Chris Schloer of Schloer Logging LLC is in equal partnership among his two brothers and father. Schloer is a cut-to-length pulpwood logger in Wisconsin which has just recently purchased three pieces of equipment from Ponsse North America.
Butternut, Wisconsin—A beloved 1978 Pay Star dump truck, a refurbished relic that commemorates James Schloer’s earliest beginnings, sits boldly in the Schloer family’s logging yard. It is accompanied by other notable characters like John Deere, Caterpillar, Case, Peterbilts, and International. But it remains in starkest contrast as the most antiquated when compared with the Schloer’s latest purchases: a Ponsse Buffalo forwarder and two Ponsse Ergo harvesters. According to Chris Schloer of Schloer Logging LLC, their logging operations have had “too many machines to count” but there’s no way the old Pay Star is ever going to retire. It’s become a part of their family, a “keepsake” that’s not easy to let go of.
“Dad raised six kids with that truck,” explained Chris. “Dad had some used trucks prior to this logging truck, but this was his first brand new truck. I remember as a kindergartener going down to the shop to pick up the blue and white truck just like it was yesterday.”
Chris has many fond memories of spending quality time being with dad on his log trips. He and dad would leave early in the morning at 3am and come home after dark. As a small child he used to lay on the floor in between the doghouse and the seat for his dad’s six-hour runs. He was the only one of the children to stand up next to his dad to shift gears and stand on the throttle. He would stand for three hours at a time just because he loved it so much. As he got older, his dad introduced him to steering the truck as well.
“I could barely see over the dashboard,” laughed Chris. “That was just like my dad to show me the ropes even while I was young. He brought us (boys) up in the world of logging. He always had us right there with him both in farming and in logging.”
According to Chris, farming and logging is how every family used to make a living in Wisconsin. His dad, James, started in the late 1940’s farming and hand sawing. And slowly over the duration of 30 years, he became increasingly mechanized and began taking his three sons into the woods. Now Chris and his two brothers, Dan and Bill, have continued Schloer Logging for 20 years. All four, James and sons, are in equal partnership together.
“Dad’s the glue to our company,” stated Chris, the second oldest son. “We’ve always viewed each other in the family as on the same playing field. When one of us is down, the others work harder to help cover the production end. We watch out for each other.”
Chris explained that this type of family-business style is not often seen these days because there can be much fighting, squabbling, and division that occurs. He remarked that his near 70-year-old father instilled deeply-rooted religious values, good morals, and created close family ties.
“Dad always told us if you work hard and go to church every Sunday than everything will go good for you. And it has. I have no complaints so far,” Chris stated. “Everybody sees eye to eye and we don’t have a lot of differences.”
Each of the brothers, Bill, Chris, and Dan, runs separate logging crews with two additional employees at each site. James does the oversight and paperwork for the company. The brothers play three fields. Bill’s crew focuses on open market and private stumpage sales within northern Wisconsin. Chris’ crew works as a contractor with New Page Paper of Wisconsin. And Dan’s crew is under contract with Sappy Paper out of Minnesota.
Schloer Logging focuses mainly on pulpwood for the paper industry; however, they do have a small percentage of softwood. Chris stated that they bid on their timber sales mainly in northern Wisconsin. No specific diameter is required for their production but they do focus on eight-foot lengths and delimbing the logs. Eighty percent of their production is pulpwood. Ten percent is high grade timber for veneer. Each crew operates eight to nine hours per day, Monday through Friday. They average 50 cords per day per machine, or 150 cords per day between the three crews.
Their facility is a small shop, basically Dan’s home garage. They own eight main pieces of logging equipment: four double bunk forwarders, a John Deere 1110 eight-wheeler, a Ponsse Buffalo eight-wheeler, a Timberjack 1110 eight-wheeler, and a Bell forwarder. Their four harvestors consist of two Ponsse Ergos, a John Deere 1270, and a Timbco 425 with a Raleigh head. The company also owns three bulldozers, a John Deere 700, a 650 Case, and a D4 Caterpillar, and three log trucks, two Peterbilts and an International. The 1978 Pay Star, James’ original log truck, was refurbished and restarted two years ago as the company’s dump truck.
Chris and his brothers don’t advertise or market their business. They simply consider that they’re “buying themselves a job with the quality of their work, their reputation, and their production.” Chris admitted that the economy has hurt their business because the fuel prices have “sky-rocketed” and as a result the profit margin has minimized. He also stated that “Mother Nature” has poured loads of rain and that they’re down an average of 30 cords per day. One other major contributor to the decrease in profits has also been the decreased availability of stumpage.
”Unfortunately, there’s a huge stumpage battle going on these days and loggers are at each other’s throats,” explained Chris. “The U.S. government likes to see the big trees stand for public view, but this only creates unhealthy forests and it limits the loggers. They are really not letting enough timber go. The biggest problem is that they need to get more stumpage available for loggers because the prices tend to go way high in our bidding for timber. Then when we try to turn around and sell the logs we don’t get much profit. Stability is key in our business. Instability radically changes things.”
