IRON RIVER, Michigan — One strong bond leads to another. And that’s a good thing for family, friend and business ties. Ted Benson, owner/operator of Low Impact Logging, Inc., is a man who appreciates a strong bond. His son Josh Benson, owner/operator of Quality Harvesting, typically works with him on jobs; son Tyge Benson works for him.
When Ted started his own logging company in 1997, he did so with a used Ponsse machine. By May 1998, he had purchased a new Ponsse Cobra harvester. Not only has he stayed with Ponsse, but that Ponsse Cobra would become another link between him and Josh.
“The very first harvester my father bought, I ran it quite a while for him,” said Josh. “He traded it in, and it had two other owners. When I went into business for myself, I bought it.”
Reflecting on the history of the fatherto- son Ponsse Cobra, Josh and Ted note the durability in the machine, as well as the commitment of Ponsse to refurbishing machines. Eleven years after Josh launched his own company, another Ponsse machine, the prototype of the Ponsse Ergo ActiveFrame eight-wheel harvester would link father and son in an interesting way: deciding who would get the machine.
Ted would seem to have priority because he had urged Ponsse to make the harvester. “When the first ActiveFrame Buffalo came out, I called the guys in Finland and told them I wanted an eight-wheel ActiveFrame Ergo,” he explained. “It took a few years [to develop]. My son wanted one too.”
Ponsse is headquartered in Finland. Its subsidiary Ponsse North America, Inc., under the direction of Pekka Ruuskanen, is located in Rhinelander, Wisconsin.
When the Ponsse Ergo ActiveFrame harvester was ready, there was a choice to make. “Pekka said they would only send us one,” explained Ted. “He said we would have to duke it out.”
Josh notes the duke anecdote is his father’s way of being self-effacing about his generosity. His father made sure he got the first machine.
“That’s my father giving up for his children,” said Josh. “My father and my grandfather, they taught me everything I know.”
When we spoke with Josh in early April, he was harvesting in large hardwood – maple, birch and ash, with the Ponsse Ergo ActiveFrame. He gives the machine high marks. “I appreciate the stability of it, the comfort of it, the ground clearance,” he said.
Ted took delivery of a Ponsse Ergo ActiveFrame harvester in early February. He, too, is very happy with the machine. “I wanted the eight wheels because we can track it on both ends,” he explained.
The side-to-side leveling provided by the Ponsse ActiveFrame design is especially helpful when Ted’s team tackles work in places with a rocky substrate, the quintessential uneven terrain made so by the glaciers that once cut through the bedrock of the region. Low Impact Logging and Quality Harvesting are both based in Iron River, Michigan.
Part of Iron County in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Iron River has a population of 3,000. The nine-person team at Ted’s company generally works jobs under 100 miles from Iron River. Almost all trucking is contracted out.
“We buy state, federal and private [timber],” said Ted. “I have a contract crew for Weyerhaeuser, for Jordan Triest – Triest Forest Products, and Louisiana Pacific. We’re busy all the time.”
Ted currently owns six Ponsse machines, the eight-wheel ActiveFrame Ergo, three six-wheel Ergo harvesters, a Buffalo forwarder and an Elephant forwarder. In addition to his ActiveFrame Ergo, Josh owns a Buffalo forwarder.
The Ponsse forwarders Ted and Josh own do not have ActiveFrame technology. The reason is simple, said Ted. “Ponsse won’t put a blade on” a forwarder with ActiveFrame. The blade is something their operations need. “We sometimes push trucks with it to get them started.”
The switch from tree-length to cut-tolength in Ted’s region is a transition he helped advance. “We were the first ones to cut the wood [using mechanized methods],” he explained. “No one wanted to cut with a harvester” He was able to persuade the former Meade company to let him try, reminding the company it would still get its wood.
Ted’s initiative in the region follows on that of his father. “My dad was the first one who ever cut wood with a slasher.” That was in 1975.
Since the inception of his company, Ted has owned 29 different Ponsse machines. Josh has owned six.
Ted has been in the logging industry for 46 years. He learned to use a chain saw when he was nine years old. After learning to log working for his father’s company, Ted started a trucking company in 1972. He quit trucking and went back to logging after 24 years because trucking kept him away from home and his wife and three children too much.
When Ted’s father retired from logging in 2000, Ted stopped doing long wood. The early years at his own company were ones of adapting machines to their environment. He explained that the early cut-to-length machines were adept at softwood, but hardwood was a different matter. “All that hardwood that we cut, we adapted the machine.” “We haven’t had a chain saw on a job in 27 years,” said Ted. “I don’t want a power saw on the job.”
Cornel ‘Bern’ Benson is 82 years old. He and Ted’s mother, Pauline ‘Bill’ Benson, run parts for Ted and Josh every day. The first trip that Ted made to the headquarters of Ponsse in Finland in 1998 was with Bern. He has since made another trip there with Josh and Tyge.
Ted’s grandfather logged and farmed. And he welcomes all that he learned from his father and grandfather.
“We go into the woods where the wood isn’t very good and make the stand better,” said Ted. By selectively cutting and allowing new trees to grow beyond seedlings, forested land is replenished.
Ted notes that he has been an observer and a participant in cutting on the same U.S. Forest Service tract three times – first as a child (observer), then as a participant (in 1990) and recently as an observer (of another company’s job). He is a firm advocate of the value of managed forests.
Being able to put tracks on wheeled machines and move the machines over moraine, snow and spring mud is significant, said Ted. “It used to be in the spring of the year we couldn’t work, but now we can.”
“The Ponsse Bear is the only machine that works better climbing” up steep slopes than the ActiveFrame Ergo, said Ted. It has a great deal of power. He had a Ponsse Bear for over two years, but it was more machine than he needed most of the time.
“We work in all kinds of wood,” said Ted. “Softwood is something that goes through the head. Cutting hardwood with a harvester is an art. You have to have a plan for every tree, especially with a dangle head [because of the canopy].”
Ted has given demonstrations of Ponsse machines in the United States and Canada, something he very much enjoys. “Ponsse is a really good company,” he said. “They have parts, service” when they are needed. Salesmen from Ponsse often stop by just to see how things are going and learn more about what might be made better in future iterations.
“They are really hands-on with customers,” said Josh about Ponsse. “It’s a more personal relationship.”
Josh introduced Pekka of Ponsse to a former classmate, Nick Baumgartner, who competed as a snowboarder in three Winter Olympics, the most recent in February 2018. As a result of the meeting, a relationship developed and Ponsse became an Olympic sponsor of Nick.
Ted said that his father and grandfather instilled him with the philosophy that guides him. “Do whatever needs to be done every day,” he said. “Grandpa told me that any job worth doing is worth doing well. Then, you can sleep at night.”
A member of the Michigan Association of Timberman (MAT), Ted likes to travel to trade shows to interact with colleagues and vendors. People together with machines in the real world – instead of the virtual one – provide for some serious exchange of ideas.
Ponsse is putting a new twist on interaction with its Ponsse Road Tour (in conjunction with Chadwick-Baross, its full-line dealer) in May, June and July. The Ponsse eight-wheel ActiveFrame Ergo (with a C5 crane and H8 harvester head) and the Ponsse eight-wheel ActiveFrame Buffalo (with K100 crane, tiltable crane base and balanced bogies) will be featured at locations spanning an area from Vermont to Wisconsin.
Ted relishes his work. “I don’t have a job,” he said. “I have a place I go every day.” It’s that gratifying a profession. He said only his daughter (a character actor at a theme park in Orlando, Fla.) coming home and joining the business could make things better.