Michigan Logging Company Uses Tigercat Machines for Tree-Length Operations
GULLIVER, Michigan — Every day the forest products industry faces continued pressures that are squeezing companies to be more efficient or perish. Rising stumpage fees, skyrocketing fuel prices and foreign competition are forcing companies to become smarter, leaner, and more efficient.
Stan Zellar and Sons, a logging and excavating operation in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, is keenly aware of the produce-or-perish threats in the marketplace. “The markets up here are tight right now,” said Jim, the oldest of three brothers working the family-owned-and-operated company, which is located a bit north of Lake Michigan and 70 miles east of Escanaba.
A number of mills in the region are closing because they cannot compete in the marketplace, Stan noted. “This puts a lot of pressure on loggers,” he said. “Whatever they were putting into one mill that is now closed, they now have to find another mill that will buy their wood.” Within the past six months, two mills in his immediate vicinity shut down.
The Zellars have been working the woods for several generations, and they plan to continue. They believe they can achieve their goal because they have a business survival plan.
“Most of the time we have a job in each of the markets, so we are always cutting both hardwood and softwood.” Jim explained. This strategy allows the company to shift focus as necessary to work more in one market or the other, according to market demands. The company, with 15 employees, always has two cut-to-length logging jobs and a tree-length job going on at once.
When they cut hardwoods, the Zellars typically harvest hard maple, soft maple, yellow birch, white birch and poplar. Balsam, tamarack, red pine, jack pine and cedar are typical softwood species they encounter.
“We are open-market contractors, supplying wood to paper mills and lumber mills,” Jim explained. They supply such large companies as Stora Enso, New Page Paper Mill, Potlatch and Louisiana Pacific. “We also chip wood, like the tops of the trees,” Jim added. “We send the wood chips to New Page, where they use the chips to fuel their co-generation plant.”
The family harvests timber from three sources: land owned by the Zellars’ company, private lands, and state and federal forest lands.
“When we bid on state-owned land and get the job, we go out to the site and meet with the state foresters, who tell us where we can build our roads and landings, and then we start cutting,” Jim said. “Most of the time we have to build logging roads into the sites, but there are also old trails sometimes from years past, and we go in and open them up. We always try to stay on the high ground when we are building our turnarounds.”
The terrain of the region includes many lowland areas. “There is some rough terrain, but it’s not very hilly or rocky,” Jim said. A typical job may range from 40 to 400 acres. The Zellars usually cut logs to 100 inches for the pulp and paper mills and 8-feet, 8 inches for sawmills. They usually cut logs 10 inches in diameter and larger.
When it was time for the Zellars to think about buying a new cutter and skidder, they began to research and investigate all the manufacturers. “We liked the Tigercats the best,” Jim said. About 10 years ago, the Zellars owned one of the first Tigercat skidders. “We really liked it because it was built so well,” he said, “but we lost it in a fire.”
Tigercat’s engineering is what sold the family on buying Tigercat machines again. “The maintenance is so easy because you can get in and out of them so easily to clean and service them,” explained Jim. “They are really built for the woods, and they are not excavators converted over to logging They’re built from the ground up for the woods, and that is really what sold us on buying them. They are also powered by Cummins motors, which are very easy to maintain.”
The Tigercat model 822 cutter is a 50-ton machine that runs a 22-inch disk ‘hot saw.’ It is built rugged and for power. “It’s a big machine that we use to cut a lot of our bigger trees, and it handles big trees better than most other machines because of its size, power and stability,” Jim explained. “It also has good ground clearance and very good visibility for the operator.”
The company’s previous cutter had a similar hot saw, but the machine frame was smaller, and the cutter did not have the stability of the Tigercat. “With this one, whatever you can grab, the machine owns it,” Jim said.
The new skidder is a Tigercat 620C. The Zellars like it because Tigercat put a strong emphasis on operator accommodations. “Vision in the cab is excellent because everything is located where it’s convenient and comfortable for the operator,” said Jim. “For instance, the operator is sitting at an angle, so when he’s looking out the back window as he is backing up to grab a bundle, he doesn’t have to turn his head all the way around like an owl to see where he is going.”
The Tigercat 620C skidder is operator-friendly and easy to learn how to operate, said Jim. A logger operating a skidder with a conventional drive system may have to shift gears as many as 1,500 times in a day. The Tigercat 620C, with its hydrostatic drive, eliminates this fatiguing, repetitious action because the operator can command infinite variable speed control simply by depressing the foot pedal.
