One man cut-to-length logging crew uses a TimberPro combo forwarder with Log Max attachments to harvest timber in the rugged hardwood forests of Pennsylvania.
MAPLETON DEPOT, Penn. – How can a man logging by himself get the job done?
Answer: Fell and delimb the timber by hand with a chain saw, get on a skidder and take it to a landing, and then get on a loader and buck it.
What if the logger wants to move to a mechanical means of felling?
Answer: Buy one machine that can do it all.
Jonathan Whitsel, 37, who operates as JW Whitsel Logging, has worked in logging since he was old enough to work – and before that.
After years of working by himself, though, he was considering making the change to cut-to-length logging, searching for a way that would allow him to continue to work by himself in the tough hardwoods he has been accustomed to cutting in rugged south-central Pennsylvania.
He found the answer: a TimberPro Combo Forwarder and two attachments, a Log Max 7000C dangle head and Hultdins grapple. With the eight-wheel TimberPro and the Log Max harvester attachment, Jonathan can operate like a cut-to-length harvester, felling timber and processing the stems at the stump, delimbing and bucking to length. Changing the attachment to the Hultdins grapple, he can operate as a cut-to-length forwarder, sort his wood, load it onto the machine, haul it the landing or roadside, remove it and stack it. All by himself.
Jonathan, who has been using the new equipment a little over a month when he was interviewed for this article, said he has been “tickled to death” with his decision to invest in the machines and the way they have performed. “Absolutely,” he added.
Jonathan grew up a mere 300 yards from where he and his wife, Jessica, make their home with their two children. The community of Mapleton Depot is located about 40 miles due south of State College.
South-central Pennsylvania has abundant hardwood resources, and Jonathan has been around the forest products industry since he was a child. His grandfather, Denver Whitsel, worked for a brick making business, but he did small logging jobs in his free time to earn extra income. When Jonathan was as young as 6 he was carrying cans of oil and gas around for his grandfather, and as a teenager he took on more work. His grandfather’s logging operations were small and simple and relied heavily on their own manual labor. It was all hand felling and bucking with chain saws. (In fact, his grandfather, who turned 92 in November 2011, logged back in the days of cross-cut saws, axes, and horses.) The only machine his grandfather had was a four-wheel drive farm tractor they used for skidding. They cut pulpwood to 5-foot lengths and stacked it and rolled saw logs up planks – all by hand.
Jonathan began logging full-time with his grandfather when he graduated from high school, then went to work for a nearby sawmill as a logger. He worked about three years for Brumbaugh Lumber Co., felling timber by hand, operating a cable skidder, a loader, driving a logging truck, and occasionally working in the mill.
He went into business for himself at age 21, buying timber, cutting and bucking it himself, and selling to the various markets in the region. He also did some contract cutting for mills. He bought a used John Deere cable skidder to get the wood to the landing. A year later he added a new Prentice loader with a buck saw. A few years later, in 2001, he traded in his cable skidder for a used John Deere grapple skidder.
“For the most part, I’ve always worked by myself,” said. He had periods here and there when he would hire another logging contractor to do additional felling.
About two years ago he began seriously considering investing in cut-to-length equipment. “My body wasn’t getting any younger,” he acknowledged. Besides the aches and pains of felling trees, removing the limbs, and bucking the logs by hand with a chain saw, he knew switching to mechanized equipment would be safer even though he had never experienced any bad accidents or injuries.
He was skeptical at first, however, that cut-to-length equipment could handle the tough hardwood timber of Pennsylvania. “Honestly,” he said, “I often compare it to back when people had the cross-cut saw and chain saws first became available. In the beginning, people thought the chain saws couldn’t do it.”
Eventually he was convinced, however. “I just truly believe it’s the way to go for a bunch of different reasons,” said Jonathan.
When he began considering mechanized logging and cut-to-length equipment, he started looking at machines on manufacturers’ websites and researched fixed-head attachments and dangle heads. He went to watch another logger using a fixed head processor and another logger using a Log Max dangle head harvester. “While I do see there could be advantages to a fixed head at times, I was really sold on the dangle-head idea,” said Jonathan.
