Logger compares smooth ride of Ponsse Scorpion harvester to riding on air.
TOUTLE, Washington – Western Washington State is a wet and rugged and fertile place. Trees are not only abundant, but huge. Even thinning operations require equipment that is a match for challenging terrain and standing timber.
Bill Rogge, owner of Modern Thinning LLC, meets the challenge every day. Bill operates in the southern part of the Cascade Range, the north-south high plateau and peaks that divide the Evergreen State.
Since establishing Modern Thinning in 2004, Bill has used three different harvesters. Each of them had plusses. Yet it was not until November 2015, when he purchased a new Ponsse ScorpionKing harvester from Ponsse North America Inc. in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, that he found what he considers the perfect fit for his operation.
“It’s very rare if we have a flat job,” said Bill. “We’re pretty much in rough, wet and steep conditions.”
Bill first got interested in Ponsse harvesters when his research familiarized him with the machines. “I saw the design and decided it was going to be a superior machine – the way it was balanced,” he explained.
The Ponsse ScorpionKing currently works in tandem with a Komatsu forwarder. In the spring, though, Bill plans to pair it with a new forwarder from Ponsse. A Doosan 225 log loader is used to load logs onto trucks that carry them to a designated mill.
“All our wood gets shipped to a mill and they take it from there,” said Bill. Currently, Modern Thinning does only harvesting, forwarding and loading. That will change later in 2016.
Bill recently purchased a 2006 T-800 Kenworth that he is getting ready to use. The truck will be fitted with Vulcan On-board Scales. And Modern Thinning will add carrying log loads to the mill to services it offers.
“The more you can do yourself, the more control you have,” said Bill. The commercial forest thinning in which his company specializes focuses on meeting the needs of private landowners. Each job keeps Bill’s team on a jobsite for two months on average. He hires a contract hauler to move his equipment to jobsites on a lowboy.
Ninety percent of the wood fiber harvested is Douglas fir. The remaining 10 percent, generally from jobs near Mount St. Helens, is noble fir.
“We do metric export out of some,” said Bill. “We do chip and saw – saw two by four and then chip. We do pulp too.”
Again, it’s the mill receiving the wood fiber that takes care of the sorting. Logs are sold to mills by the ton.
Modern Thinning works within an 80-mile radius of its home base in Toutle, Wash. Toutle is part of Cowlitz County in the extreme southwest corner of the state. It lies approximately 10 miles east of Castle Rock.
“Our goal is to do a quality job,” said Bill. “It comes before anything. We’ve been in business 11 years and we’ve never advertised. [With so many] hours in the seat running machines, you just get more efficient.”
When a new machine gives a boost to efficiency, that’s a bonus. And the Ponsse ScorpionKing has boosted efficiency, said Bill.
“The Scorpion’s got an auto-lube on it,” said Bill. “You only have to grease the harvester head.”
The Ponsse ScorpionKing has seen approximately 50 hours of service each week since November. Originally, Bill considered adding a six-wheeled Ponsse Ergo to his roster. And he had a used Ponsse Ergo for a few months while waiting for the new eight-wheeled Ponsse ScorpionKing to be custom built and delivered. “It was a good machine,” he said of the Ergo.
Even so, Bill wanted a new harvester and he did not want to wait until an Ergo could be ready. So he decided to go with the Ponsse ScorpionKing, which proved to be an excellent machine for Modern Thinning.
“I love it and the guy who runs it loves it,” said Bill of the Ponsse ScorpionKing, which he runs occasionally. “The visibility, stability and horsepower…”
Moreover, the Ponsse harvester is an easy machine to get to know. “It is operator friendly,” said Bill. “It was productive on the first day.”
Then, there’s the quality of the ride in the Ponsse ScorpionKing. “It’s so smooth,” said Bill. “It runs so smooth through the woods – over stumps. It doesn’t bounce around. It’s like an air ride. It’s unreal how stable it is.”
Ergonomic benefits to the operator of the Ponsse ScorpionKing are mirrored by environmental benefits to the substrate. The Scorpion harvester moves about and accomplishes its work all while minimizing surface pressure.
Although there are many Ponsse owners in nearby Oregon, the addition of the Ponsse Scorpion to the equipment lineup at Modern Thinning resulted in a couple of firsts. “We got the first Ponsse machine in the state of Washington and the first Scorpion on the West Coast,” said Bill.
