Providing Quality Service to Landowners Is Top Priority for Smola Brothers, Inc.

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High on comfort and visibility and modest in fuel consumption, the new Rottne H14B harvester supports an efficient logging operation.

ATHENS, Wisconsin — Keep the cost of production as low as possible. Maximize the value of product. Therein are the two basic – if not simple – elements in a successful logging operation.

“Figuring out production costs” is as important as choosing equipment, said Brian Smola, the co-owner (with his brother, George Smola III) of Smola Brothers, Inc. And Brian takes the same measured and thorough approach to both endeavors.

Running equipment has a direct effect on production costs. There’s much more to it than that though. Fuel efficiency must be coupled with top performance.

A fuel-efficient machine saves money, if it is also a productive machine. Seeking to combine the lowest possible fuel consumption with the best possible performance, Brian decided that a Rottne harvester would be the right machine.

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In May 2013, Brian purchased a new Rottne H14B six-wheel harvester with a Maskiner SP 561 head. Brian already had a Rottne F15 forwarder (eight-wheel), which he had purchased in December 2012. “We were looking to get a bigger payload” with the eight wheels, he said.

There were other plusses with the Rottne forwarder. “The design that they have on it makes it easy for servicing – just open the panels,” said Brian. Satisfaction with the Rottne forwarder contributed to the decision to purchase the Rottne harvester some six months later.

“Both the [Rottne] harvester and forwarder are very fuel efficient,” said Brian. “Rottne harvester fuel consumption is less than one-half the machine it replaced – and it didn’t lose any production.”

Besides offering easy access for servicing through strategically placed panel covers, the Rottne machines also provide good visibility and comfort, said Brian. And Brian spends a lot of time in the Rottne harvester, which he operates.

Brian purchased both his Rottne machines from Pioneer Forestry Equipment in Rhinelander, Wis. His relationship with Pioneer goes back to early 2010 when he initially got to know the vice president of the company, Steve Ory. “We were looking around for a feller buncher,” explained Brian. “I just happened to call Steve.”

Soon, Steve was at one of Brian’s jobsites, aiming to get a better understanding of the Smola Brothers operation. Having been a logger for 32 years before becoming one of the owners of Pioneer Equipment in 2009, Steve brings an acute understanding to the assistance he offers customers.

By February 2010, Brian had taken delivery of a TimberPro 630B with a Log Max®

7000 head from Pioneer. The pairing continues to be an important part of the operation.

The experience of working the Pioneer has been a good one. “The quality of their service and the parts on hand,” said Brian, are just two of the many reasons he likes working with the folks at Pioneer.

In purchasing the Rottne H14B harvester, Brian was sure he had a machine that would be both strong and versatile. “We cut a lot of aspens and hardwoods,” he explained.

Much of the work that Smola Brothers does constitutes improvement of wooded sites. Machines that tread lightly and accurately are valued.

“We purchase our own timber up to 70 miles out” from home base, said Brian. The hardwood mix is predominantly maple, oak and ash. All species are sorted for maximum value – pulp, bolts and so on. There are still many active sawmills in the area. And Brian said the mills are doing well enough.

An effort is made to assist the landowner with making the best decision on what to cut. “We’ll give them the best advice we can,” said Brian. “If it’s a grey area, we’ll tell them to contact a forester or the DNR [Department of Natural Resources].”

Pioneer Equipment became a Rottne dealer in 2011. Blondin, Inc., which is headquartered in Indiana, Pa., is the U.S. distributor of Rottne logging equipment and has been for nearly 30 years. Rikard Oloffson is president of Blondin. Sweden is home to Rottne.

Rikard has great expertise in the industry. He began working with Rottne in 1989 and he has been with Blondin since 1995.

Having given some consideration to purchasing a Rottne forwarder and a Rottne harvester for some time, Brian was happy when Pioneer became a Rottne dealer. He has confidence in working with the Pioneer team.

