Michigan Logger Knows Value Of Doing Quality Work: It Pays

Shade Tree Logging Adds a Second C-T-L Crew with Two More PONSSE Machines
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FIFE LAKE, Michigan — Dennis Bridson knows the importance of doing quality work in the logging industry. And he knows that quality work pays off: it gives him a reputation, the kind of reputation that mills and foresters seek for timber harvesting operations.

He’s building on that and growing his cut-to-length logging company, Shade Tree Logging, by adding another crew with two more PONSSE machines.

Dennis grew up in Fife Lake in northern Michigan (Fife Lake is in the northern part of the Lower Peninsula), where he still makes his home. Fife Lake is about 37 miles west of Grayling, which is situated along the I-75 corridor.

Dennis, 45, has worked in logging since graduating from high school. His father, Dennis Bridson Sr., was a farmer, raising beef cattle and feeder pigs, and supplemented his farm income by logging for other people in the region. He and his father formed Shade Tree Logging when Dennis was only about 20.

His father retired about 18 months ago. Shade Tree Logging now employs Dennis and four others, including his son, Devin, 23.

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They started the business in 1993 with an Iron Mule skidder and Husqvarna chainsaws. In the fall of 1997 they received their first semi, a 1998 Peterbilt, and transport log truck and started trucking as well.

The company now is equipped with two pairs of PONSSE cut-to-length logging machines — two 8-wheel Ergo harvesters with PONSSE H8 heads, and two eightwheel Buffalo double-bunk forwarders. The newest Buffalo features PONSSE ActiveFrame suspension technology. He also has an old Fabtek forwarder that he keeps as a spare machine. Dennis normally operates one harvester, and his son operates a forwarder.

Dennis buys some standing timber, but he mainly contracts to harvest timber that has been purchased by sawmills or other companies. He provides harvesting and hauling. Most of the work is on private land although occasionally some mills buy timber on state forests.

Most of the forests in the region are about 80 percent hardwood and 20 percent softwood, although some landowners have been growing plantations of red pine. The dominant hardwood species are hard maple and soft maple, and others include cherry, bass wood, aspen, and poplar.

The terrain ranges from flat to “pretty steep,” said Dennis. At the time he was interviewed, he was working on a job with fairly steep grades. About 80 percent of the harvest was saw logs and 20 percent pulp wood, although most jobs tend to average about 75 percent saw logs and 25 percent pulp.

Dennis transitioned to cut-to-length logging machines in 2005. It was just him and his father at the time. “That’s the way everything was going,” he said. Fuel costs were escalating, and work was slowing down at the same time.

When trees are processed at the stump, two cut-to-length machines, a harvester and forwarder, can do everything from felling to loading logs onto a truck. Mechanical treelength logging requires a machine for felling, one or more skidders, plus one or more machines for processing the logs and loading them.

It was a good decision, in retrospect, he believes. “Jobs are getting smaller,” said Dennis. “It’s easier…It’s more economical to work this way.”

He bought his first PONSSE machine, a harvester, in 2015. PONSSE wheeled harvesters are “a lot smoother” compared to the track machines he previously owned, said Dennis. He was referring both to the smooth ride and also the smooth operation of the hydraulics. “They’re a little faster as far as cutting timber,” he added, and the newer models are more ‘user friendly.’

The H8 heads are rated to fell timber up to about 30 inches in diameter. Dennis and his crews typically work in stands with trees that range from 6 inches to 20 inches in diameter. “A lot of hardwood is 14 to 20 inches,” he said.

When he decided to invest in a PONSSE machine, the company demonstrated a machine, and Dennis took a hand at the controls. “I was impressed,” he said. His previous cut-to-length harvester was a track machine.

“I like the machines,” said Dennis. “The cab has a lot more room in them.” Price was a factor, too.

Ponsse, based in Finland, manufactures cut-to-length logging harvesters, forwarders, and harvester heads and cranes and loaders for a range of applications, from thinning small diameter trees to final harvest of big timber.

The PONSSE Ergo 8w (eight wheels) is a mid-range harvester featuring upgraded frames, hydraulics, transmission, operator cab, and crane. It is suited for demanding harvesting conditions and steep slopes. The Ergo is powered by a Tier 4 Mercedes Benz engine delivering 286 hp for excellent performance and fuel economy.

The PONSSE H8 harvester head, featuring the PONSSE Opti control system, is designed for a carrier in the range of 20-30 tons and has a feed speed of more than 16 feet per second. Maximum cut diameter is almost 30 inches.

The PONSSE Buffalo is an eight wheel forwarder with upgraded structure, engine performance and tractive force, and cabin. It has a load-bearing capacity of 14 tons with regular bogie tracks and up to 15 tons with balanced bogie tracks.

PONSSE ActiveFrame is a cabin suspension system available for 8-wheel harvesters or forwarders (PONSSE ActiveFrame is available for PONSSE Ergo, Buffalo, Elephant and ElephantKIng). It has a simple and functional structure, hydraulically suspending any sideways movement directed at the operator effectively and unnoticeably. It provides a smoother driving and operating experience, allowing the operator to use higher speeds, and also enhances operator comfort, reducing fatigue.