Marko Mattila, President of Ponsse North America, Inc., has seen the timber market “stall” over the last three years due to the economic downturn and he’s also observed that forestry planning and environmental aspects are not as efficient in the United States as he has observed in the European markets. According to Marko, much communication and planning occurs from the stump to the mill, from the beginning of the process to the completed end. The mills calculate what the market needs are and pass the instructions electronically to the loggers. Best location sites are determined by GPS and thinning guidelines are strictly followed. Once the harvesters are involved in the process, they contact the trucking company which picks up the timbers within a half hour to one hour after reaching the landing.
“The tree stands are managed strictly in Europe so that within five to ten years the timber quality is improved,” stated Marko. “Environmental aspects are very important in Europe…productivity is improved over time because the quality continues to increase.”
According to Marko, planning in the United States is not the same as in Europe and the view of the occupation of a logger is very different. Logging and the forestry industry is very much respected in the European countries and is considered highly professional. Much investment goes into the creation of high quality machines and the machine operators are required to attend two years of schooling. Another major difference is that much of Europe’s logging is mechanized. Marko estimated that 70% of the North American forest industry still operates on the whole-tree method, which reduces the maximum usage of the trees.
“There are so many reasons why cut-to-length is so popular for so much of the world,” Marko explained. “We could really talk about it all day, but the main reasons are (that this method) protects terrain, does good work, utilizes and maximizes the whole tree; it’s extremely efficient and cost effective, and it protects operators.”
Ponsse North America Inc., established in 1995 and headquartered in Rhinelander, WI, is a main subsidiary of Ponsse Plc, a Finnish family-owned and publicly traded company located in Vierema, Finland. Ponsse North America has at least eight locations in the US and Canada. Ponsse Plc offers cut-to-length equipment worldwide and is most noted for its specialized multiple hydraulic systems and simultaneous mechanizing operations.
Chris first heard about Ponsse when they relocated from Atlanta to Rhinelander in 1997. His interest was peaked when he read articles about the company and the products they offered. Then he began trading his machinery up because in his words, “you can’t keep all your iron or else you’d end up with an iron graveyard.” Chris purchased the Buffalo forwarder in 2008, and the two Ergo harvestors within the last year.
Low fuel consumption, quality ergonomics, and excellent parts and service are reasons that convinced Chris and his brothers to invest over one million dollars in their Ponsse equipment. It was also important to Chris that the equipment was easy on the operator.
“When using the Ponsse, you don’t get as tired throughout the day and the machine is quieter,” Chris stated. “Also, there’s more power than you need to get the job done. The machines are not underpowered by any means. The multi-function of the equipment’s hydraulic system means that oil is not being taken away from the head while the operator is moving the tree to the boom. There’s more productivity and it goes much faster.”
According to Marko of Ponssee North America, the Buffalo is their most popular seller in the United States. Compared to others on the market, the Elephant stands above the rest due to its hydraulic system and engine.
“We’re not afraid of lining up our machines side by side with any other one on the market out there,” Marko stated. “Our machines can do multiple functions simultaneously without any reductions in rpms. With the two-circuit dedicated hydraulic system pumps for each function, the harvestor head, the crane, the transmission, and the cooling and circulation can all operate simultaneously. This makes faster production and fuel costs are saved.”
“This new stuff isn’t cheap,” explained Chris. “People pay to keep their equipment up to date. You have to spend the money. But we do still have the old Pay Star cause that’s a keeper.”
Ponsse Plc and its subsidiaries just celebrated their 40th anniversary in August 2010. Among the main headquarters and the other subsidiaries in 40 countries local celebrations occurred. In Wisconsin, nearly 400 customers came for the customer appreciation day. Ten Ponsse machines were demonstrated in the woods for a big machine show and a party was held at their local headquarters in Rhinelander.
According to Marko, Ponsse Plc originated in 1970 when a frustrated forest machine entrepreneur, Einari Vidgren, wanted a dependable machine. He decided to build one of his own. In secret, he and a team constructed their first piece of equipment. When he unveiled the“ugly, yellow machine” the town folks fondly named the machine, Ponsse. Ponsse was the town’s most notoriously ugly yellow hunting dog, but he was also the most gifted hunter of all the dogs, a valuable commodity in Finland. Hence, Ponsse was born and according to Marko, that may be why most of their harvestors and forwarders are named after animals.
Regarding Ponsse North America, the first Ponsse machine, a HS15 harvester nicknamed “Old Sally”, landed in the United States in 1991. According to Marko, Old Sally has logged over 20,000 hours and is still producing wood daily in Wisconsin. When they first began in the United States, Ponsse had no pre-existing customers. Now after 15 years of business, Ponsse North America has over 600 customers and they’re still doing business with their first ten original customers.
“I think that says a lot about our long-term business,” stated Marko. “We are here for the long term. We are not trying to change the world (but) we are enthusiastic about this business. We are a global company, but we act locally. We see ourselves as a big family. We exist for our customers and we will never change that.”
That family mentality is exactly what both Schloer Logging and Ponsse North America, live by. It means everything to them.