Father and son wield a customized 2680 Track Beast and a Model 2590 whole tree chipper to further expand their family’s deeply rooted logging legacy in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
CHANNING, Mich.— Jim Carey’s grandfather and great-grandfather hopped a train from southern Wisconsin to the thick pine forests of western Upper Michigan. They exited the train, set up a logging camp, and suddenly they were in the logging and sawmill business.
That was in the late 1800s.
Today, 58-year old Jim Carey and his 28-year old son Ryan stand proudly next to each other, posing with their custom built Model 2680 Beast that runs just down the street from J. Carey Logging headquarters in Channing, Michigan. These fourth and fifth-generation loggers are based roughly 30 miles as the crow flies from where their ancestors first stepped off that train, but Jim and Ryan are more than just generational sons to a couple of loggers. Jim incorporated J. Carey Logging in 1980, and through his passion for the outdoors he went on to build an award-winning company while also working to create a better logging industry for everyone. Jim has been active in industry organizations through the years, and he played a key role in launching the American Loggers Council. Ryan has eagerly followed in his dad’s footsteps, and with Jim looking towards retirement in the next few years, Ryan is poised to continue the legacy that first began with his great-great-grandfather. It’s not a stretch to say that both men are sons to the Upper Peninsula logging industry.
“I got started in 1977 doing excavating, and then in 1980 I got more involved in logging,” explained Jim. “At the time I was actually a full-time employee of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) as a fire officer, and started logging a little bit on the side. My grandfather had a logging and sawmilling business, but my dad’s generation all went out and got ‘real jobs’. He’s a retired state trooper, while my other uncles worked in the mines and for the state department of transportation. I tried that and it just didn’t work; I was a little too independent to work for someone else.”
Thusly motivated, Jim left the DNR in the mid-1980s to log full-time, relying upon his independent nature (that he sometimes refers to as being stubborn) to see him through tough times. That same drive also brought J. Carey Logging numerous honors and recognitions through the years, including awards from the Michigan Association of Timbermen, multiple awards from the Forest Resource Association (formerly the American Pulpwood Association), and the Michigan/Wisconsin Timber Producers Association. In addition, the company has been featured in several magazines, they’ve twice been given the honor to cut and deliver Michigan’s state Christmas tree to Lansing, and in 2000 Jim and Ryan joined some colleagues to cut and deliver the Tree of Hope—the national Christmas tree displayed in the nation’s capital.
So when Jim and Ryan needed a custom-built horizontal grinder, Bandit was honored to work with them on building a modified 2680 Track Beast.
“We wanted to keep the machine as small as we could for transport, and for getting around the woods easier,” explained Ryan. “Technically this is a Model 2680 but it actually has the throat opening of a 3680. We have two different speeds for the track outfeed, the infeed speed is faster and the flywheel turns a lot faster for our application. We can really get more loads out faster, and Bandit also made a special slashbuster with a guard on top that keeps all the brush pointed down.”
Carey’s custom Model 2680 runs a 540-horsepower CAT15, and it all rides on a self-propelled CAT 320 steel-track undercarriage. Jim wasn’t convinced a track machine was necessary for their operation, but a self-propelled grinder was something Ryan wanted from the beginning. Once their Beast arrived, both were sold on the track drive and its ability to get the job done.
“It’s a must-have,” commented Ryan. I can’t image ordering a machine without it now. Our previous grinder was on rubber tires and it was a constant battle of getting to some tricky spots, and it always had a tendency to sink.”
“You couldn’t haul it in here,” added Jim, referring to the confined landing their Beast was parked in. “You’d have to hook a wheeled skidder onto the grinder and pull it into a spot like this. And then after doing a couple loads you’d have to try and get it out with the truck in the way. There are a lot of jobs we do now where we couldn’t even get our other grinder in there. Whether it’s a Bandit or any kind of machine, the tracks just make a huge difference.”
