WJZ & Sons adds TimberPro 725 with Rolly Head to its logging operation, saves on fuel, makes more nimble and efficient.
Family is key in the forest products industry. Nowhere is that more true than with WJZ & Sons Harvesting, located in Germfask on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. There, Bill Zellar is the third of four generations who have all made their living in the woods; he inherited the company from his father, and he’s passing it along to his sons.
This doesn’t mean, however, that Bill is a strict traditionalist. Rather, he’s well aware of changes in technology and how they affect his business, and he uses technology to enhance and improve his productivity.
Bill latest addition to his stable of equipment is a Timberpro 725 with a Rolly head, which he purchased from Woodland Equipment in Iron River, Michigan. The sales rep at Woodland Equipment, Bob Beauchamp, worked closely with Bill to help him select the best piece of equipment for his operation, and has provided stellar service to back up the sale.
Both Bill’s grandfather and his father were loggers; in fact, at the 2003 annual meeting of the Michigan Forestry Association, Bill’s father was awarded the Association’s annual “Loggers Award.”
Bill said he worked with his father in the woods during high school and afterwards.
“I worked for him my whole life until I was 31,” Bill said. At that point, he felt it was time to go out on his own, and he purchased some older equipment from his father to start his own business, WJZ Logging.
Even then, however, the work stayed all in the family.
“I subcontracted for him for about five more years,” Bill said. “Then I bought a large tract of land from him and took over all the contracts and built up my business from there.” Bill gradually purchased the resources of the business and then the business itself.
WJZ & Sons logs a lot of what Bill calls “difficult timber,” much of which is mixed woods and hard to harvest hardwoods, which means he needs rugged, heavy-duty equipment. Over the years, he has used a number of Timbco machines outfitted with Risley Rotosaw slingshot stroke harvesters. For years his carrier of choice was the Timbco 415, primarily because the Timbco 425 was too big for the kind of select cut operations he was doing. However, the Timbco 415 wouldn’t handle a Rotosaw with a larger cutting capacity, something Bill needed.
In a stroke of genius, in 2004 Bill approached Komatsu Forest and asked them to put a heavier undercarriage on a Timbco 415. They did so, creating the Timbco EX 415 Extreme, which would handle a Risley Rolly 24” Rotosaw head. That equipment increased his productivity and his bottom line.
Bill said he cuts every species in the woods, and cuts in a variety of settings for a variety of mills.
“We cut about thirty percent private land, and about thirty percent Forest Service land,” he said. “The rest of it is state land. We’re doing pretty much all open market contracts, and we ship to several mills. We take a lot to Potlatch, and sometimes I cut for Besse out of Newberry. Sometimes we also take grade logs to Weyerhaeuser from Lewiston, Michigan. We ship something here and there to just about every market in the area.”
Bill’s entire operation, in fact, is very diverse. He cuts pulpwood, chips for fuel wood, cuts lumber for furniture and veneer.
“We also do several different grades of saw logs and some export logs,” he said. “I have one job that has five sorts in cedar, five sorts in birch—one of which is for tongue depressors and rulers—three sorts on our hardwoods, three sorts on our aspen, and enough other products from that one tract to add up to twenty sorts on that job. That particular stand has every species of timber that grows in the area except red pine and oak, and we don’t have much oak in this area.”
Part of what makes that particular job so complex, Bill said, is that it’s 1300 acres with some upland, some swamp, and a lot of variation in soil types and timber types.
The number of jobs he works at a time also varies widely.
“I usually cut five to ten jobs at any one time,” he said. “Sometimes I’ll bunch the machines all together on a job. Other times they’re spread out.”
Until a few years ago, Bill tried to work within 80 miles of home most of the time. These days, he said, he sometimes has to range farther afield for good cutting jobs.
“We’re mostly working the same areas, but we’re venturing out a little further than we did in the past,” he said. “I’m cutting downstate right now on one job that a 160-acre piece of land that I bought. I want to do some thinning and take some timber out of it, and then I hope to re-sell it for recreational land. But the thing is, with the economy the way it is, that kind of property isn’t moving real fast right now.”
Even with the down economy, Bill said, the amount of wood he’s cutting hasn’t changed significantly in the past several years. WJZ Logging cuts around 90,000 cords of wood a year,
which is about the same as it’s cut since 2006.
One reason for that is the strong pulpwood market in Michigan.
“Our pulpwood markets are good right now,” Bill said. “We can sell every stick we’re cutting. The price of stumpage is high, and the price at the mill isn’t as high as I’d like to see it. But it seems like when the mills come with more money, the loggers put it on stumpage. So we’re scratching the same rate out of a lot of the big state sales. People bid them up like crazy; I don’t know if they’re speculating on higher prices from the mills in the near future, or what. But it makes it tough to make a decent deal on stumpage.”
Bill said that one thing WJZ & Sons Harvesting really likes to do is use everything from the tree but the wind in the leaves.
