Michigan Logger Takes Different Approach to Harvesting Hardwoods

- Advertisement -

IRON RIVER, Michigan — You might say Ron Shamion Jr. became a believer in the Tigercat brand of forestry equipment about eight years ago, except the timing wasn’t right.

The timing was right in September, when his logging business, R&R Shamion Trucking, invested in a new Tigercat 822D feller buncher.

Tigercat arranged to demo a Tigercat 822C track machine with a Log Max harvesting head and a Tigercat forwarder at one of his jobs around 2009. Ron put both machines through their paces, and his father, Ron Sr., gave the forwarder a try-out.

Ron was suitably impressed with the performance of the machines, particularly the track harvester. “We liked how it worked very well,” he recalled.

However, the closest Tigercat dealer at the time was located in Duluth, Minnesota, nearly 200 miles away. “That was kind of a turn-off for service for us,” said Ron. If there had been a Tigercat dealer closer, he probably would have bought those machines eight years ago, he indicated.

- Advertisement -

Ron and his company are based in Iron River, Michigan. Iron River is located in the western portion of the Upper Peninsula. It is about 90 miles west and slightly north of Escanaba, site of the annual Great Lakes Logging & Heavy Equipment Expo, and only about 5 miles north of the state line with Wisconsin.

Now, Ron has a Tigercat dealer right in his back yard. Tigercat named Woodland Equipment a dealer in October 2016, strengthening its dealership network in the Great Lakes Region. Woodland Equipment, also located in Iron River, serves loggers in northern Wisconsin as well as both Michigan peninsulas. Woodland Equipment additionally represents TimberPro logging equipment as well as Log Max, Risley, Quadco, and Kesla forestry attachments.

Ron decided to replace a track feller buncher in September and chose the Tigercat 822D, which he purchased from Woodland Equipment. The Tigercat feller buncher is equipped with a Tigercat 5702 felling saw, which has a maximum cutting capacity of 23 inches.

Ron, 40, grew up in the Iron River area. His father and his father’s two brothers operated a logging business together, and Ron worked for them since he was a teenager until age 22, when he bought his first logging truck. He did trucking for about a year and a half, then bought a harvester and began doing custom cutting for a contractor. About a year later he added a forwarder and begin contracting his services to International Paper. He has been in the logging business ever since, and his father decided to join him in their R&R Shamion Trucking partnership in 2007.

The company usually works on jobs within about 90 miles of Iron River. The region’s terrain varies from flat land to slopes as steep as 35 degrees. The forests in the region are predominantly hardwood — about 85 percent, Ron estimated. The main species is sugar maple, and there is plenty of aspen. There are mixed species of softwoods. Most of the region to the immediate west of Iron River is taken up by the Ottawa National Forest and the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest is south in nearby Wisconsin.

Ron works for some well-known names in the forest products industry — Verso, Potlatch, and Louisiana-Pacific. Verso operates a paper mill in the region, Potlatch, a stud mill, and L-P, a chipboard plant. He also supplies wood to a couple of other mills, Bessemer Plywood Corp., which manufactures plywood, and Northern Hardwoods, which operates a sawmill. About 70 percent of the company’s production is short length pulpwood.

The company does custom harvesting for Northern Hardwoods. (Northern Hardwoods is owned by Longyear, a natural resource company based in Marquette and one of the oldest lumber businesses on the Upper Peninsula.)

About 75% of the company’s production is timber purchased by the mills, which contract with Ron for harvesting; some of the jobs are timber sales on the national forests. The remaining 25 percent of production is on private land on which Ron buys the timber.

Most of the mills Ron does business with are located on the Upper Peninsula. He also supplies a small volume of his production to mills in Wisconsin.

Ron rents a shop from a trucking company in Iron River and maintains an office in his home. Including Ron and his father, the company has eight employees; one is a full-time truck driver and one man operates earth moving equipment to build logging roads.

The company has a mixed fleet of heavy equipment for logging and road building. “For our road building machinery, we prefer Cat,” said Ron. The company relies on a Cat D5H dozer and a Cat 320E excavator. The road-building crew works ahead, getting the road and landings built for the next job and even the next two jobs.

In addition to the Tigercat feller buncher, Ron’s company is equipped with a John Deere 703JH track harvester with a Waratah 622B processing head, a John Deere 1410D forwarder, and a John Deere 648H grapple skidder. The final piece of forestry equipment is a Barko slasher system, which consists of a Barko log loader mounted on an International 4300 truck with a 60-inch circle saw for bucking logs to 8-foot lengths. The harvester is operated day and night, so there are two employees for that machine. The company also employs a couple of men with chainsaws who work at the landing, topping logs and removing limbs so the slasher system can cut them to length.