“Sometimes we’ll make a deal with local municipalities to grind up their waste,” said Ryan. “We had a job in the spring of 2011, and there was everything from big stumps to pieces of metal in their brush pile. There was stuff we’d never even think about putting in our old grinder, but we were into the yard on a Monday, and we finished up Tuesday afternoon. We just went in there, threw the waste in, and we were done in less than two days. We wouldn’t even think about doing that with our previous grinder.”
Carey Logging stepped into biomass a few years ago, starting with a grinder from a competing manufacturer that ended up being something of a disappointment. Ultimately they couldn’t depend on its production, so Jim and Ryan decided to supplement the work with another machine. They gave Bandit a call, and that led to their first Model 2590 whole tree chipper.
“We had an opportunity for us to expand, so we bought a Model 2590,” said Jim. “Bandit really took care of us and the equipment, and they were always there whenever we had a problem. They were just there all the time, so when it came time to upgrade our grinder, we met with the Bandit people and told them what we wanted. And that’s when they built this special Beast, just for us.”
Swapping the 2590 for the Beast, the father/son team found what they were looking for in the custom-built machine.
“I’m really surprised at just how consistent the Beast is,” said Ryan. “We haven’t really been broken down at all. There was a minor glitch in the beginning, but Bandit sent someone from service the next day and spent two days to make sure everything was fixed. And it’s been trouble free, just very consistent.”
As much as they like the 2680 Track, Jim and Ryan never forgot the capabilities and the chip quality of their Model 2590. When nearby Northern Michigan University began looking for chip suppliers to feed their biomass boiler, J. Carey Logging took the call and jumped back into whole tree biomass chipping with Bandit. They took delivery of a new Model 2590 in February 2013, outfitted with a custom over-the-top discharge chute to better load their fleet of open-top trailers. In addition to NMU, they’re currently supplying New Page Paper in Escanaba, L’anse Warden Electric in L’anse, and their biggest customer is Verso Paper in Quinnesec.
With two custom Bandits on the job they’re able to serve a wide range of clients, but the equipment is just a part of the equation that has kept Carey Logging moving through the years. Logging operations are obviously the crux of the business, but excavating, land clearing, and more recently biomass production have allowed Jim to diversify, keeping the company alive. More importantly, the approximately 22 employees that work for Carey Logging have kept steady paychecks though what Jim describes as the toughest three years in the company’s history.
“The people mean more to us than the money does,” said Jim. “We could’ve probably shut down, sold everything, called it quits and just did something on the small scale for the two of us. But we’ve got 35 families that depend on us for a living, and they’re good people. They’re like family to us so we keep going to keep everybody working.”
And work they do. Between logging, excavating, biomass and other clearing projects, crews from Carey Logging can be working up to 100 miles from their headquarters. At one point, Ryan said they were working 100 miles in either direction. Fortunately, biomass markets in the region are picking up—they’re expecting to produce 60,000 to 80,000 tons of material through 2013 but even small changes in the market can have large impacts on production. In many ways, Jim and Ryan aren’t unlike their forefathers first stepping off that train. They face a future that still
isn’t certain, but with markets improving and some old-fashioned elbow grease on their part, the potential for success is still there.
“I’m hoping that, by the time I’m 60 I can just spend more time with the grand kids,” said Jim, smiling broadly. “Maybe I’ll just show up every now and then to tell everybody what they’re doing wrong, have Ryan take over and hope to hire a few more people, create a few more jobs.”
If anything, Ryan’s smile is bigger than his father’s when talking about his work.
“I always knew what I wanted to do. I’ve been doing this since I was waist high. I’ve always been around our guys, spent a lot of time with them, and we have excellent people. I just love the work, I love the people I work with, and I really enjoy working with my dad.”
With just a couple years to go until his 60th birthday, whether or not Jim elects to retire remains to be seen. The woods certainly run deep in the family blood, and there’s no question that this father/son combination make an outstanding team. Whatever is in store for these sons of logging, it’s safe to say they’ll be carrying on their love of the industry for a long time to come.