Efforts to Expand, Diversify Pay Off for Company in Pennsylvania

Metzler Forest Products Adds Cat Forest Machines for Land-Clearing Tasks

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REEDSVILLE, Pennsylvania —

Metzler Forest Products has been reaping the rewards from diversifying and expanding their business a few years ago, and the company is poised for more.

Meanwhile, the company’s land-clearing division has continued to be an important leg of the business, and new Cat Forest Machines have been helping the crew get the work done.

The business is headed by Alan Metzler, 56, CEO, who launched it in the mid-1980s. His son, Nate, 26, is general manager, and another son, Luke, 30, manages the company’s timber harvesting operations. It is based in Reedsville in central Pennsylvania, about 25 miles southeast of State College.

The company has diverse operations: timber harvesting, land clearing, grinding and mulch production, contract chipping, and firewood production. It produces chips for a number of different markets, and its grinding operations produce mulch products. The company has a 20-acre property with a wood yard, office and shop, and a retail garden center.

Metzler Forest Products was the subject of a 2017 TimberLine article when it was expanding into firewood operations, adding firewood processing equipment, kilns, and other equipment to produce packages of kiln-dried firewood.

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Getting into the firewood business has been good for the company, Nate reported. “Last year the firewood business picked up,” although it was a challenge getting low-grade logs because mills that use pulpwood were buying a lot of logs. “We are hoping the coming year continues the upward trend.” The company doubled its output of packaged firewood last season and is looking to continued growth in 2019.

The company has experienced some growth the past two years and now has an additional 10 employees, 84 in all. Metzler Forest Products had been operating a chip mill for Domtar, and now it has added operations at a second Domtar chip mill. In addition, it has contracts to operate wood yards and supply chips for two other mills that use wood fiber. And the company created an affiliated trucking business, Metzler Timber Transport, which has grown to 22 semi-tractors and 50 trailers.

Land-clearing remains an important aspect of the company and accounts for about 15 percent of revenues and employs 10 people. The crew clears land to widen or build new roads, construct pipelines, and for new subdivisions and other developments. It also does projects to widen bridges.

Chris Hartzler supervises the land-clearing work. He has been an employee of Metzler Forest Products for 25 years and has been supervising the land-clearing work for the past 15 years. Chris may oversee two or three land-clearing jobs at one time. Some may be small jobs that only require a couple of workers.

The company has added two Cat machines to the land-clearing operations in recent years. It purchased a Cat 538 Forest Machine about two years ago and added a second one less than a year ago, both from Cleveland Brothers Equipment Company. One is equipped with a bucket that is used to push down trees and pull them out of the ground. Depending on the job, it groups the trees in bunches to prepare them for a skidder so they can be skidded to a landing area. The second forest machine is equipped with a Rototec grapple saw and is stationed at the landing with a grinder. With the grapple saw, if there is merchantable wood in the tree it can cut off stumps and tops and also buck the wood into saw logs or pulp logs, and the machine also is used to feed material to the grinder. The company is equipped with three CBI 6800 track grinders for processing wood debris.

The land-clearing workers also have three Cat 320 excavators and a Cat 325 excavator. In addition, the company is equipped with three Cat skidders, a 525C, 545C and a 545D, although they generally are used more by the in-woods crew and not by Chris for the land-clearing work. Chris also has a Cat D6R dozer at his disposal.

Chris had been pleased with the performance of the Cat excavators, but the Cat Forest Machines really have caught his attention. “They’re awesome,” he said.

“They’re a little wider,” noted Chris. “They’re a lot more stable, actually,” and have a heavier undercarriage. “Steep slopes are like nothing for those things.”

Perhaps the thing that has most impressed Chris and the equipment operators is the swing power of the Cat Forest Machines. “The swing power…is just unreal,” said Chris. “On a steep slope, they can swing uphill even with the bucket stretched way out…There’s so much swing power there, it’s just crazy.”

Even with great swing power, the Cat Forest Machines have better fuel economy, he noted. The operators normally run the two machines in Eco Mode, he noted, which helps reduce fuel consumption.

Another feature of the machines he praised was multifunctioning. “While we’re running functions…it doesn’t slow the machine down.”

“Say you’re lifting your boom, or you want to open up your bucket or thumb…It’s just like it doesn’t even affect it. Your boom keeps coming, your grapple’s opening up. There’s a tremendous difference there.”

The Cat 320 excavators all have around 16,000 hours of operating time and the Cat 325 has over 17,000 hours. They still perform well. “I will not let my boss sell any more of them Cats,” said Chris. “They’ve been really good machines.”

“Power wise, the Cats are the way to go.”

The operators have found the new Cat air-ride, fully adjustable seats to be very comfortable, said Chris. The seats are equipped for both heating and cooling. The operator cab is also Bluetooth compatible. “If I want to call them, they don’t have to pick up the phone,” explained Chris. “They can talk while they’re working.”