“We try to take every stick out of the tree and then some,” he said. “We buy the timber as a lump sum, so we pay for every stick.” The more he can use, he said, the lower his unit cost to harvest and haul the logs. His crews work methodically through a cut, so they don’t accidentally skip anything that’s usable.
One part of the business that’s slow right how, Bill said, is the fuel wood market.
“We’re probably at about thirty percent of what we could chip,” he said. “We’re only doing about 450 tons a week right now. That doesn’t even clean up all the tops. So I put the chipper on a job where I have the toughest timber, or where it’s a private landowner who wants all the tops gone.” When he is able to chip for fuel, Bill said, he sells it to New Page in Escanaba.
Although the crews sorted at the landing in the past, now they sort right in the woods.
“The processors do the first sort, and then the forwarders bring it out by species or product,” Bill said. “We cut several different lengths and sizes of cedar, so we have about five sorts on cedar. We can put about ten percent cedar in softwood pulp, but mostly the ugly cedar is used for mulch. The bolts are sawn for lumber for furniture, and some of the smaller cedar is used for dowling.”
During the past few years technology has marched on, and Bill isn’t someone to stand and watch improvements in equipment pass him by; he has upgraded his equipment as his business has expanded. Recently he purchased a TimberPro 725 with a Risley Rolly II head to add to his stable of equipment.
A special memory Woodland had of its interaction with WJZ & Sons took place at the Logging Congress when Bill visited the Woodland exhibit and commented, “the machine looks too good to put in the woods.”
“The roller heads got a little faster and a little more productive,” he said. “We found out that Risley heads are pretty indestructible, and that the maintenance on the Rolly II heads is even better. There wasn’t anything wrong with the slingshot heads we were using; I liked them just fine. It’s just that technology has progressed and so have we.”
Over the years, the service Bill has received on the Risley equipment has been stellar, further contributing to his ability to get logs out of the woods when and how he needs to.
“If we’ve had a problem, Risley’s been real good about getting a man out to get it fixed up,” he said.
Dale Mattison, the processor operator who runs the Timberpro with the Rolly II head, likes it quite a bit. He said the new equipment runs well and has a lot of power.
“It’s all worked very well,” he said. “We just got it around October 1, so it only has about 800 hours on it; I haven’t had to do anything to it yet. There was no shakedown period to it; we just went right to work with it. It’s a nice tractor.”
Bill likes the additional productivity he’s seeing with the Timberpro and the new head.
“It’s more productive, and it has way more operator comfort than the older models I’ve had,” he said. “Everything has pre-heaters, so it starts well in cold weather; it’s close to running temperature when Dale gets there and gets out of his pickup.” That means less down time in the early morning before Dale is able to get started.
Bill said Woodland Equipment made the transition to the new equipment completely painless.
“They picked the old one up, dropped the new one off, and it started right up and running,” he said. “The biggest problem we had was that it ran out of fuel once. They sent a mechanic out and he worked on it and worked on it and thought they had a problem, and it was just out of fuel. They’ve also done the first servicing on it and changed the filters and so forth, and we haven’t had a lick of trouble with it.”
The biggest difference for Dale is the change in the heads, Bill said.
“The old head he was using had a circle saw on it, but this one is a bar saw,” he said. “I went with the bar saw this time because I figured it would up production and burn less fuel. But since we had a whole new carrier, I can’t tell whether the bar saw or the carrier is saving the fuel, or both. I do know that on a normal day before, running the Timbco, we used about 80 gallons of fuel. Now, we’re using 53 to 55 gallons of fuel in a full shift. So it’s saving us a good bit of fuel. Plus, the head is a lot more nimble; Dale is getting along well with it. It’s about the best you’re going to get with a tracked machine and a fixed head.”
Bill’s two sons work at WJZ & Sons Harvesting right along side him, just as he did with his father. The younger, Eric, is 23, and the older, B.J., is 25. Bill’s daughter Emily is a senior a Northern Michigan University with a major in business, and is considering graduate school.
“She works with us during the summers, but I’m not sure she’s going to come back here when the graduates,” Bill said. “It’s still too soon to say what she’s going to do.”
Over the next few years, Bill said, he would like for WJZ & Sons Harvesting to maintain its size and market share, and increase the amount of chipping they’re doing.
“I’d like for the chip operation to be larger,” said. “Right now we’re doing about a day and a half’s work each week, and I’d like to pick up the fuel wood a bit.”
Bill has diversified into some areas that have nothing to do with forest products.
“We’ve gotten into beef farming a little bit,” he said. “We mainly buy cattle in February or so, grass feed them, and sell them in September. We had 300 head last year, and our goal is to get to about 500 head a summer.”
Bill also has started a scrap metal operation.
“A little over a year ago, I started a steel recycle yard,” he said. “So we’re buying and selling steel on a fairly steady basis too.”
The best thing about what he does, Bill said, is being able to be outdoors most of the time.
“I enjoy working in an environment that most of us who work out there also play in,” he said. “We fish and hunt, and spend time in the fresh air. And I like not having to go to work in the same place every day.”