Marvin Nelson Forest Products relies on Ponsse machines for Michigan hardwoods
CORNELL, Michigan — Marvin Nelson Forest Products was established in 1971 in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Founder and company leader Marvin — Marv as everybody knows him in the Great Lakes logging industry — started working in the woods with his father and three brothers as soon as he was strong enough to carry a chainsaw. Today, he is running a company that employs not only himself and his sons, David and Brian, but all three of their wives, too.
Marv was born into the forest products industry. His father had a small sawmill on their family farm that generated the needed income for the family during the long Michigan winter months. Naturally, Marv started working with his father and brothers as soon as he was capable.
“My brothers got their first forest machine back in 1961,” he recalled. “The open cab Iron Mule was not too comfortable when it was 30 degrees below zero and the wind was blowing straight to your face,” he said, describing that early era of mechanized logging.
Marv started his own company 10 years later. “I had a $25 car and a chainsaw when I started cutting wood for Mead,” he recalled.
Marv’s wife took care of the bookwork in the evenings after getting home from her job with the U.S. Forest Service. David and Brian joined the blooming family business after high school. Before that they were helping in the evenings and weekends.
“The boys were complaining that they were bored when they were smaller,” said Marv. “Well, enough work took care of that problem.”
“If there was nothing else to do, we were fixing truck tires after getting home from school,” David said.
The Nelsons had their first experience with Ponsse forestry machines when they attended a demonstration in Michigan in 1991. “I made a big mistake within a year from that date,” said Marv. “I didn’t buy that Ponsse team. It went to St. John.”
When he took the step of getting into cut-to-length logging, Marv initially invested in equipment from a different manufacturer. “It was November 22, 1999 when we finally got our first Ponsse team,” he said. Jerry Koski joined the Ponsse USA team, and the company made a strong commitment to service.
David recalled the Nelsons’ introduction to Ponsse equipment. “The harvester was cutting strictly hardwood for the first year,” he said. “That was an extreme test and convinced us that Ponsse was the way to go.”
Today, Marvin Nelson Forest Products delivers more than 55,000 cords annually to MeadWestvaco, International Paper and Louisiana Pacific with their four Ponsse harvesters and two forwarders. The company also produces chips with a chipping crew managed by Brian.
Logging is not the only aspect of the Nelson’s operation. They also have three log trucks hauling full time and bulldozers, dump trucks and excavators building roads for MeadWestvaco.
“When things get slow, you tend to gather all the possible work you can get to keep your employees all working,” said Marv. “Then when things pick up again, we tend to keep all the work we managed to gather, and it seems that there aren’t enough hours in a day to get it all done.”
“I guess we fall in the category of workaholics,” added Brian. “We don’t drink, so if we are not logging on Saturdays, we are most likely cruising timber.”
The four Ponsse harvesters of Marvin Nelson Forest Products include two HS16 machines, a Cobra and a 2003 Ergo. They are backed up with a Ponsse S15 forwarder and a Ponsse 2003 Buffalo forwarder, which Marv operates.
The Ponsse machines spend three-quarters of the time working in hardwoods. About 80% of the production is pulpwood; the more valuable sorts of bolts, saw logs and veneer logs are carefully separated from the pulpwood.
“Cutting Northern hardwoods was something that these machines were not originally designed for, but they have proven to work extremely well in species such as hard maple,” said David.
David described his work as a harvester operator. “It takes time to learn the tricks to be productive without breaking anything,” he noted. “On my first year, I ruined 17 bars. Now I get by with four or five per year. After 12 years on the seat, I still learn something new every week.”
The Nelsons figured out how to be effective in logging business a long time ago. One big part of keeping such sophisticated and highly technical machines productive day after day is reliable service they can count on.
“Ponsse mechanics don’t actually come into the woods very often anymore,” said David. “Instead, they provide us support over the phone, and in most cases they walk us through fixing the problem ourselves. This kind of service is the key in today’s hectic logging and saves everybody’s time — Ponsse’s, but more importantly ours.” He praised Ponsse USA after-sales department. The Nelsons have their own well equipped service trucks that carry most of the parts that can stop operations in the woods.
Marvin Nelson Forest Products is an admirable family business. It keeps not only Marv and his two sons and all three wives busy working side by side, but it also employs 12 people from their area. They thank their employees, many of whom have been working for them 15-20 years. Those who have quit all came back. This shows that the Nelsons take very good care of their people and are a good company to work for.
Marv has thought about retiring in the next few years, but his sons scoff at the idea. “He’d be at the shop at 5:30 every morning, watching when others go to work and still be there later when we get back,” said David.
“So you might as well forget that idea,” added Brian.