The close knit father-son team of Mike and Michael Meister from Hatley, Wisconsin pride themselves on running an efficient logging business in the north central region of the state. In Marathon County, an area comprised mostly of agricultural land, the Meister duo have refined their operation to make the most out of the smaller acreage harvests that they typically work. They credit their close relationship, work ethic, and their loyalty to Ponsse equipment for the long standing success of the business.
Although a second generation logger, Mike Meister, 58, of Hatley, Wisconsin did not jump into logging directly from his school days as is common in logging career paths. Growing up in Crandon, Wisconsin, Mikes father, Otto, was a logger of the old school, using a chainsaw and skidding with a horse. Mike recalls, “My dad was a really hard worker. People in my home town of Crandon talked about how hard my dad worked.”
Mike and his two brothers would spend summers peeling aspen for their dad, introducing them to working long hours in the woods. “We wouldn’t quit until we had a thousand sticks, or twelve hundred was better. And then we could go home.”
In late summer when the aspen was dry, they would skid the logs out of the woods with the horse. Although Mike always loved being in the woods, he did not develop an appreciation for this type of logging. Mike remembers, “I’m behind the horse and I hated it. I’d say ‘I’ll never do this.'”
So Mike didn’t go into logging after high school, at least not right away. His post high school path led him to working construction, where he learned to operate heavy equipment including dozers and scrapers. Then during a wet stretch when construction was slow, an acquaintance got in touch to ask him to run his skidder for a week. That was a pivotal point in Mike’s career path.
“It was like a breath of fresh air. I can remember what a good feeling that was. From then on I was hooked.” His addiction to the logging life continues nearly forty years later, “Now I’m bad. I can’t drive down the road without looking at trees. If we’e not talking about trees or chainsaws or something, I’m bored.”
Settling in Hatley, Mike’s work ethic that he developed as a teen served him well from the start. His reputation quickly grew, rewarding him with consistent work harvesting and skidding for area loggers. Prior to starting his own business, Mike made long range plans that included buying timber even before he had a skidder to get it out of the woods. Then in 1988 he launched Michael Meister Logging, harvesting his own timber buys with a chain saw and his first piece of heavy equipment, a John Deere cable skidder. Mike found it rewarding in all aspects saying, “We made a really good living.”
After a variety of orthopedic surgeries, Mike knew it was time to switch to a different approach to the hard work of logging. In 1995 he bought his first forwarder, a Franklin 132, which allowed him to handle sorting. After a couple years with the Franklin, he traded for a Timberjack forwarder, which put him in the comfort of an enclosed cab. “That had air conditioning, I was in my glory then,” Mike said. Completing his transition to cut to length, he purchased a Fabtek 133 harvester in 2000.
In 2001 Mike started becoming a Ponsse loyalist, purchasing a Bison forwarder. That switch to the brand continued in 2003 when he traded for a pair of Ponsse offerings; an Ergo harvester and Buffalo forwarder. For Mike, the engineering of Ponsse forestry equipment coupled with his positive experience with Ponsse’s support has earned his high praise for the Finnish forestry equipment maker. After eleven years working with the Ergo and Buffalo, Mike continued his loyalty to Ponsse with the 2014 purchase of a Buffalo King forwarder and the latest Ponsse harvester, the Scorpion King.
Also in 2014, Mike’s son Michael, age 20, joined his father by becoming a partner in the business shortly after high school. For Michael it has been a very natural choice. His earliest memories of his dad’s logging includes a time in grade school when he remembers his dad picking him up from school in his skidder. “I’ll always remember that. That was pretty awesome,” he recalls. Michael spent time with his father in the woods through the years, occasionally riding in the cab with him. “It was always enjoyable,” he remembers. Michael’s career choice was cemented once he started working in the woods with the Ergo harvester. “I enjoy it so much. It’s great working with my dad.”
With the diversity of land use in the Hatley area, the Meisters concentrate on smaller harvest tracts. The typical harvest for Michael Meister Logging ranges from 20 to 40 acres. Mike buys all their own stumpage from area land owners. As it has for his entire logging career, Mike’s reputation continues to precede him, providing him with more than enough work. “We don’t advertise. It’s all word of mouth,” Mike notes with pride. Even with other reputable loggers in the area, Mike said, “Honestly, we can’t keep up. We don’t even look at half the timber that comes our way.”
Part of Mike’s reputation undoubtedly comes from his Wisconsin Master Logger certification. Mike said, “It proves we do a good job. The bar’s held just a little bit higher for us.” Mike is one of just two loggers in Marathon County with the certification.
Around 90% of what the Meister team harvests comes from lands in the Managed Forest Law program. Mike conservatively figures that they average around 55 to 60 cords a day, with some days considerably higher. From April through July they concentrate on pine harvests, adhering to oak wilt guidelines. From mid-summer through April the harvest is mostly hardwood, including oak, maple, birch, and ash. The Meisters sell primarily to Expera in Mosinee, Wisconsin, for pulp production. All their trucking is handled by independent truckers, primarily Ciszewski Trucking, also of Hatley.