Although new to the Smola Brothers lineup in May, the Rottne H14B has already seen significant service. It has been running 50 to 55 hours each week.

Rottne puts emphasis on continuous improvement and innovation. Its H-range harvesters have leveling and swiveling features that make a day in the cab an ergonomically friendly experience for the operator.

With the objective of designing equipment that is as friendly to the environment as possible, Rottne developed a low emission engine for its harvester. The engines from other original equipment manufacturers that Rottne adopts for its machines are chosen with low emissions in mind.

The SP 561 head on the harvester is one that Brian carefully studied before purchasing. He said he liked “the design” and was certain the head would be a match for the species he cuts.

SP Maskiner, which like Rottne is a company based in Sweden, is the maker of the SP 561 head. The company claims the longest experience worldwide in the field of development and design of harvester heads. The entry of the SP head in the North American marketplace is relatively recent with Rottne Canada Inc. being the first distributor.

The SP Maskiner harvester heads can be fitted with accessories of many sorts. For example, a debarker for eucalyptus is available. Other options include color marking and choices in measuring and control systems.

Smola Brothers operates with five employees approximately 44 weeks each year. Wet ground in spring and fall make it necessary to pause. Smola Brothers Transit, LLC, which is owned by Brian’s nephew, handles all trucking.

Athens, Wis., is home to Smola Brothers. The village in the north-central part of the Badger State has a population of 1,100. It is part of greater Wausau in Marathon County. Wausau, which is known for being a center of dairy products, has a population of 37,000.

Smola Brothers was established in 1982 by Brian’s father (George Smola II) and uncle (Jim Smola). “My uncle was in construction and I think the biggest motivator for him was to be closer to home,” said Brian. He also had a dairy farm and being away on construction sites made it complicated to get back to milk.

The situation with Brian’s father was similar – a dairy farm to keep running, even while doing other work. Brian’s grandfather had been a logger, so his sons had some link to the industry when they launched their enterprise.

Brian did not expect to become a logger. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business from DeVry Technical Institute in Arizona and worked in equipment sales for two years. He has been with Smola Brothers since 1983.

“The woods came a calling,” said Brian. He is happy he responded to them.

“We offer landowners a fair price,” said Brian. “We do a quality job. We get a lot of referrals from neighbors [of sites where the team is working].”

Because Smola Brothers aim to improve wooded tracts for landowners, they must change their approach to fit the job. Whether it is select cutting or a larger felling project, the company keeps its focus on a good outcome.

Besides the Rottne and TimberPro machines, which were purchased from Pioneer Equipment, Brian’s team relies on a John Deere 1110D forwarder (six wheel) and a John Deere 703G track harvester.

Brian explained that he has the opportunity to put his formal education in business to use every day. With his commitment to efficiency, he tracks production closely. Part of striking the right balance is equipment.

For instance, by adding the Rottne harvester and the Rottne forwarder and cutting fuel consumption, he saves money and more: He gains leverage in terms of the types of jobs he takes and the prices he can offer.

Smola Brothers belongs to the Great Lakes Timber Producers Association. The group is just one of many great alliances nationwide that enable loggers to have a forum for discussion and an advocacy voice for their industry.

Relying on Pioneer Equipment is a good choice for Brian. Pioneer is factory authorized for new sales, warranty, repair and parts for both Rottne and TimberPro. The company also handles the SP Maskiner head, which Brian chose for his Rottne harvester, as well as Log Max and Rolly heads.

Each logging operation is unique. And Brian appreciates the manner in which Pioneer Equipment acknowledges that – by listening and helping to assess before making recommendations.

Brian enjoys each day of engagement in business. He likes “being outdoors” and the “freedom of running your own business.” Being a decision maker provides the most latitude in trying out new approaches and finding the best of the best.

In his free time, Brian has some definite interests. “I do some hunting in the fall – white-tail deer,” he said. “In the summer, I golf.”