Business Partnership Between B&B Forest Products and Woodland Equipment Has Deep Roots

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Dave Barton, vice president of B&B Forest Products, first met Ron Beauchamp, the owner of Woodland Equipment, in 1975. Even in a volatile world, the relationship has continued to endure and thrive.

MANISTIQUE, Michigan—In a volatile world, it’s reassuring to discover relationships that endure and thrive. The relationship between B&B Forest Products, Inc. and Woodland Equipment, Inc. is a case in point.
Dave Barton, vice president of B&B Forest Products, first met Ron Beauchamp, the owner of Woodland Equipment, in 1975. “[Ron] came out to a job,” said Dave. “He was selling Tree Farmer skidders. I went out and tried one and it had more room in the cab. It was built stronger.”
A Tree Farmer skidder became just the first of many purchases B&B would make from Woodland across the years. Dave co-owns B&B Forest Products with his brother, Dennis Barton, the company’s president.
Woodland Equipment was then, as it is now, located in Iron River, Mich. Dave said that at first he fretted a bit about the 150-mile distance between Iron River and the town where B&B is anchored. But he had immediate rapport and spontaneous trust in Ron, so he went forward with the purchase.
“We run our equipment a long time,” said Dave. “We bought a second skidder from Woodland Equipment in 1988. In the intervening years, B&B had methodically added other equipment, including a 920 CAT with a Rome shear that got it started on a mechanized path. It was “just a front-end loader with a big shear,” he explained. A Drott 40 track machine also found a place in the lineup about the same time.
The brisk pace of business at B&B soon precipitated other changes. “We had to go to a slasher,” said Dave. A Hood slasher, another purchase from Ron’s company, fit the bill. “Then we needed a grapple skidder.”
The first grapple skidder was a Timberjack (now Komatsu). The next came from John Deere. When it became more difficult to get employees to cut limbs, Dave went to Ron again to buy a Hood stroke delimber.
There were many other updates and additions along the way. But the main source of equipment for B&B has long been Ron’s dealership. A TimberPro 725 is the most recent purchase. It arrived at B&B in March 2010. Bob Beauchamp from Woodland Equipment guided Dave through the buying and implementation process.
Although TimberPro is new to the roster at B&B, there is something very familiar about it, said Dave. “I had a Timbco,” he explained. “I put 17,000 hours on it.”
Dave has known Pat Crawford — first of Timbco and now of TimberPro, Shawano, Wis. — as long as he has known Ron. He met Pat back when Pat was a logger, contemplating the design of his first machine. Dave explained that he has great confidence in Pat’s products and he particularly appreciates that the TimberPro is made in the United States. Dave stated, “Pat understood from a logger’s perspective what was needed in a good piece of equipment.”
The TimberPro 725 has some excellent features, said Dave. Changes in the hydraulic system by moving the hydraulic cooler location to the opposite side of the machine from the radiator with hydraulic reversing fans and upgraded components and design over the older models means it “won’t run more than 150 degrees in summer,” he explained. The visibility with the engine located in back now gives excellent visibility both to the left and the right, plus the back is visible with a rear view camera. The hydraulic gullwing gives easy access to the engine and hydraulic system.
The gear box has also been redesigned. “That runs a lot cooler now,” said Dave.
Put to work immediately in the swampy areas where B&B often works, the TimberPro 725 proved itself worthy of confidence. “I was very pleased with how that machine was balanced in the swamp,” said Dave. “We cut a lot of lowland in summer and winter.”
B&B cuts exclusively for Plum Creek. It works on tracts within a 50-mile radius of its headquarters in Manistique in Schoolcraft County, Mich. Manistique is situated right on Lake Michigan on the southeastern part of the Upper Peninsula. It has a population of approximately 6,000.
Plum Creek prescribes the way cutting will be done. For instance, non-marketable material is used to build paths for machines. “You keep putting the brush in front of you” as you cut, said Dave. That makes the TimberPro particularly good on site. “It doesn’t want to nosedive in the swamp,” he explained.
On the way out of certain tracts, the brush is picked up and taken to a landing for chipping. The chipped tops are often used for fuel at the papermill. The capture of every bit of wood fiber is now the norm. “You can pick up the brush easily” with the TimberPro 725, said Dave. “That’s another advantage.”
