Stripper Delimber Good Match for Father-Son Team That Provides Range of Forestry Services
STRAFFORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE — When you first meet and talk with Jack Bronnenberg, the outstanding impression you will bring away with you about him is his dedication to sustainability forestry.
“It’s not easy maintaining this philosophy in this industry, and many times it can be quite challenging,” Jack admitted. “But my son, Jake, and I are making it work.”
“When we pull away from a completed job, what you see on the land is our calling card,” Jack added. “We are proud of each and every job we do for our clients.”
Jake, 24, is Jack’s oldest of three sons and is a partner in Jack’s business, Bronnenberg Logging and Trucking Co. His other sons are Mike, 21, and Nate, 19.
Jack stresses that his business is not a loads-per-day or production-oriented company. “I built my business with two goals in mind: to focus on diversification and utilization. Utilization is key for us and fits in with our sustainability philosophy. We carefully utilize the resources at hand in order to get a favorable outcome for everyone involved, which is the landowner, the logger, and the trucking company.”
Although Jack and Jake are not strictly focused on production, they average about 2.5 million board feet annually. “We are not a production-oriented company but more focused on doing quality work in the woods and intelligently utilizing the resources we are cutting. This is one of the reasons we bought our Stripper pull-through delimber from Stripper Manufacturing in South Paris, Maine, in December 2006.”
Jack refers to his business as a ‘hybrid’ company. “We are a small company, but we do everything from soup to nuts. Even though it’s just me and Jake doing all the work, we are diversified in the range of projects we can handle.”
The company evolved from a trucking business. It grew quickly into a highly diverse company offering unique services. “This is because I saw the need to be able to do more jobs related to forestry than other companies traditionally do,” Jack explained. Jobs include logging, trucking, excavation, building access roads, and creating wildlife habitat. “We do all the layouts, and all the necessary excavating and clearing for these projects.”
Jake’s degree in forestry from the University of New Hampshire provides the company with additional opportunities to get involved in projects from the ground up. “We can do the forestry because of Jake’s training,” Jack noted. “Our biggest client is the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (SPNHF), which is a landowner conservation organization that owns about 50,000 protected acres. We are four years into a 10-year stewardship contract with them to oversee and implement the management on about 6,500 of those acres.”
The State of New Hampshire requires licensure for foresters. Jack earned a degree in agricultural business and is not a licensed forester, but Jake is educated to provide forestry services and is close to completing the requirements for his license.
“Jake is nearly finished with his four years of field training required for the license,” said Jack. “This was part of our stewardship contract with SPNHF. One of the goals was a mentoring process for Jake to achieve on-the-job forestry experience in silvaculture. This is also an opportunity for our company to provide SPNHF with a number of services, including marketing, which they don’t have direct access to.”
Bronnenberg Logging and Trucking is committed to forest stewardship, which includes a clear focus on sustainable forestry practices. “We are working to sustain a timber industry in the state while also focusing on promoting wildlife habitat and a healthy ecosystem,” said Jack. “We made a conscious decision a number of years ago to take this avenue for developing our company, even though some might think it might be a bit of a negative economic decision.”
Although Stripper Manufacturing promotes the higher production capabilities of its equipment, that is not what persuaded Jack to buy one. “This might be a fresh angle on how the Stripper can be used,” he said. “The reason it fit very nicely into our operations and into our equipment mix is the fact that there are just the two of us. Having the Stripper pull-through delimber allows us to compete with some of the larger companies so we can harvest more low-grade pulpwood. Since our focus is more on improvement harvesting and doing more forestry management, the Stripper helps us harvest more pulpwood and smaller, undesirable trees so we can delimb them right there on the land.”
Between their commitment to sustainable forestry and Jack’s concern for safety, buying a Stripper pull-through delimber made a lot of sense. Jack wanted to improve safety by reducing the amount of work they did with chainsaws. “The Stripper was just the right choice because it addresses ergonomic and safety issues,” he said. “It virtually took the chainsaw out of our hands for a significant amount of our work in the woods.”
The Stripper pull-through delimber was an inexpensive way for a small contractor to address these two concerns, said Jack, who did not consider other delimbing equipment. “This is because the prices were so far out of reach for us. The big attraction for the Stripper is that it’s a very affordable entry-level delimber for a company our size. Purchasing a delimber for under $10,000 puts us in a category to be able to have more opportunities for work.”
