Since switching from dairy farming to logging in 2007, Wisconsin logger shows allegiance to the Ponsse harvester line, with his latest purchase being the 2015 Ponsse Ergo.
MILLADORE, Wisconsin—Eight years ago it came down to a choice between cows and trees for Aaron Matticks, 36, of Milladore, Wisconsin. Both of these career options were a considerable departure from the profession of Aaron’s father, an airline pilot. Aaron cites the dairy background of his grandfather and uncles as major influences on his career path. Feeling most comfortable with working close to the land and resources, Aaron spent the first half of his career life running a 26 head dairy operation on his 150 acre farm in the Milladore area of central Wisconsin. In addition to his small dairy, Aaron also worked for a larger farm business in the summers and operated an early model of a Ponsse HS-15 harvester for a logging business in the winters.
By 2007, Aaron was at a crossroads and knew that he needed to make a choice between farming and logging. Regarding this transition, Aaron recalls, “That’s where I came to the point where I had to make up my mind. It was either expand in the dairy business or get rid of the cows and take over the harvester and concentrate on that.”
His choice of the logging direction presented itself when the logger he was harvesting for was getting out of the business. Aaron said, “He was going to get out and the opportunity was there to buy the machine. That’s what I ended up doing. I sold the cows, got out of dairy farming, and took over his processor in 2007 and went on from there.”
With the establishment of Matticks Logging, LLC, Aaron’s experience in agriculture gave him the ability to keep his eye on the future when weathering fluctuating commodity prices. “With a dairy background you’re used to price swings. There are times when you’re nervous about making ends meet in that business, too. Right in 2007 was when the wood market took a hit. It was kind of nerve wracking for a while, but after a year and a half went by it looked like things were going to be ok. So that was kind of a milestone for me,” Aaron recalled.
Starting his logging business with the Ponsse machine, Aaron quickly developed a strong loyalty to the brand. Since the early days of Matticks Logging, Aaron has subsequently purchased four new Ponsse harvesters. With only 300 hours on it, his latest purchase of a six wheel Ponsse Ergo was made in late 2014. His machine was the first 2015 Ergo sold in North America.
Aaron’s business is comprised of himself and a single employee, Tom Dvorak, who is the primary operator on Aaron’s new Ergo. Last year Aaron bought a 2005 Sterling pulpwood truck that he runs to keep wood moving efficiently to the mills. Aaron is contracted with Future Wood of Hayward, Wisconsin, and spends about 90% of his time harvesting for the company. The forwarding is handled by fellow Future Wood contractor Perry Nikolay. When the time permits, Aaron contracts his services directly with land owners who have a variety of harvesting needs. The bulk of his pulp wood harvest for Future Wood as well as his independent projects goes to Domtar in Nekoosa with the balance going to NewPage in Wisconsin Rapids. Saw logs are sold to a variety of mills in the area.
His arrangement with Future Wood has worked well for him. Until his hiring of Tom Dvorak in January of 2014, Aaron was working solo and would have found it difficult to bid jobs himself. “You almost have to have a full time guy doing that (bidding jobs) because you can bid on twenty jobs and only get two. With the equipment you have you have to keep cutting wood to make it pay,” Aaron noted. As in any capital intensive enterprise, keeping the machinery busy makes all the difference between red and black ink. “Never once in my eight years have we had to shut down because we didn’t have wood to cut,” Aaron notes with pride.
Throughout his eight years in logging, Aaron’s work has been steady and varied, with annual numbers around 12,000 cords. Aaron said “A big job for us is 2,000 cords over a hundred acres. We go all the way down to 20 acre patches too. We do pine and hardwood thinnings. We also do aspen and hardwood clear cuts. We do a little bit of everything.” His typical geographic range is generally within a 50 mile radius of Milladore in the winter months ranging upwards of 90 miles in the spring when he works the pine plantations further south in the Fort McCoy, Wisconsin area.
The winter of 2013-14 was a tough one for those making their living in the woods of the northern plains. Average low temperature records were broken, putting a tough test to both loggers and their equipment. For Aaron’s fellow contractor Perry Nikolay, who handles forwarding on most of Aaron’s jobs, it was the first time he had missed days in the woods due to frigid temperatures in his 30 plus years of logging. Aaron figures that he stayed out of the woods around 10 days plus a few late starts during the deep freeze, but he heard of some operations losing as much as 60% of their productivity. Regarding cold weather mechanical challenges, Aaron said, “The thing is, you won’t necessarily notice all the problems in the winter. You’re going to notice them in the spring when seals go out or something like that. Metal gets more brittle and it’s tough on the whole machine.”
