Wall Timber – Mississippi Logger Prunes Pine Plantations with Attachment from Marden Industries
OSYKA, Mississippi – Pruning is a great way to grow more grade lumber in a tree. When the lower limbs are pruned off a pine tree, the stem adds substantial girth over subsequent years, and knots are deep in the log when it goes to a mill.
Industrial forestry companies use every tool available to strike a balance between maximizing high-end lumber production and sustainable forestry. Robert W. Wall Inc., which does business as Wall Timber, works for two of the industry leaders, Weyerhaeuser and Temple Inland.
“I am in the timber business, cutting for two different companies,” said Robert Wall, owner of the company. His company does first thinning for Temple Inland and second thinning and some clear-cutting for Weyerhaeuser.
Robert added a mechanical pruner from Marden Industries Inc. to his equipment roster in the fall of 2006. Wall Timber had experience with other pruners prior to investing in the Marden pruner. The Marden pruner has made a real difference in the ease with which limbs can be removed from standing timber. In fact, Robert’s company added a second Marden pruner in 2007.
“The goal of pruning is to prune up to 21 to 22 feet,” explained Robert. Pruning generally is done when pines are age 11 to 13 years, some times younger.
Pruning can be done 10 months of the year. “We have two months when we can’t prune because the sap is rising,” explained Robert.
Weyerhaeuser steered Robert to Marden Industries. The company wanted its contractors to have pruning equipment that was nimble enough to move through tracts at optimal speed. And the Marden pruner has excellent agility, said Robert. “It’s a little shorter and lighter than other ones” his company has tried, he said.
Pruning makes a significant difference in grade lumber yield. “Now, (at the mill), they go down to six inches before hitting knots,” said Robert. “Previously, it was 10 inches. They are getting four inches more without knots.”
The pruning head is very similar to a delimber. The Marden pruner weighs 2,800 pounds. It has a self-contained hydraulic control system as well as adjustable constant pressure on the delimbing knives. The pruner is compatible with most excavators, and Marden can custom-make a hitch to fit any excavator.
Wall Timber has one Marden pruner mounted on a Case CX225 Case excavator and the other Marden pruner mounted on a Komatsu 228 excavator. Track-mounted excavator carriers are a must in the sort of substrate where Wall Timber works; it can be soft, wet and muddy.
Fuel prices take a bite out of the operating budget, especially when they soared in 2008. “We burn 4,000 gallons of off-road fuel a week,” said Robert. When diesel increased to $4.10 per gallon last year, Robert was paying $9,400 more per week than he was in mid-January, when the price had dropped back down to $1.75 per gallon.
Things change quickly in the timber industry, so being flexible and adapting must be part of doing business. When Robert first learned about pruning plantation pines about four years ago, he traveled to North Carolina to see the process first-hand. “He liked what he saw,” said his wife, Kim. “And he felt he could handle this and the logging jobs.”
One thing that Robert likes about Marden Industries is that the team there understands his operations and requirements. “They’ve been out to the woods several times,” said Robert of Marden’s staff.
The Marden pruner can remove limbs up to 4 inches in diameter. Pruning not only eliminates knots from the outer rings of the tree, it also strengthens the trees and promotes faster growth.
Each pruner does about 15 acres per day, according to Kim. In the pine plantations where they work, the forests average about 135 trees per acre, and Wall Timber prunes about 60% of them, or about 80 trees. That works out to a machine pruning about 1,200 trees per day.
Designing and manufacturing equipment that can go into a forest and prune trees without damaging them is an objective with which Marden Industries has a great deal of experience.
Marden Industries, headquartered in Mulberry, Fla., was founded in 1933 by Marion Denton, who marketed a tapered drum chopper to control weeds and brush in citrus groves.
When the timber industry began to focus on reforestation in the 1950s, Marden Industries began to expand its line of equipment accordingly. Today, Marden Industries offers a number of different types of equipment for preparing sites for reforestation, including bedding plows, subsoil plows, drum choppers, V-shears, V-blades, and fire plows – and the pruner.
Robert chose a Case excavator for the first Marden pruner because of a long-standing business relationship. “I have a very good friend, Danny Clay, who has a Case dealership in Baton Rouge, Louisiana,” he said. The Case-mounted Marden pruner works very well, but Robert is always eager to try new configurations, so he chose a Komatsu machine for the second Marden pruner.
Robert started his company with three pieces of equipment; he bought them from his former employer. “Back when I was 25 or 26, I was working for another man in the woods, and he wanted to know if I wanted to buy some equipment,” recalled Robert. “I bought three different pieces of worn-out equipment for $100,000.”
It was a trial to keep the machines running, but Robert kept them going and paid off his debt. After he built his credit, he launched Wall Timber, incorporating as Robert W. Wall in1990. That was less than two years after Robert began his business.
Robert credits his wife, Kim, with supporting him after overcoming her initial doubts about the risks of going into business. Through good times and bad times, “she stuck in there with me,” said Robert. In the early days, the bottom line of Wall Timber often did not include a profit.
Fortunately, Kim had a job at the time. “She was working for Jim Walter Homes,” said Robert, and her income helped sustain the family. Today, Kim works at Wall Timber as the office manager, a title that has her handling myriad tasks, including safety compliance.