In addition, the logger who was equipped with the Log Max “talked and talked and talked” about how good the Log Max personnel were and their strong customer service.
“That’s what really got me thinking about Log Max,” said Jonathan.
Jonathan purchased the equipment through L.C. Whitford Equipment Co., a division of L.C. Whitford Co., which is based in western New York. The equipment division sells forestry equipment in addition to heavy equipment for construction.
L.C. Whitford Equipment has been in business for 20 years and primarily serves markets in south-eastern New York and central and western Pennsylvania. In addition to TimberPro and Log Max, the company represents several other forestry equipment manufacturers.
“I worked with him on it for about two years,” acknowledged Joe Catalone, a sales representative for L.C.Whitford, who has known Jonathan about 10 years. The two men corresponded, compared numbers and conferred regularly. “So it was a well thought out process,” he added.
Jonathan is the first logger in the region to invest in the TimberPro 830, according to Joe, but he expects more interest from other loggers, particularly those in their 40s or older who want to be single operators.
Log Max harvesters have been well received in the region, said Joe, especially the 7000 model. “I’ve been selling and servicing that unit for 10 to 12 years,” he said.
“Log Max has stood behind its product very well,” he added. Log Max is a Swedish company with U.S. operations that has been designing and manufacturing machines for mechanized forestry operations since 1980. The company’s main product line is its series of single-grip harvesters for cut-to-length logging.
The Log Max 7000C is a large head for heavy timber. The head combines high power and high speed and performs well in heavy trunks with tough limbs. It is equipped with dual feed rolls, upper and lower knives for delimbing, and a bar saw for bucking.
Variable displacement feed roller motors provide fast speed in smaller wood and automatically regulate to provide more power in tougher limbed trees. Well placed guards and heavy covers protect internal components and hoses from damage. High performance saw hydraulics provide full flow to the bottom saw for fast cutting in all timber sizes.
The Log Max patented knife control system increases productivity by minimizing feed friction. Unique compound curve delimbing knife profile provides outstanding stem coverage and increased log quality.
Log Max harvesters come with the Log Mate control system with enhanced capabilities and state of the art communication for all head control functions. A powerful high performance controller rapidly processes information for precise head positioning and cutting, and highest quality logs are consistently merchandised. The Log Mate control system is easily adaptable to a full range of carriers with its programmable vehicle hydraulic system control.
South-central Pennsylvania was hit hard by gypsy moths in the early 1980s, noted Jonathan. The region was rich in oak, but a lot of forestland on the mountains was “devastated,” he said. There is still a lot of oak and hickory, but the predominant species now is red maple, he said.
“Once in a while I’ll get into a stand of white pine or Virginia pine, but it’s predominantly hardwood here.”
“I just always had in my head that you could work in pine” or hardwoods that were nice and straight with few limbs, said Jonathan. But for the tough hardwoods in the region where he lives and works, “I just always had in my mind that a processor wouldn’t work in that sort of stuff.”
He saw the combination forwarder on TimberPro’s website. “They have a video of (a logger) in Wisconsin running the combo machine,” he explained, and also showing him switching out the attachments – a Log Max harvester and a Hultdins grapple. “When I saw that…That just completely makes sense for a guy who wants to remain working alone. It really made sense to me.”
A logging contractor who had always bought used equipment before, Jonathan admitted he was hesitant about making the investment in all new equipment. “Oh, yeah,” he said.
His wife keeps the books in the business and helped him crunch the numbers. “This is something we’ve been kicking around for a couple of years,” he said. He talked to other loggers “and picked their brain to see what kind of production they were getting.” They weighed what they thought they could produce with the equipment with the cost of the investment and financing.
The Whitsels are “devout Christians,” said Jonathan, and he and his wife prayed at length about making such a decision. “We felt the Lord was allowing it to fall into place and had a hand in this.”
Now, “We’re very confident this was the way to go,” he said.
There was another important factor in his decision: the people behind the equipment. In fact, the kind of personal relationship he can have with the representatives of a machinery or equipment maker is what is critically important to Jonathan – not simply the technology. After all, it’s the people who back it up and support it.
