Michigan Loggers Specialize in Hardwood Thins

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Budd Forest Products Relies on TimberPro 830 with Risley Equipment Rolly II Harvesting Head

Some business owners start out with a clear plan of where they’re going and stick to it. Other businesses evolve gradually, taking cues from the resources available to them and the economic climate of the area. Both paths can create stable, well established and well-run companies that survive the ups and downs of the marketplace.
Budd Forest Products Inc. is one of the latter types of company. Like many other forest products companies, Budd Forest Products — located close to Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan — is a family enterprise that is passing down from generation to generation. The company began in 1950 as a sole proprietorship when Donald Budd Sr. took a horse, a chain saw and a single-axle truck and headed for the woods.
His son, Donald (“Donnie”) Budd Jr., now an integral part of the business, remembers when his father still logged with a horse.
“He used horses until I was about 10 years old or so, and I’m 48 now,” Donnie said. “They were big workhorses — the loggers called them ‘skidding horses.’ He had a couple of them that were 2,000 pounds or more. They were big horses.”
His father bought stumpage from U.S. Forest Service timber sales. He sold saw logs to local sawmills and sold the pulpwood logs through brokers.
Donald Sr. bought a John Deere Model 40 tractor with a bulldozer in 1958. He used it for about a year and traded it in on a John Deere Model 1010 tractor bulldozer with a cable boom so he could load drays. He used that equipment until 1965, when he bought a tandem truck. In 1968 he took another leap forward in technology when he bought a John Deere 450 bulldozer, and in 1969 he bought an International rubber-tired skidder.
“That was one of the first rubber-tired skidders in the area,” Donnie said. “At that time he was probably cutting aspen and hardwoods. There wasn’t a lot of pine in the area then, although I know he cut a lot of jack pine in the 1970s.”
His father bought an International tractor trailer rig for long distance hauling of wood, and his brother, Mike, was the first driver of the 18-wheeler. “I remember that my father had a difficult time getting someone dependable to haul wood,” Donnie recalled. “People wouldn’t show up when they said they would.” Donald Sr. hauled pulpwood to mills for Abbott Fox Lumber Company, Nordine Lumber Company, Wood Development Corporation, Kimberly-Clark, Wausau Paper Mills, Louisiana Pacific, and Niagara Paper Mills.
By 1980, Donnie was ready to come into the business and he and his father formed a partnership. In those days, Donnie did a lot of hand felling, but by 1989 the company had purchased a Hydro-Ax 311-C feller-buncher. Soon afterwards, the Budds continued upgrading to a newer Caterpillar grapple skidder and added a Hawk slasher, which they kept until replacing it later with a Barko 160C slasher.
Donnie’s younger brother, Richard, 33, purchased his father’s share of the business in 1997, and the brothers teamed to form Budd Forest Products. They are the only two of seven siblings to take over the company.
Richard started working with his father and brother on weekends and after school when he was about 13. When he graduated from high school, he joined them full-time. For a while he operated the Hydro-Ax. The next upgrade came in 1999 when they purchased a Prentice 620 with a Timbco bar saw head. In 2002, the Budds were ready to go from tree length to cut-to-length logging and purchased a Risley Equipment Rolly II head for the Prentice 620, and they traded their grapple skidder on a Franklin 632 forwarder. This spring the Prentice 620 was traded for a new TimberPro 830. Richard continues to operate the harvesting equipment. The company’s one employee, Korrie DeCremer, operates the Franklin 632 six-wheel forwarder.
Although Donnie sometimes runs either machine, his main role is buying timber or contracting for cutting, road construction, and other aspects of the business.
The company purchases most of its equipment from a single source, Woodland Equipment in Iron River, Michigan. “Budd Forest Products does a lot of business with Woodland Equipment,” said Richard. “We purchased our Franklin 632 forwarder and the TimberPro 830 with the Rolly II processor head there.”
One reason for the company’s loyalty to Woodland Equipment is the type of service the dealer provides. “All the mechanics, service, and parts people are very helpful,” Richard said. The dealer has service personnel who can help them troubleshoot problems by phone so the Budds can handle it themselves. “But there are still times when we need someone else to work on equipment, and they do a good job helping us with that.”
Donnie agreed. “The people at Woodland are very easy to deal with,” he said. “Bruce Brodnowski was the salesman for the Franklin 632, the Rolly II and the TimberPro 830, and he has been very helpful. Ron Beauchamp is the owner there, and he’s great to work with. Russ Fenwick works on the computers there, and he can help us work through just about anything on the phone even though we don’t know anything about electronics.”
Richard and Donnie have been very favorably impressed with the TimberPro, which is manufactured by the Pat Crawford family, they noted, the original owners of Timbco. “Pat and Lee Crawford are very good people to work with,” said Donnie.
“When we bought it, it was a new model that had just come out and there were a few bugs in it that needed to be worked out,” he added. “They were very willing and helpful to work with us, and we could always get ahold of them when we called. It’s one of the few places you can call and get hold of the owner. Every time I called, he was there to answer the phone and help me.”