Aaron’s allegiance to the Ponsse harvester line started from his early days working with the HS-15. “In the beginning it was that I knew how to work on them, how to operate them, which is very, very important. That helped minimize the downtime as I knew how to do all the repairs and maintenance myself,” he said. Intent on staying as productive as he could, Aaron believed that switching to another brand of harvester would take a considerable learning curve regarding maintenance that would cut into initial productivity.
The North American operations of the Ponsse Company is based in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, about an hour and a half from Milladore. Aaron describes his relationship with Ponsse as professional and very effective. “They’ve always treated me good,” he said. “If I have down time, they’re always there right away to fix it. Ponsse has treated me great after the sale as far as helping me with any issues with the machine. They’ve treated me real well with warranty and out-of-warranty issues. That’s one of the biggest reasons I have stuck with them.”
After a few months with his original Ponsse HS-15, Aaron moved on to a 2007 Beaver which was followed in 2010 by another Beaver. He transitioned to the larger Ergo line in 2011 replacing that unit recently with the latest Ergo model. “As far as trading in for a new machine, they’ve always given me a very fair value on my trade in machine. Their customer relations are good.”
As far as his motivation to run fairly new machines, Aaron factors it this way, “With every new machine, I look at it as if it will, one, reduce my downtime and, two, increase my production a little bit. And every new machine has increased my production.” Aaron typically tallies around 2,400 hours on his harvester annually. Downtime and expenses due to maintenance and repair has clearly motivated him to run newer machines. “With every new machine, they’re trying to update them so they’re more dependable, the components will last longer and not break down,” he noted. “Break downs are pretty expensive because it’s not just the break down but also the down time. If you’re not cutting wood, you’re not making money,” he continued, “and now with the pulp truck, if there’s no wood cut, I’m not hauling either.”
Samuli Heikola, the Ponsse sales rep for eastern Wisconsin, described the process he went through with Aaron in his move to purchase the 2015 Ergo, “We talked about the new machine deal in the spring of 2014 and Aaron was very serious about it by December of last year.” This was the second Ergo that Sam sold to Aaron. Sam feels that the Ergo is ideally suited for Wisconsin harvesting. “It’s the H7 harvester head that is the best for Wisconsin. It’s productive, compact and durable. The new C5 crane has more swing power with two swing motors and more lifting power for big hardwood.” He noted that in the middle of Wisconsin the jobs that Matticks Logging works on are generally smaller than what loggers work on further north. He noted that the six wheel Ergo is a practical choice for this type of work. “The new Ergo is very easy to transport from job to job,” he said.
Explaining his recent purchase choice, Aaron said, “Familiarity is the biggest thing for me when I picked the Ergo.” While much of his home turf in the Milladore area is fairly flat, his spring jobs further south tend to be in rolling hills. With much of his time spent on pretty steep grades, Aaron appreciates the self-leveling cab. Also from the technology perspective, Aaron says, “I like their Opti, the cut-to-length operating system. If you’re familiar with computers it’s very friendly that way.”
Aaron has seen improvements in both the Ponsse H7 head and C5 telescoping crane. “With this new machine I bought, I like the self chain tensioner on the saw,” he said, “They’ve made the H7 harvesting head heavier, I think they’re really improved that. It seems like this head is a little bit quicker than my old one was, even when it was brand new.” He observed that the C5 crane has been bulked up to some degree. “It’s a lot quicker.”
As an operator with experience using five different Ponsse harvesters, Aaron has been a benefactor of what Ponsse says is “the important role of customer cooperation in product development.” The Company introduced and improved several features on their harvester line for 2015, including the new Mercedes EU Stage IV engines. Other line improvements include stronger frames, easier access to service points, and an extension of the service intervals from 600/1200 hours to 900/1800 hours. Ponsse also designed the 2015 Ergo with a dual circuit hydraulic system, an upgraded transmission, and refined cabin ergonomics.
Out of the woods, Aaron continues to work his 150 acre spread. He grows corn and soy beans as cash crops, selling the harvest to local elevators. His limited free time is spent with his young family that includes his son Jacob, 3, and daughter Hannah, 16 months. His wife Beth does the bookkeeping for the businesses.
Aaron is a member of Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association. Asked of his strengths in the logging business, Aaron thought for a moment and said, “Following the prescribed requirements of the cutting plan and what you want the wood to look like aesthetically after we’re done. Plus meeting Future Wood’s needs for them to be able to profitably market the wood.” He continued, “All in all do a good job to make the forest healthy and make it look nice.”