(For more information on Ponsse and its product line, visit www.ponsse.com or call its North American headquarters in Wisconsin, at (715) 369-4833.)

Dennis also has liked dealing with Ponsse representatives. “They’re more personable,” he said, and noticeably different than dealing with companies that have a more corporate culture.

Ponsse support “is just better as far as I’m concerned,” he added.

Dennis singled out Ponsse trainer Steve McNeil. “He’s just a great guy. He does a lot for me as far as the technical setup of the machines.” Steve has made several trips to get new machines set up properly and train employees, and also has provided technical assistance over the phone. “Steve knows his stuff,” added Dennis. “He can talk me through just about anything over the phone.”

Ponsse has a dealership in Gaylord, only about an hour away. It opened in 2005, and since then the company built a new facility in 2016. Having a dealership that close is an advantage, noted Dennis. “You need parts and service, definitely.”

Dennis added his first Buffalo forwarder near the end of 2016. He bought the next pair of PONSSE machines, one at the end of 2017 and the other in January of this year. He made the decision to add two machines in conjunction with deciding to expand his business and add a couple of more employees.

Dennis purchased machines with Tier 3 Mercedes engines. The Tier 4 engines were “something I didn’t want to have to deal with,” he explained. Tier 4 engines comply with more stringent regulations for emissions and require additional technology and the use of diesel exhaust fluid, he noted.

His employees are happy with the machines. One man had experience operating a variety of other equipment. “There are a lot of features he likes about it,” said Dennis, compared to other brands. “The stability, and it’s got more power for the head and the crane.”

Dennis uses Eco-Tracks bogie tracks on all four machines. “We use them currently because of the hilly terrain,” he said. In addition, the company is working in big timber. The bogie tracks enable the machines to maneuver more effectively both up and down the hills and also add stability. The machines normally are equipped with the bogie tracks in wetter seasons — fall and spring, and deep snow in winter.

Dennis does his own trucking too. He has a pair of Kenworth semi-tractors, a selfloader truck, another log trailer, and a lowboy trailer for moving equipment. In fact, although he normally operates a harvester, recently he has spent more time behind the wheel, hauling logs.

Dennis and his crews usually do select cuts. Following a forester’s plan in hardwood stands, for example, they cut a mixture of pulp and saw logs, leaving a variety of timber for the future and — by culling some trees — creating better space to allow the residual trees to flourish and grow. In red pine plantations, they may be contracted to perform third row thinning.

The harvesters also are used to cut the slash material and place it in front of the machines. It creates a mat, reducing ground disturbance. As the slash is crushed by the weight of the machines, it helps it to break down and decompose, returning nutrients to the soil.

Hardwood grade and veneer logs are usually specified by mills to be bucked to lengths of 8, 10, or 12 feet and diameter ranging from 20 inches down to 10 inches. Pine saw logs usually go to Biewer Lumber, which has a sawmill in McBain and and one in Lake City.They are expanding their McBain facility. The company makes framing lumber and other softwood lumber products.

Since sawmills only want the grade or veneer logs, Dennis markets the pulp wood. Two steady customers for pulp wood are the Weyerhaeuser oriented strand board mill in Grayling and the Packaging Corporation of America mill in Manistee.

Markets tightened in the spring, but there are good signs on the horizon. Weyerhaeuser’s mill is down several months for maintenance, but the company is in the process of installing a new press to produce oriented strand board. In addition, Arauco, a company based in Chile, is building a particleboard mill across the street from Weyerhaeuser. Those two developments will improve markets going forward. “That’s going to make for high demand for product going into the fall,” said Dennis. “Things should be interesting.”

Dennis is a member of the Michigan Association of Timbermen. He still raises a few beef cattle and grows hay. He also manages some wildlife plots on the family’s property.

In his spare time he enjoys deer hunting and shooting sporting clays; he and a couple employees go to a sporting clay range once a week, sometimes twice. He also has made hunting trips out West and is planning an elk hunt to Colorado in the fall.

In the early years, he and his father did a lot of work for Frank Blake of Blake Forest Products. They contracted to harvest timber for Blake and also hauled a lot of wood for the company.

He has participated in some of the events Ponsse hosts for customers, such as the customer appreciation event at the Lake States Logging Congress & Equipment Expo In Wisconsin and the summer customer event Ponsse hosts near the Crandon Off-Road International Raceway in Crandon, Wisconsin.

The crews of Shade Tree Logging sometimes work on the same tract, sometimes on different jobs. They aim to produce about 20 loads per week.

“We’re not all about production,” said Dennis. “We’re all about quality. “

By quality, he meant both delivered wood products and the job site. The landowners and foresters are pleased because his crews minimize damage to the residual stand, and Dennis and his employees utilize as much of the tree as possible.

“That’s why the mills contact me because we’ve done years and years of quality work,” said Dennis. “They call me, wanting to know if I do can the job. I get a lot of repeat business because we do quality work.”