In the Woods, In the Dirt Ponsse Hosts Loggers at Equipment Demo, Off-Road Races

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Ponsse North America recently hosted nearly 400 Ponsse owners and operators along with trade media at a cut-to-length logging equipment demonstration in Crandon, Wisconsin. The June 24th demo was scheduled to coincide with The Off-Road Championship (TORC Series) races being held that weekend at the Crandon International Off-Road Raceway. TORC is an American national short course off-road racing series, featuring two and four-wheel-drive professional Trophy Trucks, along with a Pro Light Class. Rounds 5 and 6 of the series were held that weekend at the Crandon Raceway.

Crandon, Wisconsin saw its first off-road race back in 1970. The event, named the Brush Run 101, took drivers on a track through the woods that surrounded the small town. Since then the sport’s popularity has grown so significantly in the area that the fall World Championships Off-Road Races® are held in Crandon each Labor Day weekend and draw close to 50,000 fans. A spring event was added back in the 1980s to supplement the September race and support the growing enthusiasm for off-road racing. Held this year in late June, drivers raced in the 23rd annual Forest County Potawatomi Brush Run event at Crandon International Off-Road Raceway.

The Crandon Raceway, a 400-acre complex known also as “The Big House,” is the world’s largest off-road racing facility and boasts the longest, fastest short-course track anywhere, according to its website. Racers reach speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour as fans watch from grandstands or hilly areas that surround the track. The family-friendly venue is well-equipped to host the thousands of incoming race fans, with 2,500 grassy campsites, 300 miles of nearby ATV/UTV trails, and a newly developed off-road recreation park, as well as a fishing pond, golf driving range, trap shooting range, and a state-of-the-art Traxxas Radio Control race track.

Ponsse North America is no stranger to off-road racing and is a proud sponsor of a number of race teams that competed in this June’s Brush Run event. These racers are also cut-to-length loggers who run Ponsse machinery in their businesses. The Kleiman race team of Wilson, Michigan, sponsored by Ponsse and co-sponsored by a family of associate vendors including Eco-Track, Trelleborg, Klinner Insurance, Oregon, Wallingford’s and Exide Battery, run a Ponsse Ergo harvester and Elephant forwarder in their logging business. Ponsse also sponsors Meister Racing out of Hatley, Wisconsin. In the woods the Meisters run a Ponsse Scorpion King harvester, and a Buffalo forwarder. In addition, Ponsse sponsors logger Chad Hord from Felch, Michigan, employee Paul Hayward from Gladstone, Michigan, and thirteen year old Parker Retzlaff, who competes in a different dirt track division.

These loggers and others gathered prior to the races on Friday, June 24th, in a nearby hardwood stand to watch and discuss several Ponsse cut-to-length logging machines. Slated for the demo that weekend were a Ponsse Scorpion King, a Ponsse Ergo Harvester, and a Ponsse Buffalo King forwarder. In addition, a custom camo- Wisent forwarder was on site, the company’s Mossy Oak Hunter’s Edition. Industrial grinder manufacturer, Rotochopper, also had a team on site to demo its industrial remote controlled track grinder. Traction support vendors Olofsfors and Pewag were also there with information on their tracks and chains and to answer questions regarding their product lines.

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First up at the demo was Ponsse’s Scorpion King harvester. The company unveiled the harvester to the North American market back in August 2014, and to the global market the year before at the world’s largest international forestry show, Elmia Wood, in Sweden. The harvester has seen increasing interest within the cut-to-length industry, and there are now currently over 40 Scorpion King harvesters in operation in the United States. Touted by the company as “an office with a view,” the Scorpion King was designed with operator comfort and safety in mind. Commenting on the harvester, Scorpion King owner and operator Eli Ladwig stated, “Operator comfort, visibility, and machine stability are unmatched. There is just nothing else like it, there’s not another harvester in its class that compares!”

Eli is well acquainted with Ponsse logging equipment, and besides his Scorpion King, also owns two Ergo harvesters, a Buffalo forwarder, and an Elephant forwarder. Readers might remember Eli and his company, 4 Seasons Forest Products, when he was featured in TimberLine back in early 2014. Eli has worked regularly with Ponsse on equipment demos, and was an operator of the Scorpion King at the demo unveiling the harvester two years ago. In keeping with proper Wisconsin logger protocol, Eli chose that Ponsse event to propose to his girlfriend, Kelsey Fischer. She said, “Yes.” TimberLine had the honor of announcing the engagement to the industry.

I saw both Eli and Kelsey early on when I arrived at the Ponsse demo back on June 24th. Eli was finishing up his demonstration of the Scorpion King and was talking to other loggers about the machine. Kelsey who was standing nearby, informed me that she and Eli had been recently married, and that she had an interesting story regarding their wedding. I will get to that later, but for now I will continue with a few more thoughts on the uniquely designed harvester.

Driver-considered design might be a good phrase in highlighting a number of the features of the Scorpion King harvester. In keeping operator efficiency in focus, the engineers made significant improvements that help the driver maintain optimal productivity.