Cat Forest Machines are versatile, purpose- built track machines that can be customized to perform a complete range of tasks for forestry operations and contractors. These machine platforms increase profitability for loggers by maximizing efficiency, increasing production, and reducing owning and operating costs.

Cat Forest Machines are available in a general forestry version for processing logs, stroke delimber applications, grapple applications, road building and site preparation. They also are available in a log loader configuration for log loading, shovel logging, butt-n-top/power clam applications, and millyard activities.

The 500 Series models provide an almost 20 percent boost in swing torque, depending on the model, supplying more power to move trees, increasing production and efficiency. Heavy lift mode and other updates enable greater lift capacity to handle larger payloads with improved control, and tractive effort has improved by as much as 13 percent to allow efficient maneuvering when working away from the road.

An enhanced hydraulic system delivers a higher level of efficiency and power. Upsized pumps, the layout of components, and back-to-back main control valve all optimize hydraulic oil flow. The result is powerful, multi-functioning hydraulics for strong machine performance, ensuring that work tools function quickly and smoothly to complete work faster with greater fuel economy.

The newest models, introduced in 2018, are the 548 and the 548 LL. The Cat 548 and 548 LL and other 500 series Forest Machine models meet U.S. EPA Tier 4 Final emission standards and feature outstanding fuel efficiency and optimized work tools while increasing horsepower, swing torque, lift capacity, and tractive effort.

(For more information about Cat Forest Machines or other Cat equipment, visit www.cat.com/forestry or contact a Cat dealer.)

Cleveland Brothers is responsive when the company needs parts, said Chris. “If something goes on, they can get us parts pretty quickly.” The crew has been working in recent years in the Harrisburg area, and Cleveland Brothers has a branch there.

Cleveland Brothers has 26 full service branches in its territory, which includes all of Pennsylvania except for the Philadelphia area, western Maryland, and 16 counties in northern West Virginia.

Metzler Forest Products has been doing business with Cleveland Brothers since Alan launched his business in the mid- 1980s, according to Mark Dorner, account manager and forestry industry leader for Cleveland Brothers.

The Metzlers have been attracted to Cat Forest Machines because of their safety “and they’re just productive machines,” said Mark. “They’ve been doing super for them.”

Mark noted the dealership also has supplied other Cat machines to the company over the years. “He’s a long-term business partner for sure,” he said.

Metzler Forest Product personnel perform routine maintenance and repairs in the field or at the company’s shop in Reedsville. For any major repairs, they will turn to Cleveland Brothers.

Chris is the longest term employee, Nate noted. “He does a really awesome job with the land clearing. We’re glad to have him here, and his guys too. They’re a group of guys that make things roll.”

Timber harvesting fuels the majority of revenues for Metzler Forest Products. The company’s timber harvesting operations are geared to supplying wood for its various customers for hardwood and softwood chips. “Whole tree chipping is our specialty,” said Nate. The company buys timber for its chipping operations and markets any grade logs that come off those jobs to sawmills in Pennsylvania and Maryland.

The company relies on five Peterson Pacific whole-tree chippers — up from three — for its chipping operations. It added a new Peterson 5000H last fall and just recently added a used unit.

In addition to performing open cuts the company also does select cuts and thins. It has done jobs to improve timber stands and manage land and forests for wildlife habitat on state forests and wildlife management areas. Although some jobs may be as small as 15 acres, most typically are a couple hundred or more.

The in-woods operations usually keep two crews busy. Besides the Cat skidders, the company has a mixed fleet of forestry equipment for its in-woods operations.

Alan’s focus is strategic planning as well as developing new business. He is heavily involved in managing the chipping operations, which the company has been able to expand.

Nate earned an accounting degree from Penn State and then oversaw the company’s finances and day-to-day operations for a few years. Then the company hired Luke Healy, chief financial officer, freeing Nate to focus on day-to-day operations. His duties also include all hiring as well as managing relationships with major customers for wood products.

Alan learned the importance of having a diversified business in the early 1990s. At the time, Metzler Forest Products was supplying a mill with 90 truckloads of chips per week. When a recession weakened the market, overnight Alan’s quota was reduced to 10 loads per week. Alan steered the business into land clearing to offset the lost revenue and since then has led the company into other new ventures. In his office he has piece of cut steel that reads: “Perhaps I cannot control the wind, but I can adjust my sails.”

Metzler Forest Product has outgrown its 20 acres. It just recently purchased a neighboring 96-acre farm. “We’re not sure what we’re going to do with it yet,” said Nate.

The company has no immediate plans to further expand or diversify, said Nate, although now it certainly has room. “We’re still just trying to refine what we’re doing now.”