“Almost all the other machines out on the market use gear shifts,” noted Jim. “So with the Tigercat, the harder you push on the pedal, the faster the machine goes. It is very user-friendly. When the ground is good, you can go faster, and if the terrain gets rough, all you have to do is lift up your foot and the machine slows right down. It is a very comfortable and stable machine to operate.” The machine has plenty of power to handle the wood, he added, and also has excellent ground clearance.
The Zellars have been operating their new Tigercat equipment for about a year now and are happy with the machines, which have helped them boost their production. They also have been very pleased with the service they have received from their Tigercat dealer — St. Joseph Equipment Inc. in Oronoco, Minnesota.
“Even though they are quite a ways away in Minnesota, they take good care of us, and we have always had a good relationship with them,” Jim noted. “We are willing to travel that far because of their good customer service.”
One crew uses the Tigercat machines and also is equipped with a John Deere 648 grapple skidder, a Hyundai 210LC de-limber, a Morbark 22RXL chipper, and a Prentice 21D loader with slasher. The Zellars also own and operate their own trucking division, including chip vans and logging trucks. “We have two Western Star log self-loaders and three trucks we use to pull trailers that we load in the woods,” said Jim.
The company also operates two cut-to-length logging crews. One crew uses a Ponsse Ergo harvester and a FabTek 546 double-bunk forwarder; the other crew is equipped with two Timbco harvesters and a John Deere 546 double-bunk forwarder.
“Our two cut-to-length crews are pretty much the same,” said Jim.
The men operating the harvesting machines sort the logs as they are processed and bucked. “He can sort the wood as he cuts, and he sorts bolts into one pile, logs into another pile and pulp into a third pile,” Jim explained. The forwarders carry the wood to a landing to be loaded onto the trucks. “We try to move about 500 cords of wood a week,” said Jim. “Sometimes we do more, and sometimes we do less. But that’s where we like to keep our production levels.”
The Tigercat feller-buncher can handle five or six stems at a time, according to Jim. “The hot saw cuts the trees down and places them in bundles of five or six trees, and he is doing that all day long.”
The John Deere grapple skidder picks up a bundle and moves it to an area for delimbing. “What we try to do is pull the bundles out into an open area where we line up our trees into rows of unlimbed wood,” Jim explained. “We have the de-limbers there, ready and waiting, and the operators will track along the wood that the grapple skidder is piling up. They delimb the wood and then sort it. Once the wood is delimbed and sorted, the other grapple skidder grabs it and moves it to the landing, where we use a loader and slasher to buck it up into 8-foot, 10-foot, or 12-foot lengths — or whatever the mills are buying at the time.”
The logs are sorted and stacked, and tops are put into another pile. “After he makes three or four pulls to the slasher, he will have enough tops in a pile, and he will grab them and move to the chipper,” said Jim. “We process all the tops through the chipper.”
“It’s a big circular process,” observed Jim. “The round wood gets taken out and sorted, and then all the tops get chipped for biomass fuel. Using our Tigercat hot saw is a slick way for us not to waste any of the wood at all.”
“Every job is different, though,” Jim added. “For instance, in the select cuts, they really don’t want us to take the tops because they want that left in the woods to help nourish the ground. It’s also good habitat for wildlife as well.”
It’s likely the Zellar family tradition of working in the outdoors will continue for some time. It all began years ago when Jim’s grandfather, John Zellar, started a logging company. Jim’s father Stanley, 65, now owns the company. Jim, 42, and his brothers Jeff, 40, and Stan, Jr., 35, continue work together in the business. Jim’s mother, Joanne, now deceased, was the company’s secretary for years; her sister, Wanda McKenzie, now is the secretary.
Jim has always loved the outdoors and is thankful he can support himself, his wife and two sons in a job he enjoys everyday. He began working in the woods during high school, helping his grandfather and father. Jim’s oldest son, Brad, just graduated high school this year and started working for the company. “He will help us until the fall, when he will go to school to learn to become a linesman,” Jim said. “He is 18 years old and still has time to decide if he wants to choose this line of work or work as a linesman. So far, he really enjoys working with us. He runs one of the grapple skidders for us.”
Jim and his brothers continually update their logger training through the Sustainable Forest Initiative and Sustainable Forest Education courses. “We are certified in these two programs and we update our training every year,” he reported.
Jim and his family like to get some ‘R&R’ outdoors. He and his family spend a lot of time camping and boating at nearby rivers and lakes.
“We are very fortunate that we have a family that enjoys working together,” Jim acknowledged. “Everyone gets along very well with each other. We all take pride in the work we do, and we enjoy doing this kind of work.”