“I’m very impressed,” said Jonathan, with the Log Max staff. “They definitely make you feel the customer is the first priority.”
“TimberPro is the same way,” he added. When he made the decision to purchase the TimberPro and attachments, Log Max personnel visited the TimberPro factory to help set up the machine.
Jonathan took delivery of his new equipment just a few months ago – the end of November. “I’ve been on it enough that there’s not a doubt in my mind that head would handle anything you’ll throw at it,” he said.
“I’m very impressed with it and what the head will do.”
Jonathan explained the process of changing the attachments. Each attachment has a large pin on top, and the pin fits into slots on the end of the boom. After detaching the hydraulic hoses and electric lines, there are four bolts to take off to remove the cap over the pin. Once the cap is removed, he maneuvers the boom to switch out the attachments. “You’re ready to haul out once you’re done cutting,” he said. The entire process takes about 15 minutes. (The logger on the TimberPro video does it less than 10 minutes; to view the video, visit www.timberpro.com click on ‘Videos’ on the left.)
A Log Max technician spent two days with Jonathan to set up the equipment, calibrate the measuring system, and provide training. “He walked me through everything,” he said, and still checks on Jonathan regularly to make sure everything is going smoothly.
Jonathan also had an opportunity to meet Greg Porter, president of Log Max in the U.S., at a trade show before he bought the harvester and has corresponded with him via e-mail since then. “He’s just a super nice guy,” he said.
It took just a couple of days to learn how the equipment worked. In fact, he could fell a tree, delimb it, and buck it after a couple of hours, although not quickly. He continues to learn more and improve his production. “There’s definitely a learning curve involved for sure,” said Jonathan.
The Log Max has been more than a match for the tough hardwood he encounters, according to Jonathan. “It handles it great. The delimbing knives will take limbs bigger than I dreamed…It really impresses me what it’ll do.”
Markets for saw logs are increasing, Jonathan observed, although prices have not returned to the level that loggers enjoyed before the recession. “They’ve gradually picked back in the sawmill end…It seems like they’re improving slowly,” he said. “The pulp market seems to be booming around the area right now.”
Another change he has seen: an increasing number of scragg mills, which are competing for low-grade logs and cutting material for the pallet and container industry. Keystone Logs and Lumber, he noted, now is manufacturing apple crates.
There are paper mills within 50-120 miles and sawmills and scragg mills within 20-30 miles.
When he was being interviewed for this article, Jonathan was working at the time on a tract of about 60 acres of timber he purchased and doing a shelterwood cut – leaving the highest quality trees but removing the others. Sixty acres is about average for the tracts that Jonathan works on, although some are big as 100-200 acres and others as small as 10-15.
The concept behind a shelterwood cut is that the high quality trees will reseed the ground with their acorns and nuts. In seven to 10 years, the tract would be at the right stage to remove the overstory, which will allow the younger, regenerating trees to thrive.
His sawmill customers specify logs by diameter and length according to species. “That’s very critical now,” said Jonathan. “There are so many different sorts.” That is a benefit of the cut-to-length equipment, he noted. “You can sort as you go.” Most logs under 12 inches are supplied to scragg mills.
“The Log Max head generally shines in that,” he said. The lengths are “right on.”
“I’m very impressed with the measuring capabilities of it,” he added.
In the rare instances he needs a chain saw, he relies on a Stihl 660, a make and model he has been using in the woods for 15 years.
Jonathan is certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, which was founded by the American Forest and Paper Association Besides keeping the books for the business, Jessica is a stay-at-home mother and looks after their daughter, 10, and son, 5.
The Whitsels are active member of a local Church of the Brethren, and Jonathan is a licensed minister in the denomination. Other than that, he enjoys spending time with his family and hunting deer and turkey. “We all like to hunt,” he said.
“The biggest thing I like to stress…the fact of it, it’s all about God. If God isn’t involved in my business, it’s all being done for the wrong reasons. My relationship with the Lord is the most important thing in my life…That’s what it’s all about to me.”