The Ponsse Dual, a combination harvester and forwarder, is as efficient as it is flexible.
BANGOR, Maine—A firm belief in the possibility of perfection guides Tom R. Nelson, vice president at Prentiss and Carlisle. Tom oversees the woodlot services division at Prentiss and Carlisle (P&C), a forest resource management company headquartered in Bangor, Maine.
P&C launched its woodlot services division in 2003. “It’s been a pretty rapid growth since [then],” said Tom. The division now has seven professional foresters, including Tom, and seven equipment operators plus their supervisor. It buys stumpage on 80 to 90 woodlots per year and it offers “à la carte” solutions to private landowners.
“There’s nothing we can’t do for you,” said Tom. Yet two goals transcend most projects, he explained. Landowners want an aesthetic result. And they want to merchandise wood to realize maximum value.
Ponsse equipment enables P&C to meet both goals, explained Tom. In addition to three Ponsse Ergo harvesters and a Ponsse Buffalo forwarder, the cut-to-length (CTL) team depends on a Ponsse Dual, a machine that is a combination harvester and forwarder (‘harwarder’). (A Timberking Cat 458 forwarder and a TimberPro 830 forwarder also serve the woodlot division.)
The Ponsse Dual, which was purchased in 2008, has 9,000 hours on it today, but it remains a star performer, said Tom. “We try to find the best harvesting system to do the right job for the landowner.”
In 2007, P&C bought its first piece of Ponsse equipment, a Buffalo forwarder, from Chadwick Ba-ross, Inc. in Bangor, Maine, which became a distributor for Ponsse North America, Inc.. Tom was particularly happy when, soon after that, Chadwick-BaRoss, Inc. in Westbrook, Maine became a distributor for Ponsse North America, Inc. The alignment allowed him to work with Chadwick-BaRoss, which has supplied equipment to P&C for about 20 years; it has five branches throughout New England..
“Chadwick-BaRoss understands downtime,” said Tom. “Uptime, uptime, uptime is the key.” And Chadwick-BaRoss gets that, he explained. “They will take a part off of a new machine in the yard,” if necessary, to reduce downtime for one of their customers.
The partnership between Ponsse and Chadwick-BaRoss mirrors the interaction between the two components of the Ponsse Dual: The linkage is smooth and reliable – very nearly seamless.
“The only thing [Ponsse] builds is rubber-tired, cut-to-length” machines, said Tom, noting that he appreciates the sharp focus. At the same time, Chadwick-BaRoss has an intimate knowledge of CTL. “They understand cut-to-length from long experience.”
In a perfect reflection of what a great pairing can do, the Ponsse Dual “is state-of-the-art,” said Tom. “The whole conversion is very smooth.” In just 15 minutes, the machine can be reconfigured as a forwarder from a harvester, and vice versa. Even with all the service the Dual has given, “the conversion is still very smooth.”
Of course, it is the results that matter. And they are excellent, said Tom. “We’ve had situations where we’ve been able to cut a whole woodlot with the Dual.”
The advantages built into the Ponsse Dual are many. “The Dual gives the operator the opportunity to harvest, even if it is too muddy to forward,” said Tom. That’s because the operator can “stop yarding and go into the harvest mode where ground pressure remains low.” During soft conditions, an operator can change operations mode from harvest to forward which minimizes site disturbance.
There’s no way to overstate the “flexibility” provided by the Ponsse Dual on small lots, said Tom. Moreover, transporting the machine to a job site costs only half as much as moving two separate machines – a harvester and a forwarder – would. Then, too, there is the single operator, another savings. The switch between harvesting and forwarding also “breaks up monotony for the operator.”
Forwarding is a more relaxed endeavor than harvesting, explained Tom. So the operator gets a bit of a respite.
Tom explained the species diversity is very high on woodlots where P&C works. There is “incredible variation,” he said. “It’s nothing to have a dozen or more species or products on a lot.” And that’s just where the challenge for a harvester operator begins. To maximize value, P&C extracts multiple products from a single tree. Studs, logs, pulp, chips and more are in the company’s product mix.
“We micromanage to get the highest value,” said Tom. In some cases, split loads leave a site. The objective throughout is ensuring customer satisfaction, which begins with customer understanding of the methodical approach P&C takes.
