Wisconsin Logger, 74, Still Going Strong: Winter Logging, Petit Family Have Relied on Woodland Equipment More Than 25 Years

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Winter Logging – Wisconsin Logging Family Has Long Ties to Woodland Equipment

WINTER, Wisconsin — The spark for a long-lasting and productive relationship can take many forms. For Sheldon Petit, president of Winter Logging Inc., the spark was a search to improve efficiency in the woods.
Sheldon’s quest for staying on the leading edge of logging technology took him to Woodland Equipment Inc. for the first time more than one-quarter century ago. Woodland Equipment is based in Iron River, Mich.
Since then, Sheldon has come to know, respect and depend on the staff at Woodland Equipment, and he has returned again and again to the dealer to purchase new equipment.
Sheldon does not remember the exact year he began doing business with Woodland Equipment – probably between 25-30 years ago – but he remembers the first machine he bought from the dealer. “I bought a Bobcat feller-buncher,” he recalled, in order to increase production.
It was the beginning of a long business relationship with Woodland Equipment, and over the years Winter Logging has benefited from the knowledgeable staff of the dealer and the strong service and support it has provided, said Sheldon. “They always treated me well,” he said.
Sheldon’s most recent purchase from Woodland Equipment was a TimberPro 725 with a Risley Equipment Rolly II head. Winter Logging took possession of the new equipment in September.
“We wanted tracks,” said Sheldon, who bought one of the first track carriers built by TimberPro, which was launched as a manufacturer of wheeled logging equipment. Track carriers are better suited for the terrain and conditions, Sheldon concluded. He traded in another track machine, a Timbco 415, for the purchase.
Sheldon’s company is a small family business. “I have two employees,” he said, sons, Randy, 45, and Mark, 50. Randy operates the new TimberPro 725 with the Risley Rolly II head, and Mark runs a Komatsu Forest Valmet 840.3 forwarder.
“At one time, I had all eight sons working for me,” said Sheldon. Four other sons also work in the forest products industry. Larry (with his son, Jeremy) operates Petit Trucking and often hauls for Winter Logging. Terry is a logging contractor; his company is T.P. Timber. Kevin and Bruce recently formed a new logging company and are still deciding on a name.
Sheldon’s two other sons are Kent and Jeff; Kent is a siding contractor and Jeff works in the telecommunications industry.
Winter Logging performs contract logging and also buys standing timber. “We usually put out about 10,000 cords a year,” said Sheldon. That number likely will go up with the new TimberPro 725 and Rolly II.
Winter, a town of only about 300 people, is 70 miles south of the western edge of Lake Superior and about 80 miles east of the Minnesota border. Sheldon’s company usually works within a radius of about 60 miles from the town.
Winger Logging works in mixed hardwoods probably 70-80% of the time, Sheldon estimated, doing mainly select cutting. In the northern tier of Wisconsin, the western portion is rich in softwood trees like balsam fir, cedar, pine and hemlock; in the eastern portion, hardwood trees dominate. The region where Sheldon works and lives has abundant forests of maple, hemlock and yellow birth; the further north, both east and west, there is red pine, white pine and some jack pine.
Sheldon has interacted with Ron Beauchamp, the owner and president of Woodland Equipment, from the start. “I deal with him pretty much all the time,” he said.
One important issue to Sheldon in buying new equipment is the manufacturer’s warranty service, and he is pleased with the level of service he has received from Woodland Equipment.
Sheldon has been pleased with the new TimberPro 725. “It was built a lot safer than other machines,” he said. “The machine runs cooler. There’s plenty of hydraulic power. It’s a lot faster.” The TimberPro has separate hydraulics for various functions, which makes the machine quick to respond and powerful.
“We go on some pretty steep ground,” added Sheldon, so it is better suited for a track carrier. After the snow melts, the higher, steeper ground dries faster in the spring and early summer, so that is where the company gets to work right away.
Sheldon has long ties to the logging industry. “I started when I was pretty young,” he recalled. His father worked in a logging camp during the Great Depression in the 1930s and later tried carpentry, but he returned to logging.
As soon as Sheldon was big enough, he helped his father, the two of them felling trees by hand with a cross-cut saw.
By the 1950s, Sheldon had his first chain saw in hand. It was a Titan Bluestreak, and it was memorable in two ways. Of course, it was much easier than pulling a cross-cut saw, but it was very heavy, as were many of the early chain saws. The engine of the Titan Bluestreak had two cylinders and produced about 12 hp.
