from every tree.

At CJ Logging, Mark expressed similar sentiments about Joe and Frank. “They’re wonderful people, down-to-earth,” said Mark. “We’re very glad we’ve had them as a customer.”

Both Clyde and Mark speak from experience when they talk about logging. Clyde earned a degree in forestry from the University of Idaho and worked as a logger for 15 years before moving into the role of representing a machinery supplier. He started in the chain saw and cable skidder era, and he has had ample opportunity to watch the industry evolve. Mark helped his uncle log, and then left the business to go to college, earning a pre-med degree from the University of Sioux Falls before returning to the wood products industry.

Twenty years of research and development have been incorporated in the machines that Risley Equipment makes and sells, said Clyde. Customer requirements and feedback have driven improvements in the machines. “We’ve tried to be part of them,” said Clyde, “to see past the forest to the trees.”

The results certainly have pleased Joe. The Rolly II head is “very good, very dependable, very strong,” he said.

Mounting the Rolly II on the Timbco 425 was also a good choice, said Joe. “It was a proven match-up,” he said. The Timbco, which has self-leveling capability to work on sloping terrain, has “been an excellent machine, too,” he added.

CJ Logging Equipment had stability in mind when it recommended mounting the Rolly II on the Timbco 425. “The leveling capability of the Timbco” is important for harvesting and processing trees on the steep slopes where Blue Ox Wood Products works, he said.

“I’m quite sure we were the first ones to install a Rolly II on a Timbco east of the Great Lakes region,” Mark added.

While Joe runs the Timbco 425 and Rolly II, Frank operates the company’s forwarder, a Valmet 840, an eight-wheel machine. They bought the Valmet 840 new in 2000. “We had a Valmet 646 that we liked,” said Joe. “We thought that moving up to eight wheels would give better stability, and it did.” He cited the “great flotation” and “stability” of the Valmet 840 as important features.

Until a few months ago, Joe’s brother, Tony, also worked in the company. Tony, who earned a degree in forestry and surveying, had the idea to start the business. Frank joined Joe and Tony shortly after the brothers launched Blue Ox Forest Products two decades ago.

Today, Joe and Frank are a cut-to-length team. “I cut, delimb and sort,” said Joe. “I cut the best length I can. We stay pretty close.” Occasionally he gets ahead of the forwarder in volume, but generally they work closely together.

Production varies greatly, depending on the conditions and species of wood. “Standard volume in softwoods is approximately six to seven cords per hour with the Timbco-Risley combination,” said Joe.

There have been many changes at Blue Ox Forest Products over the years, said Joe. In the early days of the company, trees were felled manually with chain saws, bucked and skidded out of the woods. “With cut-to-length,” said Joe, “you end up with much less ground disturbance, and we’re able to build mats to work on wet soils.”

In wet conditions, Frank and Joe use tops and other slash to create mats, which reduce rutting. Maneuvering the machines over the mats, they can keep working year-round. “We’ve been able to work even through spring break-up,” said Joe.

Blue Ox Forest Products is a member of the Northeastern Loggers Association. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation recently announced the conservation of 840 acres of land in the Adirondacks. The large tract will conserve wildlife and allow sustainable forestry. The logging association and the Adirondack Nature Conservancy are partners in the effort.

Joe earned an associate degree in agriculture from Canton Agricultural and Technical College, part of the State University of New York system. Before joining his brother and cousin in logging, he worked on a farm.

Blue Ox Forest Products operates mostly in Essex and Washington counties, which are in the heart of the Adirondacks in eastern New York. Moriah, the home base for the company, is located in east-central Essex County. Joe is a native of Moriah, a town of about 5,000 residents. At one time Moriah was an iron mining center; the Iron Center Railroad and Mining Museum is located there.

Blue Ox Forest Products works on both public and private lands. For example, it does contract logging for a paper company and works on land owned by a college forestry department. Because it is difficult to compete with mills, said Joe, in recent years the company has not been bidding to buy timber.

The men have chain saws but rarely use them. Joe said that since he has been working with the Rolly II, he has only encountered a half-dozen unusual trees that had to be taken down by hand-felling methods. The Rolly II utilizes a bar saw on extremely large forks, he noted, so it can handle big wood. The knives open to 29 inches, and Joe has cut trees as big as 40 inches in diameter at the stump.

When Joe does require a chain saw, he uses Husqvarna, and he said “Huskies” have long been his first choice.

Blue Ox Forest Products is equipped with a 1985 Cat skidder, but it is rarely used since the company converted to cut-to-length logging. It is used occasionally for skidding tree-length wood or unusually long logs.

The topping saw option on the Rolly II gives Joe and Frank added versatility and flexibility. “The topping saw is very nice if you’re going to do tree-length,” said Mark. It also can be used for removing stubborn limbs. “When you need it,” it is there, he added.

The Rolly II enables Joe to perform extremely controlled felling and processing. The control comes from a finely tuned combination of roller power and saw speed.

For Blue Ox Forest Products, the harvester makes it possible to work in different species and ground conditions as
jobs change.

Joe enjoys “the independence” of being in business and “not working as an employee.” Away from the business, he pursues an avocation. He is a critical care certified Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Joe volunteers one 12-hour shift per week for the Moriah Ambulance Squad, something he has done since 1996.

The town had a need for EMTs, and Joe’s wife volunteered first, earning her certification one year before he did. She also takes a weekly shift for the volunteer ambulance squad. Because Joe and his wife are both certified to provide emergency critical care, they often are asked to respond even when they are not on duty.

Finding time to serve the community in addition to running a business is important to Joe. The Rolly II harvester has enhanced his workday so that he has a bit more time and energy to do both.