The TimberPro 830 is an eight-wheeled carrier that can be configured for different functions — as a long wood forwarder, a clam bunk skidder, a combination (quick change) forwarder, or a harvester (or cut and skid combination). The standard machine has a 20-ton capacity bogie axle and is powered by a John Deere 250 hp electronic engine. It features VOAC hydraulic control valves, dual pump drive system that enables the engine to run at 2,000 rpm for increased fuel economy and IQAN digital control system. TimberPro offers a number of machinery options, including a Cummins 300 hp electronic engine.
TimberPro also manufactures a six-wheeled version, and this fall it is introducing a new six-wheel grapple skidder.
The Risley Equipment Rolly II is a single-grip harvester designed and built for maximum control for select cuts, thinning or clear-cuts. It can be equipped with a 24-inch cut RotoSaw. It offers up to 10,000 pounds of pull power and feed speeds ranging from 10 to 16 feet per second. The Rolly II, used in both cut-to-length and tree length applications, can delimb all coniferous branches and 4-6 inch limbs in hardwood.
The newest addition to Risley Equipment’s line of attachments is the Premio L-Series of dangle processor-harvester heads. The feed roll geometry of the Premio line ensures fast gripping and good support of softwood stems in all weather conditions, resulting in superior log quality while maintaining high productivity.
Budd Forest Products mainly performs hardwood thinnings. From August to about March, the company cuts and harvests mostly marked hardwoods.
“Most of our hardwood thinnings are contract work for Besse Forest Products,” Donnie explained. Besse, based in Gladstone, Mich., has about a dozen mills. “Their mills are all over the Upper Peninsula and Wisconsin. Most of our dealings are with the Baraga mill, and Brian Anderson and Mark Coon are the Besse foresters we mostly deal with.”
This winter will be a little different for the Budd brothers. They have secured contracts to cut on private lands, and they will be cutting mostly aspen, balsam and spruce this coming winter.
One of the continuing challenges to the business, Donnie said, is finding and keeping dependable labor. A truck driver who worked with the Budds for 15 years quit to take another job closer to his home. Since then, Donnie and Richard have used a contract trucker, Nordine Trucking.
“They’re very professional,” Donnie said. “Sometimes it looks like we have a lot of wood piled up, but if we get in a bind they bring four or five trucks and the pile disappears in a hurry.”
Budd Forest Products has a number of different customers for its woods. Hardwoods cut for pulp go to International Paper in Quintesec, Michigan; some also go to StoraEnso in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, and a small amount goes to Stone Container in Ontonagon, Michigan.
Most of the company’s aspen production is sold to Louisiana Pacific and delivered to its mill in Sagola, Michigan, and some of it goes to Stone Container in Ontonagon.
Budd Forest Products produces about 7,500 to 8,000 cords of wood annually, up from about 4,000 cords before the Budds added the Rolly II processing head. “The processor has definitely made a big difference in what we’re able to do,” said Richard.
Richard and Donnie share a love for the outdoors. Both brothers hunt and fish when they can, although Donnie said their time for doing both is limited by the number of hours they work.
“I used to do quite a bit of hunting and fishing,” Donnie said. “But business, and working on my house, has taken up a lot of the free time I used to have for both. I’m building a woodshop right now because I like to do woodworking, and that occupies a lot of my free time.”
Even though Budd Forest Products is well-known and established, the forest products industry is very competitive in the region, and Donnie puts a lot of effort into obtaining contracts.
“Last fall the mills were very short on wood, and they were paying a good rate,” he said. “But with fuel prices and timber prices what they were, there were only about six months last year that we could really make any money. Fuel prices have gotten very high, stumpage prices have taken a big increase, and trucking costs have gone up. So even though we’re getting more money for our products right now, we’re still not doing a lot better than we were because everyone gets such a big piece of what we make. The elements are tough, and the work is tough on the equipment. When it’s 20 below and you’re bouncing over stumps, stuff starts breaking. It’s just a tough business.”
One of the main reasons for the company’s success is effective communication with others, said Donnie – private landowners, the U.S. Forest Service, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, private foresters and others. “We’re up front and honest,” he said.
“We also do good work and try to produce the quality of wood that the mills want,” Donnie added. “We still do a lot of work by hand to produce what they want, and they appreciate that.”
One of their goals is to increase the financial stability of the business. “We’re very solid now,” said Donnie, “but when your payments are thousands of dollars a month, sometimes it’s hard,” he said. “If you miss a couple of weeks of work, you end up short at the end of the month, but the bank still wants your payment.”
The biggest challenge the company faces in the next few years, Donnie said, is purchasing timber. “Federal timber sales are so big that it’s hard for small operators to make the minimum bid or the bond,” he said. “It’s not uncommon for the minimum to be a quarter of a million dollars or more, and then you have to send in 20 percent of your bid. And that’s a lot of money for a smaller company. But the mills buy up the timber sales, so we’re almost forced to work through them. So the hardest part is buying stumpage.”
As a result, the brothers are considering seeking a long-term contract with a mill under which the company would be paid a set rate per cord of wood delivered. “There are a lot of companies around here that cut that way,” Donnie said.
Despite the challenges, the men enjoy the logging industry and the opportunity to work in the woods.
“We’re outside all the time, and we get to meet a lot of really wonderful people,” Donnie said. “I’ve been going to work in the woods since I was 18, and I love it. Not every day is a good day. Some days are very trying. But when we look back at the end of the year, we’ve made some money, and we’ve met some really wonderful people. We just love being out there.”