In the mid-1950s Sheldon worked for Pat Crawford, who later went on to start Timbco, which he eventually sold when he launched TimberPro. “I cut logs for him,” said Sheldon. Like Sheldon, Pat grew up in Winter.
Sheldon got married in 1955. Soon after, he was drafted. He served 18 months with the Army in Germany. When he returned home, Sheldon had a pair of 15-month-old twins, Kent and Kevin, waiting for him.
Sheldon returned to logging after he was discharged from the Army. “I bought a horse and a chain saw,” he said. His business grew quickly, and Sheldon added a second horse and a second chain saw. He hired two local men to work for him. The horses were used for skidding for several years, and then Sheldon bought two machines, a John Deere and a CAT.
“We got in the sawmill business for a while,” said Sheldon. He partnered with someone who owned a portable sawmill for a few years before dropping the venture.
Although logging equipment obviously changed significantly over the years since then, the biggest change to Sheldon’s business probably came when he changed from tree-length logging to short-wood logging in 1996.
Mark has worked with his father for close to 30 years. Randy studied at the Wisconsin Indianhead Technical Institute in Rice Lake, planning to work in telecommunications, but he ultimately decided he wanted to return to logging.
Sheldon’s company has plenty of experience with Risley Equipment and its Rolly harvester heads. “We’ve had five of them now,” said Sheldon. “That’s all we’ve ever had.”
Sheldon used other harvesting attachments prior to switching to Risley Equipment, resorting to a chain saw to fell big trees. “I cut until I was 70 years old,” he said. “I’m 74 now.”
Changing to Risley Equipment changed everything. The Rolly II can handle anything. “We don’t even take a chain saw in the woods now,” said Sheldon.
Woodland Equipment represents Risley and also offers a remanufacturing service for the Rolly II. The service includes taking the harvester down to the bare frame and completely rebuilding it with new or remanufactured components.
Woodland Equipment also offers a computer system that was specifically designed for the Rolly II in order to be more ‘user friendly.’ The simplified computer system is covered by a two year warranty.
Even though other sons are not employees of Winter Logging, they frequently interact professionally or work with Sheldon. For instance, Bruce is an accredited forester who earned his forestry degree from the University of Wisconsin at Stephens Point, and Sheldon uses him to cruise occasional private timber sales. Terry’s company does some road building work for his father.
“We’re pretty much self sufficient,” said Sheldon, describing how the Petits can work together.
Sheldon enjoys hunting, and so do his sons. “When deer season starts, everything stops,” he said. They hunt opening day, which is on a Saturday, and usually work a short week the next week in order to take time to hunt. They also get in more hunting time Thanksgiving week.
One of the things that Sheldon appreciates about Woodland Equipment is the interest its staff takes in Winter Logging. Ron interacts regularly with Sheldon and visits job sites.
Winter Logging buys some standing timber, but it mainly provides contract logging to Futurewood Corp., the forest management component of Johnson Timber Corp. Futurewood buys stumpage, markets the wood, and contracts to have it cut and delivered. Futurewood, which is focused on sustainable forest management, owns forest lands and also buys timber and provides forest management services to private landowners in Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota.
In winter or wet conditions, the Komatsu Forest Valmet forwarder is equipped with bogie tracks to improve traction and prevent rutting. It is always a balancing act, explained Sheldon. The company normally logs right through the winter. “The snow doesn’t bother us,” said Sheldon. In the middle of winter, the forests may have 2 to 3 feet of snow on the ground.
In the spring, Winter Logging goes west to work on drier, sandier ground in Minnesota for a while. The men work four long days, staying in a motel, then go home for three days.
Woodland Equipment has been in business for more than 30 years. Its staff has more than 180 years of experience in the forest products industry.
Representing TimberPro and Risley has been integral to Woodland Equipment’s ability to equip loggers for cut-to-length and other logging operations. One of the most significant features of the Risley Rolly II is its ability to work in big, tough, hardwoods. The harvester has enabled Sheldon and other loggers to put down a chain saw and rely on a machine.
Safety and education are important to Sheldon, Randy and Mark. They attend safety classes and training programs sponsored by the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association. They also have opportunities to attend classes given by Futurewood.
Winter Logging is a member of the association, which serves the forest products industry in Wisconsin and Michigan. One important service the trade organization provides is to help keep its members informed of and current on ever-changing and proliferating regulations.
The association got its start in the 1940s. Logging has long been part of the history of the western Great Lakes states, and Wisconsin led the nation in lumber production around the late 1930s-early 1940s.
Logging has been a great business choice, said Sheldon. “To me it’s a challenge every day,” he explained. “We’ve made a good living.”