Colorado Contractor Does Low-Impact Logging

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Risley Equipment Rolly II Processor Gives Rocky Mountain Logger the Versatility He Requires

EAGLE, Colorado — An expert on skis, Tom Olden, owner of Pine Marten Logging, sometimes took to the slopes from helicopter drops before he married. He still skis, but now he gets up to the slopes on a regular ski lift.

Tom relies on a Risley Equipment Rolly II processor to harvest and process primarily lodge pole pine along the western slopes of the Colorado Rockies. He often works in and around ski locales, such as Vail and Steamboat Springs, that have tempting fresh powder. But logging comes first.
At age 38, Tom already has accomplished a lot. He earned a degree in forestry at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, worked as the leader of a forest trail building team for the U.S. Forest Service, did a stint as a mortgage broker specializing in Small Business Administration loans, and co-owned and operated a ski shop.
Tom started Pine Marten Logging nine years ago. Seven years ago he mechanized the company’s operations. For five of those years, Tom kept trying to match his harvesting head and carrier to the kind of timber in which he worked. Then, he got a tip from a mechanic.
“They told me to find a TimberKing,” said Tom. “I looked and I looked and I looked,” he explained. “Then I met Alf Mielty at Risley.” Alf is the customer service representative for Risley in its Western region.
At the time, Risley, which is headquartered in Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada, had just sold its TimberKing (TK) carrier designs to Caterpillar, which no makes the TimberKing line. So when Tom bought his Rolly II and TK combination in 2003, he worked with Risley and Caterpillar, and the two companies collaborated to help him. In the process, Tom got what he wanted and much more.
When he started out searching for the carrier and harvester-processor, the one constant in the equation was TimberKing. “I thought it would give me reliability,” Tom explained. “I have a Caterpillar log skidder. It was either going to be Caterpillar or nothing.”
Tom does all his own maintenance, and he needed dependability as well as serviceability. “I’m the one who has to do all the troubleshooting and maintenance,” he said. When a repair involves more than 200 pounds of lifting, he gets help from a mobile mechanic.
The TK723 carrier is relatively light, coming in just under 60,000 pounds. Tom wanted the lightest and strongest combination possible in a carrier and processor. And he got it.
“Rolly II is a good fit, but more importantly, it’s engineered well,” said Tom. “In two years, I’ve spent about $25 on hoses, $1,200 total” on parts.
The Rolly II runs so reliably that it leaves Tom with an unusual lament. “I can’t even get a day off,” he said. The Rolly II runs smoothly eight to 10 hours each day, and the processor clocks about 60 hours per week. It does so with just routine service and maintenance. “I haven’t even had to recalibrate the measuring” system, said Tom.
Pine Marten Logging is a one-person business. Tom owns (and operates) the TK723 with the Rolly II processor, the Caterpillar skidder, a Prentice 210E log loader, and an International dozer for making logging roads. He contracts for trucking.
When Tom spoke with TimberLine in late December, he was working at 10,000 feet. If the snow gets deeper than six feet, Pine Marten Logging moves to a lower elevation.
Tom runs the harvesting equipment for a long day, and he appreciates the roominess of the TK723 cab. “I can stand in the cab,” he said, which makes it easy to take a quick break and stretch.
Flexibility counts in Pine Marten Logging’s operations, and the TK723 and Rolly II give Tom that kind of needed versatility. “We can do multiple things,” he said. “I used it in October along a gondola lift trail in Vail.” In that setting, the TK723 and Rolly II were able to reach and cut without getting too near the lift line. At Frisco, a ski town in Summit County, Tom used the Rolly II to fell trees, which were then skidded to a landing for delimbing.
“We’ve done short-longs, what you call cut-to-length in the East,” said Tom. “But we cut mostly 37-foot to 50-foot, tree length – delimb, skid and load.”
And in an application that is atypical for the region where Tom works, the Rolly II has even been paired with a yarder. “We used it under a long-leader yarder instead of a shovel,” he explained.
“We try to keep everything as small as possible,” Tom said, describing his company. “We try to keep it to the bare bones.” That keeps the business manageable — one that can be operated in compliance with state regulations and work efficiently to supply wood to the mills that are Tom’s customers.
Markets for timber in Colorado are quite limited, noted Tom. In his region there are no co-generation plants and no mills manufacturing chip board or oriented strand board. Ninety-five percent of the wood that Tom supplies is processed into 2×4 lumber or timbers for log home construction.
When Tom is harvesting trees on state or federal land, the government closely oversees the job. For example, on some jobs he is required to pile all the tops and slash together so it can be burned; on others jobs he must distribute the slash over the substrate.
Pine Marten Logging is based in Eagle, a town of 3,000 residents about 100 miles west of Denver. “I usually work within 200 miles from home,” said Tom.
Tom buys timber on national forest lands. Most of his logs are sold to Intermountain Resources in Montrose.
Almost all the trees that Pine Marten Logging fells are lodge pole pine. “We do a lot of low-impact timber” harvesting, said Tom. Lodge pole and ponderosa pine species have been under severe attack in recent years from the mountain pine beetle. Tom frequently contracts for thinning jobs, selectively felling dead and dying bug-infested trees in an effort to thwart the spread of the adult beetle.
