An All-around Logging and Lot Management Outfit Premier Forest Products Depends on the Versatility of Its Log Max® 7000B Processing Heads

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Anthony Zimmerman wanted a strong and versatile processing head, adept in hardwood and softwood; he got it in the Log Max® 7000B.

OREGON, Illinois — Discipline and initiative, balanced by intelligent tradeoffs, keep a business strong. Anthony, “Tony,” Zimmerman, owner of Premier Forest Products, Inc., grasped that early in his career.
Seventeen years ago at age 19, Tony launched his business with a Husqvarna chain saw and a John Deere cable skidder. “I started from scratch,” he explained. “I was working a 12-hour night shift in a factory, two days on, two days off.” Cutting, splitting and selling firewood during days off, he honed his negotiating skills.
For instance, Tony learned the farmer he worked for wanted to clear hardwoods, so he submitted a proposal. By doing research and consulting forestors in the area, Tony developed an offer that satisfied the landowner. He cut and marketed the wood; he and the farmer shared the profit.
“I got the one job under my belt,” explained Tony. Thereafter, his professional focus was on logging and marketing wood. For the first four years, Premier Forest Products was a one-man business and hand-cutting was the mode of operation.
Since 1999, Premier Forest Products has been mechanized, mostly cut-to-length. There have been upgrades, expansions and a contraction (after the national tragedy of 9/11). But perhaps the most significant change came in 2008 when Tony paired two new Tigercat 822 carriers with new Log Max® 7000B heads.
Tony settled on the configuration after talking to a logger in British Columbia, who declared the Tigercat carriage and Log Max head “a dynamite combination.” The logger really got Tony’s attention when he told him “the Tigercat carrier is indestructible,” explained Tony.
The Canadian logger was using a Tigercat 830 with a Log Max 10000, but Tony concluded the combination was bigger than what Premier Forest Products needed in the western Great Lakes region. (Log Max, Inc., which is headquartered in Grangärde, Sweden, specializes in machines that fell, delimb and process with a single grip. The U.S. representative of Log Max is based in Vancouver, Wash.)
Taken with the description he got, Tony wanted to see firsthand what Log Max and Tigercat could achieve together. So he arranged for a demo model to be brought to the site where he was working; and he managed to get it for a week-long trial run.
“I was clear-cutting red pine for the Nature Conservancy,” said Tony. The first thing he noticed was the accuracy of the processing results. “The diameter was right on the money,” he said. “The length was right on the money.”
A fast and firm fan of the Log Max, Tony decided to buy two new Tigercat 822 and Log Max 7000B pairings. For a time around 2008, he had three of the duos going – one with the Log Max on an older model Tigercat 822. But realizing the efficiencies he gained, he scaled back to just the two new machines he purchased in 2008.
“We have very little downtime with the Log Max head,” explained Tony. And if there is ever an issue, it is quickly resolved. “The support has been excellent,” he said.
Tony knew he wanted a dangle processing head. When selective cuts are on the roster, as in pine thinning, he likes the agility. Moreover, he explained, crooked wood does not impede the speed of the Log Max 7000B. Neither does wood with many branches.
Being able to use the same processing head on very different job sites is important to the operation of Premier Forest Products, which works in Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana and its home state of Illinois. Headquarters for the company is Oregon, Ill., a town with a population of 4,000. Oregon, the seat of Ogle County, is just 80 miles west of Chicago.
Designed for very heavy timber, the Log Max takes it slower when necessary to get the most from every bit of power (and energy) used. Correspondingly, it is designed to speed up appropriately in smaller wood.
Tony moves lengths – mostly eight-foot lengths – with two Tigercat 1055 forwarders that were purchased in 2008. His company has nine full-time employees. When he spoke to us in mid-January, the team was on a 300-acre hardwood site. The big job also involved seven hand cutters with whom Tony subcontracted.
When valuable hardwood is in the offing, Tony often subcontracts for hand cutters to take down the most valuable timber. He explained he is interested in protecting every bit of grain in a blemish-free state. Indeed, Premier Forest Products employs two full-time foresters to assess lots and recommend optimal approaches to cutting.