Through his fourteen years running Ponsse machines Mike has been very pleased with the equipment and the support he receives from the Company’s Rhinelander, Wisconsin headquarters. In 2006 Mike toured the Ponsse factory in Finland and took in the local culture, complete with saunas.
In early 2014, Michael Meister Logging continued their business with Ponsse by first trading their 2003 Buffalo for a new Buffalo King. In November of last year, Mike’s Ergo was traded for the dramatically new design of a Ponsse Scorpion King with a Ponsse H7 head. Mike became interested in the Scorpion King while attending the Brush Run off road race at the Crandon International Off Road Raceway. The first Scorpion King in the country was on display at the Ponsse sponsored event and Mike had the opportunity to give it a good look and talk to the Ponsse North America president and CEO, Pekka Ruuskanen. Mike’s first impressions were very positive. He recalled, “We became pretty interested in the machine right there.” He really appreciated the unique design that wraps the base of the crane around the cab, saying “The visibility is great.”
Even though the Meisters started using their Scorpion King late last year, Mike has done little more than sit in it a couple times. Michael has been the sole operator of the machine thus far. Michael was trained on the new harvester by Ponsse’s Brad Brown for the first two days with a follow up visit a couple weeks later. They covered an overview of the controls, cutting trees, and refining the operation while making the most of the unique maneuverability and stabilization of the machine. The younger Meister was impressed from the start. He noted, “The ease of use with the Scorpion comes from the high visibility without the boom in your way as you’re cutting. I can cut a tree perpendicular to where I’m facing and it handles it with no problem.”
Michael quickly became very comfortable with the Scorpion King, saying, “I thought it would take longer to get used to the new machine than it did.” Michael said that it only took a couple months to feel like he was running it to his high standards of productivity and efficiency that he had fine-tuned with the Ergo. Comparing the two harvesters that he has experience with, Michael said, “One of the differences is the power between the two as well as the visibility and the maneuverability. The Scorpion just has so much power.”
The other major design element that sets the Ponsse Scorpion King apart from other harvesters is the unique three component frame and automatic stabilizing system. With the cab in the middle section and the pivot point directly under the operator, the Scorpions technology keeps the cabin level up to fifteen degrees while keeping the front and rear sections adhered to the terrain. Beyond the stability aspect that this design provides, the operator stays level at all times, allowing him to stay fresh throughout the day. This aspect is appreciated by Michael who summed it up by saying, “It’s extremely comfortable when you’re not tipping sideways or leaning forward or backward. The Scorpion provides that comfort when you’re always sitting level. That really makes a difference in your day.”
Ponsse engineered the Scorpion King to be at home on hilly terrain. Michael found that he didn’t have any problems figuring out how to get to the next cut. “I went over the rocks, up the hills, it was great. It provides plenty of traction. I had no problems,” he said of his early experiences on the machine. Mike watched his son run the machine on a particular harvest last winter that put the three section design to the test. The elder Meister observed, “Last winter we did one job in particular that was a lot of stone and hilly. He (Michael) didn’t seem that he had any problems with it. It really shines in that rough terrain.”
The numbers have proven to the Meisters that the Scorpion King was a good choice for them. Mike said, “Between Michael being a good operator and the machine being capable of cutting more wood, plus my forwarder, our production has gone up considerably.” Michael added, “It feels good that I’m producing a lot more than I used to and I keep getting better, which is great.”
Thus far the Scorpion King has continued the Meisters positive run with the Ponsse brand. Noting their experience, Mike said that his new harvester has been very reliable, “It’s hardly cost us anything to run.” Michael takes some credit for minimizing equipment down time saying, “I’m easy on the equipment. I try to run it as smooth as possible.”
When it comes to service and repair, Mike has the highest regards for the support he receives from Ponsse. “With Ponsse the service is great. They really do an outstanding job.”
Away from the daily business, Michael enjoys racing radio controlled off road trucks, with his father providing both a cheering section and technical support. With five years of racing experience, Michael competes in 1/10 scale electric classes during the winter indoor season and 1/8 scale nitro classes in outdoor competitions during the warmer months. The Meisters routinely race Wisconsin venues and are planning a return trip to California this summer for competition. Michael likens RC racing to logging by observing, “Running smooth is important to getting a fast pace.”
Mike has never second guessed his career choice. The feedback he receives from others, including land owners, highlights the reason he loves to log. He said, “I just received a text from one of our future land owners. ‘You have such a good reputation in this area. It’s a given that I go with you.’ That makes you feel good.” He added, “This whole business, if you have a good work ethic, you’ll make it just fine.”