Salem Log Yard Completes Transition to Link-Belt Carriers with Log Max Harvesters
SALEM, KENTUCKY – As a 17-year-old high-school graduate in 1992, Joey Rittenberry knew he did not want to go to college.
“Being so young, I didn’t have a lot of job options, so I began working for a guy who was clearing trees for power line rights-of-way,” he said.
Joey quickly learned to run a chainsaw, which helped him get his next job, cutting timber. A month into his second job, a tree came down on top of his head, and he was unable to work for three months.
A few weeks after he returned to work, he got a job offer from another logger. He began working for him in July, but by November Joey had gone into business for himself. His brother, Timmy, has worked with Joey from the beginning although he is not a business partner.
Joey has grown his company, now known as Salem Log Yard. You might say he believes in the dreams he envisions for him and his business, and he pursues them.
Joey did not come from a long line of family forestry workers. In fact, his paternal grandfather was killed while cutting timber when Joey’s father was just three years old.
Joey liked working in the woods, though, and the lure of being his own boss was attractive. When he was 18 he tried to get a bank loan to buy equipment for a job that had fallen into his lap. It was a select cut on over 100 acres.
“There I was with a job and no equipment to cut it with, so I began hunting for some equipment,” Joey recalled. His maternal grandfather co-signed a $35,000 loan so he could buy a Timberjack cable skidder and a Log Hog knuckleboom loader. “I had these machines delivered right to the job I had lined up, and I began my business that day.”
The job was really a diameter-cut, Joey said. “I bought the timber, and I cut it down to a certain size in the woods. I was always taught to work hard, and that was a lot of manual work.”
Initially his business focused on select cuts in hardwoods, but starting out he took whatever work he could get. “I was young and I didn’t have a lot of experience, and I would basically cut anything anyone needed me to cut,” said Joey.
Now, his company cuts about 95% loblolly pine. He does a lot of work for River Oak Timberlands, a large landholding company that bought about 25,000 acres of the old Westvaco property in western Kentucky. River Oak replants the acreage to loblolly pine once the timber is cut.
Joey normally buys standing timber and markets the wood he takes off a tract. He has done very little contract cutting over the years. “I have always bought my own trees, and I always took care of my own marketing,” he said.
Salem Log Yard is certified through SmartWood, which is a big advantage for the company beyond Joey’s Master Logger certification. Last year, the company began a certification program sponsored by New Page paper company, one of Joey’s largest customers for pulp wood. SmartWood’s team of forestry professionals monitored Joey’s business and forestry practices to ensure his company met the sustainable forestry standards of the Forest Stewardship Council.
“We have to comply with strict regulations, and we have to be OSHA-certified,” explained Joey. “In addition to proving our good business practices, we have to prove that we maintain good relationships with the landowners we work for and the sawmills we sell to. It is really quite an in-depth process.”
Salem Log Yard was audited last year under the program, and the company was the only one in the region that scored a perfect 100, according to Joey.
“We also comply with the Master Logger regulations, which means we are policed on the job for things like making sure we put in our water control bars, we reseed our landings when we are finished with a job,” explained Joey. “They also make sure we are not causing extensive damage to the trees we leave behind and that our trucks are not causing problems in the communities where we work. All of this means that everyone will know that we are logging in a way that is environmentally friendly.”
Maintaining strong business relationships is important to Joey. If not, he would not be in the enviable position of being the logger in Kentucky that River Oak turns to when they have timber to sell.
“They are the bulk of where my work comes from,” Joey said. “The reason for this is they know I can sell the wood because I have built up several key markets. So this gives me leverage, but that doesn’t mean I use that to get the wood for a lower price. I still pay more for wood than my competitors, but I am able to do this because of the markets I have established over time.”
Joey switched from conventional logging to cut-to-length about three years ago. “This was a huge step for me to undertake because the three pieces of equipment I had owned prior to going to cut-to-length were not worth more than $100,000 total,” he said. “I had a log skidder, a knuckleboom loader and a Bell saw, and I purchased all of these machines used.”
Today Joey’s cut-to-length equipment is worth well over $1 million. Why the switch? “I wanted to be able to make my living doing something nobody else wants to do,” he said.
