Innovative log-salvaging company relies on strength and compactness of attachments from Hahn Machinery.
EVERGREEN, Colorado – Inspiration meets symmetry. That sums up the glow one takes away from getting to know T.W. Forest Products, which is owned by Allen Steppler.
“We are a low-impact logging company,” explained Allen. “We salvage absolutely everything that’s merchantable.”
Allen started T.W. Forest Products (henceforth, TW) in 1982. He and his granddaughter, Melissa Parkins, run the equipment. Melissa works alongside Allen, as his grandmother once did – symmetry, part one.
Now, here’s part two of the symmetry – and the first of many parts inspiration. The approach that Allen takes to ensuring wood fiber meets its full potential derives from some guiding words given to him by his maternal grandmother.
Allen’s grandmother, Ethel Carter, was born to a family of Kansas homesteaders in the 1880s. Later in life, she made her home in Arkansas, Florida and Colorado – spending four months of the year with each of her three daughters. When she was in Colorado, she helped Allen in the woods.
One day, Ethel admonished Allen. “I was going to leave a large limb,” he explained. “She said, waste not, want not.” She reminded him that she had to collect buffalo chips for fuel when she was a girl in the Sunflower State. It’s a philosophy of economy Allen takes to heart.
Even a crooked, gnarly branch is valuable. Allen has been producing firewood from such wood fiber since the inception of his company. “We used to do it all by hand – buck with a chain saw, hand split it,” he said.
In 2015, Allen bought a HFP160 Firewood Pro processing attachment from Hahn Machinery, Inc. in Two Harbors, Minn. It was not his first firewood processor. “I built one way back when,” he said.
The firewood component of TW varies between 10-15% of business each year. “The only reason we make firewood is if we can’t make some other product that has a higher value,” said Allen. “Last year, we did about 300 cords. This year we’re about half that.”
There were several reasons why Allen chose the Hahn HFP160 Firewood Pro. Performance topped the list. “I wanted something so I didn’t have to handle the wood any more than necessary,” he explained. “We have a large loader bucket – holds about 100 cubic feet — that I built. When it’s filled, it’s dumped into a truck.” The firewood is sold loose to customers.
All firewood processing is done at job sites. The mitigation work TW does – clearing dead and dying trees, creating firebreaks, improving wildlife habitats, etc. – demands the smallest and lightest footprints. Yet equipment must be tough and versatile; TW often works on slopes to 45 percent.
Allen has assembled an equipment roster of machines that are compact but large enough to do the job. The carrier for the Hahn HFP160 Firewood Pro and a Hahn HSG160 harvester head is a Case XT95 skid steer with the traditional rubber tires. One other Case XT95 skid steer is equipped with a dedicated steel track system, which may be coupled with a tree shearer or a skidding grapple or fitted with a bucket to dig dirt.
The Case XT95 with the tracks was modified by Allen specifically for the tree sheer and the skid grapple. “I built the track system in 2006, using Berco of America track components” said Allen. After he ran the prototype for seven years, the design became part of the Berco of America line and he now runs on Berco tracks.
Saw logs and corral poles are main products from TW’s salvage efforts and thinning projects. Most of the remaining fiber – or that above 3.5” goes to firewood. Tops and brush are fed to a Morbark Hurricane 2400 XL wood chipper, which Allen modified.
Allen built a trough that feeds the Morbark, chips are blown into a dump trailer. Chips are sold for ground cover at equestrian centers.
TW handles transport of all products and equipment with two Dodge trucks. The Dodge 5500 is a manual and the Dodge 4500 has an automatic transmission. Allen favors driving the former and Melissa prefers driving the latter.
The ease with which the Hahn equipment allows the two-person team to do business is another of the many reasons Allen chose it. Changeovers between the Hahn HFP160 and the HSG160 on the skid steer carrier takes about three minutes, he said. The hydraulic attachment locks on the skid steer speed the process of coupling. Connect three hydraulic hoses and the electric cables and it’s done.