The Stripper pull-through delimber, which weighs just 1,600 pounds, features a simple but effective design. When a tree is put into the open delimber, the weight of the tree causes the Stripper to close so the tree is ready to be pulled through the knives. The design requires no hydraulics. The bolt-in knives are reversible and can be changed easily. The Stripper pull-through delimber is available as a model that can be mounted to a loader trailer or its own chassis.
The Stripper pull-through delimber can be used for softwood trees ranging from 3 ½ inches to 15 inches in diameter. It will also do a good job on poplar and other small hardwoods. Working in good conditions, cycle time — from picking up a stem, delimbing it, and picking up the next stem — is about 40 seconds, according to the manufacturer.
When Jack considered buying the Stripper, he had had several phone conversations with Sam Sessions, president of Stripper Manufacturing. “Sam was great. He actually drove a Stripper pull-through delimber down here to let me demo it with no commitments whatsoever. He drove a considerable distance from northern Maine to where I was working in western New Hampshire. We clamped it right onto my loader and set it to work.”
The company invested in a Brontosaurus brush mower from John Brown & Sons in Weare, N.H. The mower, mounted on an excavator, uses fixed or flail cutting tools to reduce brush and other vegetation to mulch. Depending on the model, the Brontosaurus can shred trees as big as 10 or 15 inches in diameter.
“This is a wonderful tool for creating habitat for wildlife, and it also creates browse for larger mammals,” said Jack. “We do a lot of work creating habitat to provide hardwood browse in order to maintain healthy wildlife populations. There are lots of financial opportunities for landowners in this area through the National Resource Conservation Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”
Jack also owns an 80-acre woodlot with a conservation easement that he purchased from The Nature Conservancy. “So, I practice what we preach because I, too, am a tree farmer. My woodlot is always available for educational opportunities and workshops for the industry and organizations like universities and state agencies.”
The majority (about 80%) of New Hampshire forests and woodlands are privately owned, so land parcels are a bit more fragmented, explained Jack. “Working on smaller parcels on mountainous topography is pretty common for us. These kinds of projects lend themselves to cable skidding operations, and you will find traditionally smaller operations here in New England.”
In order to stay competitive and profitable, Jack saw the need to focus on providing more forestry management services. “This means cutting more low-grade timber,” he said. “To do that for a company our size, with just two guys, we had to make investments in equipment. In a sense, we bought our employees rather than hire them.”
Jack is a long way from Colorado, where his family raised beef cattle. After receiving a degree in agricultural business from Southeast Kansas Regional Junior College, he took a job managing a registered Angus farm in southern New Hampshire. “But once I met my wife, Mary, there was no need to return to Colorado,” he
Since the Granite State is known more for its timber resources than beef cattle, it was a natural evolution for Jack to find work in the forest products industry. “I started as an employee for Timco, which was a very large sawmill in Barnstead that went out of business in the mid-1990s.” He worked as an equipment operator in the sawmill for seven years.
When Timco decided to exit the trucking portion of its business, it opened up a life-changing opportunity for Jack. “I had been doing most of their woods-related excavating and log trucking, and they wanted to get rid of the truck I had been operating for them.” He bought the truck, his company launched in 1988, and one of his first customers was Timco, contracting with them to haul wood to the mill.
The years he spent working for Timco paid off in developing critical business contacts and relationships that helped him move his company forward. With the globalization of the economy, including the forest products industry, competition increased the pressure to change. “If you are unwilling to change with the times, you will be left behind,” said Jack. “Our diversification is keeping our business healthy despite the downturn in the timber industry due to global competition.”
Another factor in the company’s operations is the New England climate. “We had incredibly adverse weather conditions to deal with in the last few years,” said Jack. “So you can imagine how important it is for us to have a diverse portfolio that allows us to do a range of projects outside of just cutting trees and marketing timber. For instance, the Brontosaurus mowing and woods-related excavating we do can overflow into residential and commercial excavation, which isn’t nearly as weather-restricted as working in the woods. So we have more opportunities to maintain a reasonable and steady cash flow.”
Record rains, accompanying floods and stormy weather caused problems in the spring. “There were micro-bursts in the Connecticut River Valley, causing significant blow-downs to about 17,000 acres in New Hampshire,” said Jack. “That event, on top of an already strained softwood log market in this region, created an unusual market that put tens of millions of board feet of pine logs on the market, and sawmill capacity already was stretched. It was not good for the industry.”
