Piwarski Brothers Rely on Two John Deere Harvesters and a John Deere Forwarder
IRON RIVER, Michigan — Dairy cows and logging operations may not seem a likely combination, but for the Piwarski brothers, that’s how their logging business got started.
Their father, Arthur, operated a 450-acre dairy farm in Upper Michigan near the Wisconsin border. “In the times when there wasn’t that much to do on the farm, we would do some logging,” said Steve, one of his sons.
Eventually Steve and his brothers formed Piwarski Brothers Logging, which is located near Iron River. Steve is in business with his four older brothers: Leonard, Larry, Delwyn and Ronnie.
By the late 1970s the Piwarskis began investing in equipment to mechanize their logging operations. They conducted tree-length logging operations until the late 1990s, when the company switched to cut-to-length logging.
At present the company works within about a 60-mile radius in the Upper Michigan Peninsula and in nearby northern Wisconsin, producing about 20,000 cords of wood annually.
“We really did not jump into cut-to-length operations wholeheartedly at first,” said Steve. “It was something that we worked our way into it, feeling our way through it and seeing that it would work out for us first. As we steadily progressed into cut-to-length, we ended up getting more and more equipment suited for this type of work.”
In 2003 the Piwarskis purchased a John Deere 1270D wheeled cut-to-length harvester. They next year they added a John Deere 1110D forwarder. This year they bought a John Deere 703G track harvester with a Waratah HTH 622B harvesting-processing head. (The 1270 and 1110D originally were manufactured by Timberjack, which later was acquired by John Deere.)
Both John Deere harvesting machines are used to fell the tree, delimb and buck; the main difference between the machines is that one operates on tires and the other is a track machine. The forwarder carries the wood to a landing to be sorted. A large majority of the company’s work is select cutting.
“Our John Deere 703G has been working wonderfully,” said Steve. “We work with pretty much all tree species found in our region…The size of the timber doesn’t matter to us. That’s one of the main reasons we purchased this machine because it’s a versatile piece of equipment whether you’re cutting hardwoods or softwoods. And the Waratah head is durable and long-lasting.”
The John Deere 703G, powered by a 181 hp engine and equipped with a powerful boom, has a compact footprint, which makes it well suited for selective cutting operations. The machine’s tail swing is nearly zero, enabling it to maneuver and operate in dense stands.
Three of the brothers work in the woods at one time, operating the two harvesters and the forwarder, and the other two brothers drive logging trucks for the company.
In addition to the John Deere cut-to-length equipment, the Piwarskis have John Deere skidders, a John Deere bulldozer and a John Deere grader. On the farm, now converted to a beef cattle operation, Larry also uses John Deere equipment.
“We’ve grown up with John Deere equipment,” said Steve. “They have always been good for us as far as reliability, getting parts and durability. They simply hold up well for us. We always take a look at the other equipment that’s out there, but when it comes right down to it, we always choose John Deere.”
“Aside from the availability of parts, the service is not just good but excellent. They really will work with you. If they can’t get you an answer to your question right away, they’ll still be back in touch with an answer to your question within 10 minutes most of the time. If you call other places, a lot of the time you are nothing but a number when you get on the phone with them. You can’t have that when you’re trying to run a business.”
Luke Flannery, a sales representative for Nortrax Equipment, a John Deere dealership in Monico, Michigan has worked with the Piwarskis for 33 years. “I originally sold equipment to Arthur Piwarski for his dairy farm operations,” said Luke. “I’ve watched the sons take on more logging work by themselves over the years and then started selling to them, too. We’ve all grown up over the years.”
Since the brothers have put their confidence in John Deere equipment over the years, Nortrax Equipment has done its best to service the loggers, said Luke. “They’ve bought many pieces of equipment over
the years, kept coming back, and are excellent loggers and people,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”
One of the chief reasons the Piwarskis converted to cut-to-length logging was that it extended their logging season. With the cut-to-length machines, they can work another month in the spring thaw when conditions are wet and soft. The John Deere machines have good floatation and reduce rutting.
Loggers have been using cut-to-length equipment in Wisconsin and Michigan for many years, Luke noted. Mechanized operations have become popular with loggers since 1987, when he sold his first harvester. “There are still a lot of guys doing cutting with power saws,” he said, “but now machines do much of the work — in mechanical harvesting.”
With the John Deere cut-to-length machines, the Piwarskis can perform logging operations yet reduce the amount of damage to residual trees, Luke noted. “I don’t care how you cut a tree down, the operator is still everything in this work, and the Piwarskis are good operators,” he added.