Driver stability was a priority in the 8-wheeled Scorpion King, and is accomplished by several design features. The harvester has a three-sectioned frame, linked together by rotating joints. The cabin on the center frame is hydraulically balanced, keeping level while the front and rear frames tilt and adjust according to the terrain. This keeps the pivot point as low as possible, minimizing tilting and keeping operator from swaying side to side. The patented stabilization system detects the direction and position of the crane, then presses the rear of the harvester in the direction of the work. This downward pressing of the rear wheels, along with the weight of the rear frame serve to stabilize the harvester when working on one side, even when the machine is moving.

Extensive glass in the cab, combined with a new crane design and positioning, maximize operator visibility and serve to help maintain increased productivity. Having extended visibility in all directions helps the driver easily see the trees to be felled on both sides of the cab, and plan the felling direction and piling positions of the processed logs. Unobstructed view makes for efficient cut-to-length log processing.

In addition to its highlighted Scorpion King harvester, Ponsse also demonstrated the capabilities of its Ergo harvester, operated by Grant Zelazoski of Enterprise Forest Products. Grant worked the hardwood stand in the Ergo alongside a Ponsse Buffalo King forwarder driven by Ponsse operator-trainer, Phil Kiefer. Later in the demo, the Buffalo King unloaded the hardwood logs into a Rotochopper B66T tracked grinder capable of handling the large wood.

The Rotochopper B-66T grinder, available with 700 to 950 horsepower, is designed with a transport dolly that allows the operator to switch from highway transport to jobsite mobility on crawler tracks within minutes. The tracked machine is controlled by wireless remote and has a recently enhanced feed opening of 36 inches high by 66 inches wide. In addition to logs and whole trees, the B-66T can grind pallets, wood chips, slabwood, and other feedstocks. For logging and land clearing contractors, the grinder is growing in popularity for producing colored landscape mulch, animal bedding, and other diverse products, as traditional fuel markets have slowed down in many regions. It is also available with a new chipper package for producing clean chips for playground cushion and fuel applications.

Equipment demos like this one provide opportunities for loggers to increase their understanding about industry machinery, to see it in action, and learn about the most up-to-date technological advancements. But events like this provide even more. There is a social dynamic that I noticed at this demo. I observed a sense of community among these loggers, even friendship. In interacting with members of Ponsse North America, they stated it directly.

“We appreciate our customers, they are like family to us,” commented Diana Olkowski, marketing director for the company. “We want them to feel like family.” That type of thing takes time and happens over numbers of events, sharing meals together, talking over a beer, sharing war stories, and maybe enjoying a little live music from time to time.

Ponsse North America has worked to make that happen over its 20 year history. But the philosophy is not unique to the U.S. or North America. Pekka Ruuskanen, President & CEO of Ponsse North America said, “It’s not just here that you see this sense of ‘Ponsse Family’ it’s like this all over the world.”

This “family” emphasis with Ponsse, which can include having a little fun, is well-illustrated by Kelsey’s wedding story that I mentioned earlier. In continued pursuit of his long-standing girlfriend, Eli Ladwig made sure Kelsey Fischer knew that a “Ponsse logger” was interested in her hand. Eli’s marriage proposal to Kelsey came back in August 2014 at Ponsse’s unveiling of the Scorpion King harvester to North America. He was an operator at that demo, and hid the engagement ring inside a log. With the help of a Scorpion King harvester, he presented that log, and with that log, the ring to Kelsey. I guess you could say it was Eli’s clever way of communicating, “This is who I am – can you marry a logger?”

Kelsey’s answer was yes back then, and she proved that she could marry a logger by saying “yes” once again at the altar in June. But before she did, Eli made sure she really understood by secretly planning with Pekka to have a brand new Ponsse Harvester deliver the rings to the ceremony. Those in attendance were very surprised to see a Ponsse Ergo harvester coming around the corner of a building during the outdoor service. The harvester conveyed the rings to the ring bearers, and the ring bearers presented them to the bride and groom. In a very unique Ponsse-logging-kind-of- way, Eli and Kelsey became husband and wife on June 4, 2016 at Grand Superior Lodge in Two Harbors, Minnesota.

I asked Kelsey what it is like being married to man so committed to his logging profession. She answered, “It’s a way of life. It defines who we are. It takes patience, encouragement and love. When I see him creating something larger than himself, I couldn’t be any prouder to call him my husband and best friend.”

Ponsse has been working to build this sense of community among its customer base over the last 20 years in North America. The idea is, along with equipment demonstrations and training, to provide social contexts that afford Ponsse loggers the opportunity to talk and get to know one another. Along the way, a sense of Ponsse pride and community is developed. The company has on average hosted these types of events at least once per year over the last two decades. Though the off-road races in Crandon were a new venue for Ponsse, the historic hospitality known by its customers was demonstrated once again.

Loggers enjoyed a delicious catered barbecue lunch under a tent on site at the equipment demo. Later that evening, Ponsse provided dinner and drinks, along with live music from the band Spicy Tie out of Wausau, Wisconsin. Pekka Ruuskanen, concluded the party that evening with a burnout on his Harley Davidson that had sat idle all night in front of the stage.

Using Pekka’s own words to sum up the day, “Work hard, play hard!” Of course, there was more fun to be had at the races that weekend, and tickets to loggers were just another part of Ponsse’s hospitality package. Diana summed it up, “When it comes to letting our customers know that we appreciate them, we don’t just talk about it, we do it.”