Looking to a performer he knew, Dave chose a Rolly II head from Risley Equipment for the TimberPro 725. He got his first Rolly head almost eight years ago. The prescription for felling was changing and red pine plantations that required thinning had entered the mix. Tree-length grapple skidders could not be used in red pine and the shift to cut-to-length (CTL) was mandated.
“About eight years ago, we had to sell the grapple skidder, slasher,” said Dave. To get started with CTL, he settled on the purchase of a used head. “We got a rebuilt Risley Rolly from Woodland Equipment. Ron’s probably the best at rebuilding Risley Rolly. Seven and one-half years later, we bought a new Rolly head.”
The Rolly II sees considerable crossover service. “A lot of time we go into hardwood,” said Dave. That’s no problem.
“They’re built very, very strong,” said Dave of the Rolly head. “I like to be able to control the tree. For directional control of the tree” the fixed Rolly head is great, he explained.
The pairing of the TimberPro 725 with the Rolly II is precisely what we needed for switching between red pine and hardwood stands, said Dave. “We need a narrow carrier,” he said. And it has to support a strong head.
A three-person team keeps B&B going. Larry Hedberg, a 20-year veteran of the company, runs the TimberPro 725 for 2/3s of the day and then Dave takes over. The machine runs one and one-half shifts per day with a goal of 50 cords or two truckloads each day.
Dennis runs the Fabtek 546 forwarder, a six-wheel model, which B&B bought from the NorTrax John Deere dealer in Escanaba, Mich. Mechanization does not mean the elimination of chain saws, though.
“If there’s a lot of veneer logs, we cut them by hand,” said Dave. “[Buyers] don’t like roll holes from the processor” because they reduce the value of the veneer. “We each cut for maybe an hour a day.”
And the chain saw used? “Jonsered is the only saw on the market as far as I’m concerned,” said Dave.
Both Dave and Dennis were introduced to logging early in life. Their uncles logged and as adolescents, the brothers earned money by peeling popple. By age 15 or 16 they were in the woods with chain saws.
In 1967, when he graduated from high school, Dave enlisted in the Air Force. He served for three and one-half years during the Vietnam War, working as a jet engine mechanic. After military service he attended Bay College, studying industrial arts and aiming to teach the same. Dennis was also studying at the college.
During college, the brothers were encouraged by their former baseball coach to work cutting timber in stands owned by Meade Paper. That land was eventually purchased by Plum Creek. And so the association between B&B, which dates to 1973, and Meade Paper began. Meade Paper Co. financed B&B’s first CAT 920 tree cutter with Rome shear.
Dave and Dennis were still in college when they launched their business. They bought an Iron Mule skidder from Gaftner Machinery, one of the first rubber tire skidders. The rubber made a huge difference, said Dave. “You could drive in the woods. You weren’t bouncing around.”
In the early days, the brothers paid cutters (contracted employees) by the piece. Since the early days, their cousin Emeric Bosanic has handled all trucking for B&B. Emeric works with his two brothers Bill and Vern.
The TimberPro 725 with the Rolly II head is quite a leap forward in computer-controlled and enhanced felling and processing. And it took some adjustment, said Dave. Yet irrespective of the equipment a logger has, explained Dave, the important thing is profit.
“It’s not how many machines you have, it’s how much money you make at the end of the year,” said Dave. Sustaining B&B has been easier thanks to the long-term relationship the company has with Woodland Equipment. “Ron’s been very good to us over the years,” said Dave. It’s good to be able to pick up the phone and talk to parts employees who know his needs, he explained. Dave commended Woodland Equipment for being able to solve minor equipment issues over the phone and having the patience to handle problems in this manner.
From his side of the industry, Dave relishes every moment. “It’s very rewarding” work, he said. B&B Forest Products is a member of the Michigan Association of Timbermen.
Seeing equipment perform across decades is especially gratifying. Dave still has the second Tree Farmer he bought from Ron. “I still run it now and then,” he said. “If Dennis gets behind, I jump in the skidder and give him a hand…”
A native of Manistique, Dave is unabashed in enthusiasm for the region. “I think I live in the most beautiful place in the country,” he said. “I love the seasons and I love being outdoors.”
Fishing and hunting are activities Dave enjoys. He is also an avid college football fan and a self-described “sports nut.”