“Every job, a professional forester is working with the operator” of the equipment, said Tom. “My forester staff will get up in the cab with the operator. The forester downloads GPS and merchandising information so the operator knows where he is at all times, as well as product utilization specs.”
The ability to fit more than one person in the harvester cab is significant in the collaboration between forester and machine operator. Beyond that, it contributes to the understanding of landowners. “Ponsse is the only machine I know that has room in the cab for the operator and two others,” said Tom. “That’s very important. It allows landowners to go into the cab.”
Inviting the landowner to observe accuracy of scanning and precision of sorts vividly demonstrates that “a really high-level operation” is underway, said Tom. Tracking reports are available to the landowner, too.
The Ponsse harvesters – Ergo and Dual, scan to within one-tenth inch of accuracy, said Tom. “We feel that we gain a significant amount of product value” with Ponsse.
In fact, explained Tom, he anticipated the gains in product value. But he wondered about ease of use of the sophisticated Ponsse equipment and how feasible adoption would be. “I went to a Ponsse demo and I was impressed,” he said. Still, he wanted to know more before making the commitment to buy P&C’s first Ponsse machine.
Representatives of Chadwick-BaRoss took Tom to Quebec, to see Ponsse equipment in the field. “I started talking with other people that owned Ponsse equipment and they told me you could talk to the company.” When he discovered he could talk directly to the manufacturer, Tom was very impressed.
“We’re all like a team,” said Tom of Ponsse and Chadwick-BaRoss. “We’ll all get on the phone and find a solution” if any issue arises.
Tom has been to Finland to visit the place where Ponsse machines got their start. He has good working relationships that extend right to Pekka Ruuskanen, the president at the North American headquarters of Ponsse in Rhinelander, Wis. Similarly, he explained he can walk into Chadwick-BaRoss and talk with John Thebarge, the manager at the Bangor, Maine dealership.
The results of machines that meet expectations and a manufacturer and a distributor that stand ready to assist get noticed. “The quality of our forestry service is so high, most of our work comes from referrals,” said Tom.
Most of the P&C woodlot work is selective cutting and thinning from below. There is some over-story work. P&C gets about half its work through the private landowners that require assistance with woodlot management and about half from bidding on municipal, state and federal stumpage sales. That’s approximately 40,000 to 50,000 cords in each column, public and private, per year.
On the private land side, good outcomes matter not just to a single owner, but often to many owners. “A lot of land here in Maine is common and undivided ownership – with multiple owners,” said Tom. It’s part of the fiduciary responsibility of P&C to divide profit from a project – tracking to a fraction of a cent – among the owners.
What simplifies the task of putting all the pieces together is the ethics at the foundation of P&C, said Tom. Prentiss and Carlisle was founded over 80 years ago. The company has branches in Quebec, New Hampshire, New York, Wisconsin and Vermont.
Tom joined P&C in 1972, working there over summer breaks from high school and then, college at the University of Maine in Orono, where he earned a degree in forest management. In successive early stints between studies, he did property line maintenance, data collection, wood scaling and more – just about every job. “It gave me an extremely strong base,” said Tom.
From a young age, Tom knew he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. His father , Forrest Nelson, was a professional forester and a lifetime employee of P&C. At age 56, Tom is very happy with the path he chose.
“The job is very diverse,” said Tom. “You’re working with a lot of different people. There’s nothing more satisfying to me or my staff than having the landowner turn around and say, ‘You’ve done a good job.’”
The land management services provided by P&C “help landowners meet their ownership goals. They would rather it be a sustainable source of revenue with specific landowner projects, such as wildlife enhancement, farm ponds, grouse habitat, trails, and estates” said Tom. “P&C can incorporate these goals into sound forest management activities.
“At the end of the day, you go home feeling good about what you do,” said Tom. “It’s all about ethics, treating people fairly and disclosure about what you’re doing.” He believes that Prentiss and Carlisle is united with both Ponsse and Chadwick BaRoss in those values.
In his free time, Tom likes to snowmobile, hunt and fish. He also collects antique cars, mostly from the 1960s. A S/C Rambler Scrambler is a particular favorite.