Tools of the Trade
Jack and Jake have the equipment they need to provide a wide range of logging and forest management services. “Our equipment range illustrates how we are investing in machines rather than hiring additional employees, and it also shows our commitment to invest in diversity,” Jack said.
Jack and Jake own a Timbco 425-EX feller-buncher with a Quadco 360-degree intermittent saw, a John Deere 640D cable skidder; a John Deere 648-GIII skidder with winch and dual function grapple, a Prentice 210D loader, and an FEC slasher mounted with the Stripper pull-through delimber on an FEC fifth-wheel trailer.
The business also is equipped with three trucks and two trailers. In 1992, they purchased a new Kenworth W900B tri-axel log truck with a Prentice 120E log loader. They also run a 1981 Kenworth W900A 10-wheel dump truck and a 1989 Peterbilt 379 tractor.
Their two trailers include a Trail King 35-ton detachable low bed and a 35-ton deck-over equipment trailer. “I call this my tank trailer because I revived it from a surplus military trailer that had been used to haul tanks,” said Jack.
They made a business decision to purchase the Timbco new in 2004 with a Quadco 2400 360-degree intermittent ring disk saw. “The head we chose to put on this machine required a lot of thought on our part because we wanted to get something that would do the type of work we wanted to offer in our portfolio,” Jack explained.
“I like this machine,” said Jack, “first and foremost for safety and ergonomic reasons. I wanted to make sure I am not the reason my son gets worn out by the time he’s 40 years old by doing conventional chain saw work.”
The Timbco is a very capable machine, he added. It can carry very large timber, which minimizes damage to the residual stand. “The 360-degree rotation allows to do the primary breakdown of hardwood tops in the woods.”
The Timbco-Quadco combination also fit in with Jack’s plans for where he wants to take the company. “We are heading toward doing more work with large conservation organizations and following good stewardship practices,” he said.
For excavation work, they have a John Deere 550 TLT bulldozer and the Hitachi EX 120-5 excavator. The Hitachi is used with several attachments besides the Brontosaurus, and they can be changed out in minutes. The other attachments include a digging bucket, a combination grading and ditching bucket, and a ripper tooth for pulling out stumps.
Jack and Jake built their own shop, a 40-foot by 56-foot building with a 16-foot ceiling and two doors. The shop is used to perform maintenance on all the equipment.
Jack’s business plan enables his company to work in niche markets. One niche market he serves is supplying logs that are manufactured into components for timber frame construction. “This kind of work requires taking time on the landing to merchandise,” he said. “The Stripper helps us out a lot here.” The logs he supplies are processed into timbers and beams to build a house or commercial building.
“We work with smaller sawmills that let us know what they need when they receive custom orders,” Jack added. For example, a sawmill recently asked him to supply logs that would be used to make components for the core of an earthen dam; they had to be made from 3-inch white oak. “This project meant taking the time to produce these specialty products.”
One timber frame market Jack supplies is a small mill in Lebanon, Maine. “We send him exactly what he needs, and he doesn’t have to worry about paying for any excess raw material,” said Jack. “He pays us for this service, and I can charge more for this kind of custom work. This benefits not only our clients, but our company as well. This kind of utilization of the resources and our marketing services are some of the things that attracted the Society for the Protection of NH Forests to us.”
Jack is active in the forest products industry. He is a member of the New Hampshire Timber Harvesting Council and served as chairman in 1999. “I was also involved in developing the council’s professional logging program in 1994, and I was one of the first graduate of that program, which is a model used for logger training throughout the country.”
Jack also has served on the board of directors for the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association. For the last two years he has been chairman of the policy committee for legislative affairs. He also has served on the executive committee and was the Northeast regional delegate to the American Loggers Council for 1999 and 2000. He currently is the conservation commissioner for the Town of Strafford.
The company racked up three notable awards in 2005. It was chosen NHTOA’s Outstanding Logging Company, the Northeast Loggers Association’s Outstanding Logging Company, and the Forest Resource Association’s Outstanding Logging Company for the Northeast region.
When Jack is not working or advocating sustainable forestry, he finds enjoyment on the open road; he is an avid motorcyclist. He has two dogs. Harley is named for Jack’s favorite motorcycle brand. His other dog, Little Ann, is a chocolate Labrador retriever who rides with Jack on the job in every machine.