On a typical day, Premier cuts 14 truckloads of wood. “We have three Kenworth log trucks with 42-foot Great Lakes rail trailers,” said Tony. In addition, there are five contract haulers he calls when Premier’s haulers fall behind the cutters and processors.
“We haul all our eight-foot lengths crosswise,” said Tony. He adds that he is very happy with the Kenworth and Great Lakes tandem arrangement he first adopted in 2001.
One strategy Tony has developed to improve efficiency and quality is to fell and bunch in the woods and process at the stump. For that, Tony often relies on a Tigercat feller buncher with hot saw, the piece of equipment he usually runs, and sometimes hand cuts.
Pulpwood, bolts, tie logs, rotary veneer logs, saw logs, sliced veneer logs, and more are among Premier’s products. “We sort for about 18 different sawmills, pulp mills, and veneer mills”, said Tony.
“Bid sales [account for] 30 percent of the work,” said Tony. Seventy percent [comes] directly from interaction with landowners via word-of-mouth referrals and cold calls. Tony strives to stay six months ahead with scheduled projects, so should there be any changes, there are no lulls.
Early in the trajectory of his company, Tony became familiar with the vagaries of the marketplace. After a downturn in the pulpwood business in 2002, it was necessary to sell some equipment purchased in 2000, including his first harvester. “I shrunk the business,” said Tony.
“I downsized to a truck and a forwarder and just two people hand cutting,” Tony explained. A Kenworth log truck, a forwarder and Husqvarna saw carried the company across the sluggish economic interval.
Having started his company with the brand, Tony has stayed with Husqvarna. “We still use Husqvarna 395 if any wood is too big” to fell with the mechanized heads, he explained.
Hand cutting truly sustained the early growth of Tony’s company. It was not until 1999 that he bought his first piece of mechanized equipment, a 415 Timbco with a Fabtek head. Over subsequent years, he became familiar with several equipment brands.
In truth, said Tony, when he began using the demonstration model of the Log Max 7000B, he did so with a bit of skepticism about how it would perform in crooked hardwood. He explained that his concerns evaporated when he learned firsthand how easily the machine handled such wood.
The ability to adjust the top floating knife makes it a simple matter to match the Log Max 7000B head to any species. “If we’re cutting spruce in summertime, we can adjust,” said Tony.
“I’ll never buy another head,” said Tony of the Log Max. “I like the 7000 – a medium size head. It’s a lot faster in smaller wood – we cut a lot of pine.” By deploying hand cutters in red oak, walnut, cherry and maple destined for grade lumber, Tony achieves a fine equilibrium.
There is a “tradeoff between the species type and head,” said Tony, but he must balance the needs of his business.
“We remain disciplined,” said Tony. He wants the machine that meets the most needs. And the Log Max 7000B is the one.
Scrupulous about maintenance of equipment, Tony said the Log Max is as tolerant a machine as it is tough. “Good lubricants” are essential to all equipment, he explained.
“I have a full-time mechanic,” said Tony. “He has an outfitted service truck. We run synthetic lubricants – Schaeffer brand – changed every 750 hours; I’ve been using their lubricants since 2000.” So meticulous is routine care given equipment, a Premier truck with 20,000 hours was just getting its first engine overhaul. Even that could have been delayed with more minor adjustments, said Tony.
The Schaeffer hydraulic fluids give equipment an exceptionally wide range of operation, explained Tony. For example, the hydraulic equipment functions well from minus 35F to plus 130F. (The 130F is the ambient temperature that results from air temperature plus generated heat.).
Each machine is greased every day. And it is steam cleaned (with a pressure washer) every time there is an oil change.
“I love cutting wood,” said Tony. And he is very happy he built his business. “I like the independence, the freedom. I’m going to be the master of my own destiny.”
One goal guides Premier Forest Products day-to-day. “We want to be on the leading edge,” said Tony.
Tony is a member of the Great Lakes Timber Professionals, the Illinois Forestry Association and the Northeast Illinois Forestry Association. In free time, he enjoys hunting.