The ease of operation and the comfort of the ride in the Ponsse ScorpionKing are matched by its performance and the Ponsse team that stands by its equipment, said Bill. “The engineers and technicians [at Ponsse] know the machines inside and out. Even the salesmen do.”
Bill also appreciates the interest the Ponsse representatives take in his operation. “Every time they’re in the area, they stop out,” he said. The drop-in is a way for Ponsse representatives to make certain everything is running perfectly, as well as an opportunity to solicit feedback which is helpful in making refinements to equipment.
In purchasing his Ponsse machine, Bill worked with John Holmes, sales representative for Ponsse North America. “I actually flew out [to Wisconsin] and met Pekka [Ruuskanen], the president.”
Ponsse North America is a subsidiary of Ponsse Oyj., a publically traded company located in Vierema, Finland. Ponsse has more than 40 years of experience engineering and manufacturing cut-to-length equipment.
Modern Thinning is now served by Ponsse’s Coburg, Oregon branch, which opened in early 2015 and is managed by Jouni Viitikka. When Bill purchased the 2005 Ergo harvester, he spent a couple of weeks at the new facility with their only mechanic at the time, Steve Baker.
“It was clear then that this company was what we were looking for,” said Bill. “Knowing that Ponsse was new to Modern Thinning, they were informative and patient in teaching us all the different features of the Ponsse machine.”
With both the delivery of the Ergo and the ScorpionKing, Ponsse staff came out to the job site and worked with Bill and his employees until they were thoroughly comfortable with the machines and they were fine-tuned to their needs.
Bill appreciates the professionalism and efficiency of the Coburg, Oregon team and the pride they take in their work and their company. “We enjoy working with them and are looking forward to a great future with them for years to come,” he said.
Modern Thinning has two employees. “I work pretty much fulltime, too,” said Bill, referring to his commitment to running equipment at jobsites. Jo Rogge, Bill’s wife, also works in the business.
“Jo does all the books, picks up parts,” said Bill. “She’s got a background in accounting.”
Having worked as a budget analyst for 11 years, Jo enjoys using some of the same tools she used in another sector at Modern Thinning.
“What works for me and Bill is that we’re both doing what we love to do,” said Jo. “We have a good partnership. We talk about everything.”
Reshaping the business to meet prevailing conditions is something that Bill and Jo take seriously, explained Jo. “It’s not always better to be bigger,” she said. “One jobsite at a time is what works for us.”
Although Jo brought no firsthand logging experience to Modern Thinning, she did bring industry experience garnered from observing her father and grandfather. “My dad was a log-truck driver,” she explained. “His dad was a log-truck driver.”
When Jo’s father’s livelihood was affected by the spotted owl controversy in the early 1990s, he aimed to move to a different industry. “My dad went through a retraining program – in computers,” Jo said. He became successful in that industry. Ultimately, though, Jo’s father had the opportunity to follow his first passion – working in the logging industry – and he returned to driving a log truck.
“It takes strong nerves to be business partners,” said Bill of himself and Jo. “We went through the recession. We stuck together and worked seven days a week.”
Before Bill started Modern Thinning, he worked for his brother for several years. He did a lot of hand cutting.
“I started logging in 1993,” said Bill. “And then I got into the thinning and mechanical harvesting. I worked with my brother. Then, I went on my own. My dad was a logger, too.”
Today, Bill’s father, Ed Rogge, is technically retired from logging. But Ed has a new business venture in the wood products industry, Northwest Cedar Salvage in Concrete, Wash.
Ed buys and cuts old-growth cedar logs. Then, he uses a Wood-Mizer portable band mill to saw them. “He sells it as siding, decking, [and more],” said Bill. In fact, Bill has a storage shed, a picnic table and china hutch made from cedar boards sawn by Ed.
Bill is very happy with the professional path he has followed. “I like being out in the woods and then, meeting a lot of people in the industry – even competitors,” said Bill.
“We try to help each other out,” said Bill of competitors. If he is too busy to take a job, he will refer the prospective customer to another logger. There’s a lot of reciprocity between loggers, he explained. By helping one another out loggers create a synergistic energy that bolsters the entire industry.
When Bill and Jo get time away from Modern Thinning, they enjoy going to car shows and camping. “We’ve got a motor home,” said Bill. “We go on two-day trips.” Family activities also include involvement in sports, such as softball, that two teenage daughters play.