When economics forced McCumber Forest Products to change from primarily a trucking company to a cut to length operation, the changeover could have been a bumpy ride.
Tomahawk, Wisconsin—When economic factors dictated that McCumber Forest Products in Tomahawk, Wisconsin, change its focus from trucking to cutting timber, David and Brian McCumber started out with used equipment until they learned the business. When they started upgrading that equipment recently, however, they chose a Log Max XT head for their new TimberPro 630, thinking that it would improve their efficiency…….and they were right.
“I became involved in trucking in 1971,” said David McCumber, Brian’s father. “All I did was transport forest products. That was right here, within 20 miles of where we are now.”
When Brian McCumber graduated from high school in 1993, he went to work with his dad in the trucking business.
“He started driving for me then, and kept driving until three years ago,” David said. “Then three years ago, fuel started getting really expensive. I had anywhere from five to eight trucks at any given time; I leased them so I could change the numbers when I needed to.”
In 2007, the McCumbers made the decision to downsize their trucking operation to one truck, and made the move from simple trucking into cutting pulpwood. It could have been a bumpy changeover, but a friend helped them simplify the process.
“We had a friend that we had hauled for previously, and he became ill,” David said. “His doctor told him to reduce his stress. He had three sets of harvesters and forwarders, and he sold us one set.” The McCumbers bought a Ponsse Buffalo forwarder and a TimberPro with a Rolly II fixed head on it.
“It didn’t take us long to learn to use the equipment, because we already were dabbling in pulpwood,” David said. “We already were familiar with how the wood is processed and marketed. So it wasn’t like it was the first time we were around the block; our only learning curve was running the machines.”
Brian had never run a harvester, but the friend who sold it to them let him try the TimberPro before they bought it.
“He caught onto it right away,” David said. “Then we were able to start getting contracts right away. I was well known enough that finding work wasn’t a problem.”
The transition was a success.
“If I had known how well it would work out, I’d have done it 40 years ago,” David said. “Now we run a cut to length operation, and we contract only to Futurewood Corporation in Hayward, Wisconsin.”
Three years into the process, McCumber Forest Products bought a new harvester. This one is a TimberPro 630 with a Log Max XT head on it.
“The TimberPro is a bulletproof machine,” Brian said. “It’s made only two hours from where we are, so anything we need for it, we can get from the factory.”
The real key to the new machine, however, is the Log Max XT head. Having that head on the TimberPro makes Brian’s job more efficient.
“Sometimes we peel popple in the springtime,” he said. “Having the Log Max helps with that. It also speeds up our production.”
Greg Porter, president of Log Max, said that the unit the McCumbers purchased is a Log Max 7000XT.
“The Log Max 7000XT is our newest generation of 7000 harvesting heads,” he said. “The XTreme series by Log Max is designed for rugged, tough applications were strength and brute force are necessary at all time. The 7000XT gives the customer more feeding power then the traditional 7000B series heads, which leads to greater production during the day. The XTreme series from Log Max is the 5th generation of this style of harvesting head that we have produced. We’ve made vast improvements to our products over the past 20 years and will continue to develop new ones as technology changes.”
The McCumbers cut almost entirely mixed hardwoods, which represent about 95 percent of their production.
“That includes hard maple, soft maple, oak, ash, and white birch,” David said. “It’s mostly pulpwood, but we also sort out the saw wood when I bring it out to the road with the forwarder. Anything that’s ten inches in diameter or larger goes for saw timber.”
The McCumbers are very pleased with the equipment, and with the way Log Max takes care of its customers. They particularly liked the equipment dealer from whom they purchased the TimberPro and the head, which was Pioneer Equipment in Rhinelander, Wisconsin.
“They treat us well, in terms of both price and service,” Brian said. “In our logging operation, the most important piece of machinery is that harvester. Anything can skid the wood, but what cuts it is the important thing.”
Porter, too, speaks highly of Pioneer Equipment.
“Pioneer Equipment has been an exceptional dealer for Log Max in the Wisconsin area,” he said. “We believe that McCumber Forest Products will be well taken care of by Pioneer Equipment for all their service and support needs.”
Although Log Max is a Swedish manufacturer, the company has a US office in Vancouver, Washington, that services dealers and customers in this country. Porter said that Log Max’s commitment to service goes beyond just seeing that their dealers treat customers right; one tenet of the company’s success is the access customers have to resources and information at the manufacturer level.
“Once you purchase a Log Max, you’re essentially ‘part of our family,’” he said. “McCumber Forest Products has access to our trained technical staff and parts department if the need should arise. That is just part of our commitment to our customers; we allow them to have access to our staff at any time. We believe that our customers are important, and we like to stay actively involved with them.”
Although they only have about 350 hours of time on the Log Max, the McCumbers have a high opinion of it.
“It’s well designed and clean,” Brian said. “I think it’s going to be an exceptional head.”
In January, the McCumbers also added a Timberjack 608 with a hot saw.
“We’re using it to fell the trees ahead of the harvester,” Brian said. “It’s also upping production.”
The McCumbers have continued to maintain one truck for hauling wood, but at this point, they’re cutting more than their one driver can take to the mill.
“Our truck driver is Doug Johnson,” Brian said. “He’s been with us for more than 15 years, so he started driving for us long before we made this change.” The McCumbers contract the rest of their trucking out, so they don’t have the overhead for trucks when they don’t need them.
Although most of the wood they cut doesn’t get hauled very far, some of the peeled wood they did this past spring went to American Excelsior in Rice Lake, about 140 miles away and some went to Summit Timber in Park Falls, a distance of about 80 miles.
“Our closest haul is to Tomahawk, which is about 24 miles,” David said.
The McCumbers said that having the Log Max should increase their production quite a bit.
“The first year and second years cutting pulpwood we did about 8000 cords of wood,” David said. “Now that we have the hot saw and the Log Max, I’m hoping for 12,000 or maybe even 13,000 cords a year if we’re really lucky.”
At this point, the men say, they’re satisfied with the size of their operation. “We don’t have any plans to expand past what we are now,” Brian said.
Besides the two of them, both have family involved in the company. “My wife JoAnne helps Brian with paperwork and errands,” David said.
Brian’s wife Jodi helps with many of what he calls the “odds and ends” of the business—the errands and paperwork that are easy to overlook or to just not do, but yet are essential to running their operation.
“I can’t stress how important it is to have an understanding wife when you’re in this business,” he said. “She makes a lot of sacrifices for the sake of what I do.” Brian also has a son Thomas and daughter Leah who are too young to be involved in the business—at least, yet.
The McCumbers make use of every scrap of the tree they can.
“Futurewood has a boiler at their paper mill, and if they need boiler fuel we’ll cut our tops into what they call ‘fuel rods,’” David said. “Those are pieces anywhere from ten to 16 feet long. We haul them to the mill and they chip them and burn them. We don’t mess with the limbs, because there just isn’t anything we can do with them.”
The best part of being in the forest products business, the McCumbers said, is being self employed and self reliant.
“I’ve been self employed my whole life,” David said. “That’s the key for me. If I want to put in extra time, there might be a reward at the end, or there might not be.”
“I get to choose my own destiny,” he said.