“In my area, select cutting is the big thing, and everyone is after big saw logs. Well, there were a lot of folks around here who had marginal timber, tie timber, pulpwood clear-cuts and things of that nature that they wanted cut. Nobody wanted to fool with these jobs because you can’t do this kind of work with a chainsaw. So I decided to switch to where I was cutting the stuff nobody else wanted to fool with.”
Before he made the switch complete, there was a transition period of about two to three years during which Joey moved gradually away from cutting high-grade timber to lower-grade pulpwood and tie timber. He also began cutting a small amount of pine, which he had not cut before. Now, as noted above, the company cuts predominantly loblolly pine.
About five years ago, during the transition, Joey enlisted the help of Ron Beauchamp, owner of Woodland Equipment in Iron River, Michigan. “I called him and he came down here to spend a couple of days with me,” Joey recalled. “He offered to rent me a John Deere 653 harvester with a four-roller Fabtek head. He let me use this for six months, just to see if it was something we might be interested in having before I just jumped into a cut-to-length operation right away.” Joey leased the machine and later bought it; he used it over a year before he recently traded for two Log Max harvesting heads mounted on Link-Belt carriers.
During the transition, Joey also bought a Bell three-wheeled feller-buncher so his men wouldn’t have to hand-cut small diameter trees. He also used a TimberPro 630 with a Risley Rolly II harvesting head.
During the transition phase, workmen’s compensation insurance became an issue. “This is another reason that pushed me to move to the cut-to-length operation because I couldn’t afford to buy the insurance,” said Joey, “and the mills and many of the landowners were requiring it.”
Log Max Harvesters
Joey ended up trading the machines for two Log Max 5000-C harvesting heads; they are mounted on a pair of Link-Belt 135 Spin Ace track carriers. He changed to this equipment once he was ready to do cut-to-length logging full-time.
Log Max, a Swedish-based company, has been manufacturing logging equipment since 1980. The company’s main product is single-grip harvesting heads for cut-to-length logging, and Log Max manufactures a variety of harvesters to meet requirements of various applications, harvesting and forestry conditions. The harvesting attachment can grip a tree, fell it, delimb it and buck it to the desired lengths. The Log Max North American subsidiary is based in Vancouver, Washington.
Before investing in the Link-Belt-Log Max combination, Joey had extensive conversations with Ron of Woodland Equipment and Haaken Berg of Log Max. “After speaking with them, it was really a no-brainer for me because I was burning way too much fuel with the other machines,” Joey said. “I was also spending too much money in maintenance for the other machines, which were too much machine for my application in cutting 10-inch to 20-inch diameter trees. I wanted to go with machines that were specifically made for what I was doing because I have about five years worth of work ahead of me right now, and there was no point in keeping machines that were costing me extra money in diesel fuel and maintenance. The Log Max is a lot more cost-efficient. They are simple to operate, so they were very appealing to me.”
With the high price of diesel fuel, increasing fuel economy was an important factor in Joey’s decision. The Link-Belt-Log Max configuration uses about 60% less fuel, he estimated.
The Link-Belt Spin Ace, an excavator carrier, has zero tail-swing, which helps prevent damage to residual trees. “This is another plus for the machine because I wanted something compact, and Link-Belt offers this in the machine,” said Joey.
Joey purchased the new Link-Belt carriers and Log Max harvesters from Woodland Equipment, which mounted the harvesters on the carriers and also modified the carriers in order for them to be OSHA-approved for logging. The modifications included the addition of steel plating to protect the exposed sides, installing an auxiliary oil cooler for warm temperatures, and more, said Ron. Joey’s mechanics fabricated a protective roll cage around the operator cab of each carrier. Log Max personnel did a final inspection of the machines before they left Woodland and also provided on-site, in-the-woods follow up and final adjustments.
Log Max 5000-C
The Log Max heads were more expensive than other brands, but Joey decided they were worth the investment. “I am a stickler for the old saying that you get what you pay for,” he said. “From the research I did, Log Max is absolutely the best there is on the market, and with fewer moving parts, they are less complex to maintain and operate.”