When Allen purchased his first Hahn HSG160 more than 15 years ago, he may have registered a first. “As far as I know I am the only one gutsy enough to mount it on a skid steer,” he said, adding the head weighs about 2500 pounds.
Allen has a no-nonsense approach to equipment. “If I see a need for equipment,” he said. “If it’s not there to purchase, I will just build it, or will buy something close and modify it.” He has his own fabrication shop.
Gary Olsen, owner of Hahn Machinery, has worked with Allen across many years. “I think he was one of the first to put [an HSG160] on a skid steer,” he said of Allen, whom he describes as “a real innovator.”
Allen watches developments in equipment closely, said Gary. “He is a firm believer in skid loaders.”
The Hahn HFP160 Firewood Pro can be attached to a skid steer loader, a compact track or wheel loader or an excavator. The key for the skid loader is having enough horsepower – 95 horsepower at minimum, explained Gary.
Whichever carrier an owner chooses, the Hahn processor saves time and steps at every juncture. That’s because it can pick up a log, cut it into lengths up to 20” (with 28” option available), split it and then, use the mobility of the carrier to deposit the pieces into trailers, trucks, bins — or into a loader bucket as Allen does.
“Allen is very similar to most of our customers,” said Gary. “We get to know them.” And with the reliability built into Hahn machines, rendering help is both a pleasure and most typically not difficult. “We can solve 95 percent of problems over the telephone.”
Both the tracts on which TW works and the customers TW serves are generally within a 50-mile radius of its home base in Evergreen, Colorado, which lies 35 miles west of Denver at an elevation of 7220 feet. The town is part of Jefferson County. It has 9038 residents.
“We work primarily in lodgepole pine,” said Allen. “Sometimes we get into Douglas fir and spruce. A lot of the stands we have worked on are mixed.” In such mixed stands, taking out lodgepole and leaving viable Douglas fir is an important component of fostering a healthy landscape. And that task benefits from compact equipment.
“The Case is slightly less than eight-feet wide,” said Allen. “It’s very maneuverable.” Being able to use the skid steer as a carrier for the Hahn HFP160 and the Hahn HSG160 adds to good outcomes.
“I really like working on a project that when it’s finished, everyone is happy,” said Allen. TW works on federal, state, and private lands, and in doing so works closely with foresters from the Colorado State Forest Service. When we spoke with Allen in early December, he was working on a job for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
Occasionally Allen must use a chain saw. His choice has always been Jonsered.
Prior to launching T.W. Forest Products, Allen worked as the woods boss for Kaibab Industries in Eagle, Colo. In that earlier position, he had his first experience with Hahn Machinery when two Hahn HTL300 delimbers were purchased.
When the Kaibab sawmill in Eagle closed in 1978, Allen needed work. He began cutting fence posts – a one-person operation – relying on a chain saw and a pickup. The path was familiar because it mirrored one he had taken after leaving the Air Force (in electronics) and before joining Kaibab.
Allen’s first forest stint, prior to working at Kaibab, hooked him forever on the timber industry. “I discovered I liked being in the great outdoors,” he said. After just one year as a timber faller at Kaibab, he got the position of woods boss.
What about the ‘T’ and ‘W’ in T.W. Forest Products? They come from earlier days. “Eons ago, everyone had a CB radio, a CB handle,” explained Allen. “I was timber wolf.”
Working long days, seven days a week, Allen still finds time for a passion outside the realm of the forest. He has his own film production company – a one-man shop. “I film it. I write it. I edit it.”
Allen’s historic documentaries have aired on Public Broadcasting Service. Many of the documentaries focus on railroads, particularly how the railroads contributed to commerce, industry and settlements. “Black Smoke, Blue Sky” and “Iron Horse Steel Men” are among the titles.
Genealogical research, a natural tie-in to making historical films, also engages Allen. Some of his discoveries include Native American heritage, relatives that fought alongside George Washington in the Revolutionary War, and relatives who were some of the first Mormons to settle Utah