Wall Timber has 22 employees – 19 in the woods, plus Robert, Kim and one full-time office worker, Alissa Melerine. The company normally runs four job sites at one time. Robert’s two older brothers, Dennis and Larry, are both foreman. “They run the jobs, chase parts,” and do whatever else it takes to keep things going smoothly, said Robert.
With his management responsibilities, Robert does not run equipment as often as he might like these days. Occasionally, however, he still does operate equipment. “Yesterday, I got on a dozer,” he said.
Wall Timber generally works within 100 miles of its home base in Osyka, Miss. With a population of approximately 500, Osyka is a picturesque community. The town is part of Pike County in the south-central part of the Magnolia State.
Osyka virtually straddles the border with Louisiana to the south. Wall Timber does about 90% of its work in the Pelican State. Robert works routinely with foresters in both states, including those for Temple Inland and Weyerhaeuser. “I have a great, great relationship with the foresters here,” he said. The foresters do a good job of managing for environmental and business goals, he said, and they really understand the wood products industry.
Robert’s company had its own trucks and trucking operations in the past, but now he contracts for delivering wood to mills. He owns one Peterbilt tractor-trailer for moving and transporting equipment and leases other semi-tractors.
Bob has been in the timber industry since he was a teenager, said Kim. “He worked for other loggers, beginning as a skidder driver, truck driver, loader operator — until he became a foreman.”
Kim may have had some trepidation about her husband launching his own company, but that quickly changed to support and admiration. “The business was started on his vision and guts,” she said. When Robert began the business, the dining room table was the office, and equipment was serviced in the yard at his brother’s home. In 1994, though, Wall Timber moved to its own home — 16 acres of land — and built a shop.
Robert, Larry and Dennis all have Master Logger certification from the Louisiana Logging Council. Robert and Kim were honored with the council’s Activist Award in 2001 for their work in organizing and promoting two Log-a-Load for Kids benefit golf tournaments; the events raised $35,000 for Our Lady of the Lake Hospital in Baton Rouge, La., through the Children’s Miracle Network.
Wall Timber belongs to the Louisiana Forestry Association and the Southwest Mississippi Forestry Association. Until September 2008, Robert and Kim lived within the town limits of Osyka, and Robert served the town as an alderman.
“Safety is a factor we stress in our business,” said Kim. “The company pays for all our men to be CPR trained and certified, and they are kept up to date.” Anyone who drives a company vehicle must take a defensive driving course, and a drug and alcohol policy includes random testing.
Wall Timber provides all personal protective equipment (PPE) except work boots. The equipment includes hard hats, safety orange vests and shirts, ear plugs, saw chaps and so on. Each company vehicle and machine has a fire extinguisher that is checked monthly, and each vehicle has a spill kit.
Employees are eligible for a production bonus beyond hourly wages, and they can enroll in group health supplement insurance, accident insurance and life insurance.
Wall Timber is equipped with a number of other machines and heavy equipment for logging operations. The list includes a Hydro Ax 2670 feller-buncher, a Hydro Ax 470 feller-buncher, and a Prentice 2470 feller-buncher, all purchased from D-M Equipment in McComb, Miss, and a Tigercat 724D feller-buncher from B&G Equipment in Magnolia, Miss.
Other machines include two Barko 495ML loaders, a Prentice 280 loader, a Prentice 384 TMS with a CTR 426 delimber and a CSI 3000 processor. The company has four skidders, a Cat 525C, a John Deere 748G, a Prentice 2432 and a John Deere 648H. The Peterbilt works in tandem with a four-bolster lowboy.
A John Deere 6420 four-wheel drive tractor mounted with an Alamo Extreme 22 boom mower is used for keeping roads clear for Weyerhaeuser.
The John Deere 6420 and the Case CX225 excavator on which one Marden pruner is mounted came from Crawler Supply in Baton Rouge, La., the company owned by Robert’s friend. The Komatsu excavator on which the second Marden pruner is mounted came from Lyle Machinery in Magnolia, Miss.
Success at Wall Timber is clearly a result of the partnership between Robert and Kim. It is clear from talking with each of them that they are a team. Each credits the other with a lot of patience.
“Robert has a talent for getting along with others,” said Kim. “He does most of our work with foresters…We are known for taking care of the woods and leaving them in the best possible condition.”
In recent years Robert used his free time to help build a new home for Kim and him. He did the excavation work with a bulldozer and track hoe. The house is now finished, and he and Kim enjoy living in it.
Robert and Kim have two grown daughters. Abigail Liuzza is a registered nurse, and her husband, Brandon, works at Kentwood Auto Plaza in Kentwood, La., where Wall Timber buys company vehicles. Their other daughter, Elizabeth, is a college student; her fiancé, Mark Konzelman, works for Wall Timber and is a graduate of Louisiana State University.
“We are people who lived the dream,” said Kim. “Bob’s father was disabled, and Bob had to quit school to go to work. He has worked long and hard to get our company where it is today. My mother and sister were killed in a car accident when I was 18, and I had to stop school to go to work. We have little (formal) education between the two of us other than what life gives you.” With one daughter graduated from college and the other a senior at Southeastern Louisiana University, though, “we feel like the most blessed people on earth.”