The John Deere 703G with the Waratah head is relatively new. “This particular machine and this attachment are a great combination,” said Luke. “It’s a good machine, a good set-up and it’s sold worldwide. The John Deere 759 has a leveling cab and is also new.”
The Piwarski brothers, members of the Michigan Timbermen Association and the Iron County Timbermen Association, work on private, state and federal forest lands. “Twenty to 25 percent of the land we work on is private land,” said Steve. “The other 75 to 80 percent of the lands we work on are state or federal.”
The Piwarskis, who do all the maintenance on their equipment, also operate a wood yard that ships logs to six or seven mills in the region. In the spring thaw, when the forest floor is wet and soft, they concentrate on hauling logs from the yard to the mills. The wood yard, which is about 40 acres, including a wet deck of 15-20 acres, is equipped with a scale and a loader.
The Piwarskis supply both saw logs and pulpwood to their mill customers. “We go according to the markets, and the markets right now are way down,” said Steve. “But the nice thing with cut-to-length operations is that you can be more versatile than you can be with conventional tree-length logging. In addition to being more efficient, cut-to-length is more economical. Besides saving fuel, you are giving the customers exactly what they want. There is less waste for you to deal with.”
Cut-to-length machines require more of an investment, Steve acknowledged. “The higher price is a deterrent for some guys in making this system work, but if you can make it work, the equipment will eventually pay for itself in the long-run.”
“It doesn’t take much with cut-to-length equipment to move into an area, fill your quota and go to the next place to fill the next market. It’s simply a lot more versatile than the conventional operations or the tree-length system.”
When the Piwarskis were engaged in tree-length logging, the company was mainly equipped with a feller-buncher, stroke boom delimber, grapple skidder, and a loader with a slasher.
“The tree-length system is just a bit more cumbersome,” said Steve. “That, added onto rising fuel prices, makes us happier we’re using cut-to-length now. With cut-to-length, the computer is making sure that we are producing logs that are the right size. The logs are at both the optimal diameter and length for the end user.”
The five brothers recently welcomed a nephew, Scott Stapleton, to the business; Scott is operating the John Deere 703G harvester.
“Though our operations run throughout the year, this year we had a three week shutdown during spring break due to the poor conditions in the woods,” said Steve. “With our John Deere 703G being a tracked vehicle, it has good floatation in wet conditions. Our other John Deere equipment, though they run on tires, also do very well in mud.”
The John Deere machines are equipped with pre-heaters to warm up the hydraulic oil on those cold, winter mornings. “When we go out in the morning, the cab and the engine are warmed up,” said Steve. “They are excellent for work up in this region.” The pre-heaters work on a timer. The Piwarskis set the pre-heaters to turn on about 5 a.m., for example, if they plan to be at the job site at 7 a.m. “That way when it’s 20 below zero outside, the engine is already warmed up — as if it’s been running all night.” The pre-heaters also are very efficient; they use only a small amount of regular diesel fuel, and the loggers do not have to run the motor to get the machines warmed up.
“A lot of challenges in our operations under the tree-length system are now gone,” said Steve. “With cut-to-length, overall operations are a lot friendlier to the woods. There is less soil damage, ground disturbance and less skinning of residual trees when they are in the growth stage and are more delicate.”
Trees are more susceptible to damage in the spring because the sap is running, Steve noted. “The U.S. Forest Service also has frowned on using the tree-length system during the spring,” he added, because the equipment causes more damage to the residual stand. “With the cut-to-length system, we can go into hardwood stands and work right through the spring.”
The men enjoy working in the woods. In their spare time, the brothers like to hunt deer and partridge, but their leisure interests also differ somewhat because of their age differences.
“Truth be told, if we didn’t have to worry about bills and money instead of just doing our job, logging would be a lot more fun,” said Steve. “That’s what it’s all about. For the time being we’d like to continue to hold our own in the business, especially in light of rising fuel prices and equipment costs. We’re just trying to hold our own.”
Private landowners usually are very impressed with the work done by the Piwarski brothers, according to Steve. “It might take us a little bit longer to do it, but when the cut-to-length system is used, the landowner’s happy. That makes us happy in return because we know we’re doing a good job.”
“Doing a job well helps the logging profession in general because if a person comes along who doesn’t like logging and then sees an operation of ours that’s been done well, it may just change their mind. It looks better for us in the future.”