Shortly after Tom put his Rolly II in service, Tom worked on a job in Denver that required him to remove trees that had been damaged in a fire that affected 130,000 acres. “The head just kept going,” he said.
The Rolly II processor is powerful and able to handle about anything that Tom encounters. “I haven’t found a tree that thing won’t delimb,” said Tom. He contracts infrequently with a logger who fells oversize timber with a chain saw, although he does not have much need for his help.
The Rolly II has made all the difference in terms of keeping Pine Marten Logging going. “I had previously owned a machine that almost drove me to bankruptcy,” Tom recalled. The Rolly II and TK723 combination enables him to accomplish efficient low-impact and economical timber harvesting, and to keep working steadily with little down time.
Tom also has worked on private land. “We’ve logged in peoples’ back yards,” he said. The company’s operations have been fairly wide ranging. “You name it,” he said, and Pine Marten has done it.
The yarder job already cited is a good example. “The town of Vail called me,” he said. “We needed to have a high-lead yarder.” They settled on a Diamond Mfg. 210 yarder.
To get a Diamond 210 and an operator to Vail, Tom needed help. “I called the manufacturer, he gave me three leads, I called one, “said Tom. Ken Nichols of Washington State came and ran the yarder.
“The machine was awesome,” said Tom about the yarder. The owner of the yarder was equally amazed at the way the Rolly worked instead of a shovel, according to Tom.
The “Rolly has been around for many years,” noted Alf. “It evolved into what it is today. Because of modular construction,” it is very adaptable.
“We can configure a head a half-dozen ways,” said Alf. By listening to and working alongside loggers, Risley gets information that it uses to continuously improve its equipment.
Tom has a ¾-inch pitch, 24-inch bar saw on the Rolly II. Other options for the machine include 18-, 21- or 24-inch disc saws.
Although they are tall, lodge pole pine trees have relatively short, non-branched roots. That makes it possible to loosen and remove stumps with the Rolly II, and Tom does. “I can grab the stump, wiggle it,” he explained. “We’ve built roads with it because we take stumps.”
“Tom’s head is the first Rolly II of its generation to work in the West,” said Alf. “We’ve just placed the second one in Oregon.” The Rolly II in the Beaver State is working in a thinning operation.
Alf credits Tom with demonstrating the important role the Rolly II can play in harvesting in the West. “Tom proved that application works,” said Alf. “He understands the application. And he picks the machine for the application.” The criteria of low ground disturbance, low site disturbance and low environmental impact, which are musts for Pine Marten Logging, are part of that application-driven approach. The Rolly II draws high marks in every category. “It allows me to do a lot,” said Tom. “It’s really versatile.”
“The one thing that I can say about Risley is they have been 100 percent true to their word,” said Tom. Whatever Risley has promised him, the company has delivered, he said.
Tom has seen many changes in logging. “I started with a cable skidder and a chain saw,” he said. At the time, he was felling bigger trees. Nine years ago, the average diameter of a tree was 24.4 inches, he explained. Now the average is 9.9 inches and 45 feet tall. Sometimes, but not often, Tom still gets a tree that is tall enough to cut into 50-foot lengths.
A native of St. Mary’s, Md., Tom sometimes thinks about dining on the blue crabs from the Mid-Atlantic shore. Yet he would not trade the vistas of the Rockies for the shore, he said.
From when Tom started a lawn mowing service as a teen, he knew he liked being his own boss. A few indoor jobs after college added one more dimension to preferences. “I had to be outside,” he said. “I had to have a chain saw.”
Tom also works with a friend who owns and operates a Wood-Mizer portable sawmill. In fact, the men are considering moving in the direction of a full-time sawmill business. They are considering several suppliers for a stationary sawmill.
It is “becoming difficult to put up timber sales” in Colorado, said Tom, so logging is getting more difficult. Consequently, sawing is doubly attractive.
Still, Tom relishes logging. “For us, it’s not just showing up,” said Tom, speaking for himself and his subcontractors. “You get to build roads. It’s a constantly fluid business.”
The variety suits him. It has also been an informal motivator of sorts. When Tom first decided he wanted to own a business and be outdoors, he tried to get a post and pole permit so that he could work at building trials. None of them was available, and he took a right-of-way clearing permit instead. From there, he got into harvesting.
“I just enjoy the people I work with,” said Tom. Off the job, he hunts and skis. But he said that hunting is so rewarding in his area that it does not take long to take an elk. From the vantage of a logging site, it’s not unusual to see in a single day lynx, elk, deer, badger, and golden eagle. Because he and his colleagues often camp out, they also enjoy a clear view of the night sky.
Right now, Tom is considering getting a newer Risley Rolly II, but he does not feel any urgency. “This one’s been so good,” he explained. “It runs every single day.”
Tom attributes the success of the Rolly II to its strength and durability, and the commitment of the Risley personnel who support it. “Alf — I can’t say enough good things about him,” said Tom. He also has worked closely with Peter Reifel and Yves Lamay, two product support technicians at Risley; they have been superb resources to him, according to Tom. “You can call them on the phone, and the next day they’re on a plane out here,” he said.
Tom, a member of the Colorado Timber Association, summed up his business philosophy in one sentence. “We just try to listen to our customers,” he said.