Joey wanted a small but rugged machine combination. Since he is cutting mainly young pine, smaller equipment is a better application. “The dangle-head on the Log Max takes less horsepower to operate, and it gets the job done a lot quicker,” said Joey.
The Log Max 5000-C, used by Salem Log yard, is an all-around head designed for thinning to medium final cut applications. Its most productive working range is trees from about 12 to 16 inches in diameter, although maximum cutting diameter is 25 inches, depending on optional equipment.
The Log Max 5000-C features a hydraulic-driven bar saw for felling and an optional top saw. Feed roller options include FlexDrive, rubber, steel or eucalyptus, and feed speed is up to five meters per second. Log Max offers several control systems that measure length and diameter, provide production reports, and can operate for four to eight species with 20 to 100 programmable, pre-set lengths.
Delimbing is done with four movable knives. The Log Max patented knife control system increases productivity by minimizing feed friction. The compound curve knife profile provides excellent stem coverage and increased log quality.
With the Link-Belt carriers and Log Max harvesters, one of Joey’s two-man crews can produce five to six loads of wood a day; with his earlier version of equipment, it required four men.
Salem Log Yard, with 13 employees, has annual revenues of about $2 million. Company mechanics perform maintenance on the equipment in a 5,000 square-foot shop located on three acres. Most of Joey’s work lately has been for River Oak Timberlands, which has the bulk of its holdings (15,000 acres) just within 20 miles of his home.
Joey’s company is equipped with a number of other machines. The company has three forwarders to get the wood to the landing – a Tigercat eight-wheel forwarder, an Eco-Log eight-wheel machine, and a Franklin 670 forwarder. Other equipment includes a Cat D3 bulldozer, eight Mack semi-tractors, 14 log trailers, two flatbed trailers, and a drop-deck trailer for moving equipment.
Joey’s hauling activities are organized under a separate business entity, Timber Transport, which owns the tractor-trailers and employs seven. “This separates some liability issues for us,” Joey explained.
Joey has been busy enough lately that he sub-contracted another logger from Wisconsin to cut for him, and he has been in Kentucky since spring.
If you ask Joey what he does well, he will point to the exclusive niche he carved out for himself over the last several years. “People know us for being able to get rid of pine, which is very difficult to get rid of in this area,” he explained. “The good thing about pine is it’s really easy to cut and harvest, and it’s easy on your equipment. But if you can’t sell it, you don’t want to cut it. It took me several years to be in this position, so now I can continue to cut year-round and I have the markets to sell to.”
Joey cruises the timber he buys to evaluate what wood products he can sell from the tract. “The company I buy the wood from tells me how old the wood is,” he explained. “If it’s a fairly young stand, we know it will be primarily posts and pulpwood. Saw logs are just not a big part of our operation because they come from older forests.” The crews also visit the site and plan the landing location and trails for forwarders.
His market for fence posts is “pretty picky” about what kind of logs they need, noted Joey. “The wood has to be straight, and it has to be no more than 7 inches in diameter and no smaller than 4 inches in diameter. So it’s quite a narrow window of what we can sell for posts. Everything else goes for pulpwood.”
One advantage of cut-to-length logging is that sorting the wood is done on the ‘front end’ and is easier. Harvester operators grade the wood as they cut it, and they buck the logs or place them into separate areas or piles for posts and pulpwood. The operator of the forwarder has a relatively easy job because he only fills the bunk with one type of log at a time. “It could be a load going to a post company,” said Joey, “so the forwarder just picks up the post material and carries it to the landing and loads the truck.”
Joey is married and has three young children. They live on a 840-acre farm where he raises beef cattle and grows corn and soybeans. Joey is active in Salem Baptist Church, where he is a deacon and youth leader.
So far, Joey has marketed his business by word of mouth, no advertising. “I feel like I am blessed,” he said. “I am not shy. If I hear about someone who has something they want to sell, I just call up and ask about it. That is how I got in with River Oak. I heard from my local sawmill that they had just bought a lot of land in my area, and I called River Oak to ask if they wanted to sell some of the wood. I had a broad market for the wood, so I ended up getting the job.”