The company’s forestry crew normally works on the same job. Ron, operating the new Tigercat 822D, does all the felling. He picks out the big timber and lays it down in bunches for the skidder, and lays down bunches of smaller trees for the harvester. If the felling operations get way ahead, they can run the forwarder — operated by Ron’s father — for two shifts to catch up.

Ron essentially cuts timber for three crews: the harvester that follows him, plus the skidder and slasher system, and the man who operates the harvester on the night shift.

Ron’s way of operating probably is different from many other loggers. “The harvester never cuts at the stump,” he noted, only processes the wood on the ground. The approach allows the harvester to work more productively, he suggested. The night operator can follow the trails and process the wood on the ground instead of searching for timber. “We’ve been operating that way about 14 years,” said Ron.

The company produces from 80-130 cords of wood per day, some days up to 150. The harvester produces about 50 cords of wood per shift, and the skidder and slasher crew, about 40-50. “If we average 125, 130, we’re happy,” said Ron.

The logging slash is used in some cases to line paths the equipment takes. Crushed beneath the weight of the skidder or forwarder, the material will break down and decompose more readily.

The full-time truck driver hauls about half their loads with the company’s Peterbilt semi-tractor, and Ron contracts with two other drivers to haul the rest of the company’s production.

Ron has been more than favorably impressed with his new Tigercat 822D. “I like how smooth it is to operate,” he said, “how easy it is to work on.” The entire machine can be greased while it is in one position, he noted. The operator’s cab is very quiet, he added.

Perhaps what’s been most noticeable is the machine’s performance. “The tractive effort…the tractive power is just unbelievable,” said Ron. “I can lift anything. It’s just unbelievable.”

The Tigercat is twice, even three times more productive than the previous feller buncher he used. “It’s just unreal,” said Ron. “It’s just crazy. That’s why I’m cutting for two shifts for the harvester.”

The folks at Woodland Equipment did not tell him he could expect such an increase, noted Ron. “I think they were surprised at how well I caught on to it and how much I’m cutting.”

The Tigercat is a significantly more powerful machine than the predecessor machine Ron operated. The Tigercat 822D is powered by a 282 hp Tier 4 Final engine; the earlier machine had a 108 hp engine.

The hydraulics respond fluidly to the controls, said Ron. “They have the power to weight ratio dialed right in. It’s super stable,” he said.

The Tigercat 822D is averaging about 5.7 gallons of fuel per hour, according to Ron, a figure he knows from an electronic read-out of fuel consumption.

With operations at 10 facilities in Southern Ontario, Tigercat manufactures a full line of forestry machines for both cut-to-length and tree length timber harvesting. The Tigercat product line includes drive-to-tree feller bunchers, track harvesters and track feller bunchers, wheel harvesters, loggers, which can be used for various applications, and skidders, forwarders, and loaders. The company also manufactures forestry heads for felling, harvesting, and mulching, mulching machines and utility equipment.

Woodland Equipment offers new and used processors, feller bunchers, forwarders, skidders, forestry mulchers, and a wide selection of forestry heads. It also offers the Woodland Computer System, an operator-friendly system for cut-to-length logging operations. The company provides full service and support to its logging customers.

Markets have been tight in the region in recent years, but Ron’s company has been fortunate to have plenty of work. “We basically never really slow down,” he said.

The recession that followed the 2009-10 economic collapse was difficult, admitted Ron. “It was a rough stretch,” he said for five to seven years. The mills put loggers on quotas. He sold two machines as he scaled back his operations and his company. Business began to pick up again last year.

Mill prices are down across the board. However, the region experienced an unusually wet summer, noted Ron. The past summer was the wettest in about 18 years, he estimated. “Every third day, it would rain,” rain for about a day. Consequently, with conditions as wet as they were and the ground softened by the moisture, the company lost a lot of time.

“If we have a wet fall, I think it’s going to be wide open, and we’re going to see prices come up,” said Ron.

Ron is a member of the Michigan Association of Timbermen and the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association. His company provides a group health insurance plan, paid holidays, and paid vacation.

In his free time, Ron’s favorite activities in winter are snowmobiling and ice fishing. He also enjoys hunting deer and grouse, and he likes to cook, particularly grilling. He keeps a boat on nearby Sunset Lake, too.

Ron’s company runs a neat, clean-looking job. The landings are neat and organized with stacks of logs, and the roads are well-built and maintained.

“We always do a quality job,” said Ron. “We’re known for our sorting…getting the most out of the material we’re working with.”

(For more information about Tigercat or Tigercat forestry equipment, visit www.tigercat.com, email comments@tigercat.com, or call (519) 753-2000. For information about Woodland Equipment and its product lines, visit www.woodlandequipment.com or call 800-825-9904.)