FAIRVIEW, Michigan —
John Gusler has been in the lumber business for 20 years, operating a company that cuts grade lumber as well as industrial grade lumber products. In order to ensure his mills had a sufficient supply of logs, he decided he had to take the plunge and establish his own logging operations instead of relying on independent contractors. His choice for logging equipment was Woodland Equipment and Tigercat forestry machines.
Fairview Woodyard is located in Fairview in the northeast section of the Michigan lower peninsula. The Huron-Manistee National Forests are in two vast, noncontiguous sections, on the western side of the peninsula; Fairview Woodyard is on the northern edge of the other section on the eastern side and about mid-way between the forest’s eastern and western boundaries.
Fairview Woodyard is located on about 100 acres. The sawmill business manufactures grade and industrial lumber products, including pallet cut stock, pallet cants, and railroad ties. The company has three buildings with two sawmills operating in one of them and a scragg mill running in another. They cut hardwood and softwood although about 60 percent of production is red oak. Other dominant species are aspen and pine. With both mills running and little downtime, the company can cut about 380,000 board feet per week and produce about 11 truckloads of lumber products. The company’s lumber production and pallet stock is sold to customers primarily in Michigan as well as others in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and Canada. The mill operations employ 24 people.
John owned a trucking company in the past and also operated a log yard that supplied logs to a Canadian company, but he had no prior experience in the sawmill industry before he built a mill in 1999. It was destroyed by fire in the spring of 2004, but John rebuilt the mill, and it was running again by late 2004-early 2005.
John’s company buys some timberland, but nearly all of the timber it harvests comes from bidding successfully on sales on state forest lands.
“I started the logging crew out of necessity,” said John, after he lost the logging contractor who was his biggest supplier of round wood. He has competition for logs and loggers, too, with the opening of a new Auraco particleboard mill in Grayling, about 35 miles west. “Everyone is struggling for logging contractors,” added John.
John was introduced to Tigercat forestry machines by the company’s dealer in the region, Woodland Equipment. He bought four new machines in the fall of 2018. Afterward he made a trip to southern Ontario and toured seven Tigercat manufacturing facilities. John added three more Tigercat machines at the beginning of 2019, and is looking at adding three more this year.
“I liked the way they build their equipment,” said John, “and I liked Ron Beauchamp’s approach when he talked to me.”
Woodland Equipment has operated from Iron River on the Michigan upper peninsula for more than 40 years, serving loggers in northern Wisconsin and both Michigan peninsulas. Tigercat named Woodland Equipment a dealer in 2016, strengthening its dealership network in the Great Lakes Region. Ron, the owner of Woodland Equipment, decided to open a second location in Gaylord on the lower peninsula in 2018. Gaylord is located about 60 miles northwest of Fairview and conveniently on the I-75 north-south corridor. Within six months, John decided to begin a relationship with Ron and his company.
“John and I have become pretty good friends,” said Ron. “We think alike. We have the same general outlook on the world and what partnerships should look like.”
John has invested in seven Tigercat machines so far with plans to purchase more this year. So far he has purchased two Tigercat 822 track harvesters with Tigercat 575 harvester attachments, a Tigercat 822 track feller buncher, Tigercat 1055 and 1075 forwarders, a Tigercat 620 grapple skidder, and one used machine, a Tigercat 822 track harvester equipped with a Risley Rolly harvester attachment.
John had no prior experience in logging, noted Ron. In addition, he chose to invest in Tigercat equipment – regarded as premium forestry machines and more expensive than some other brands. “That’s a big set of dice to roll,” observed Ron.
“His mill is his profit center,” added Ron. “He cannot afford not to have wood available for his mill.” Relying on independent logging contractors did not always provide an adequate supply of logs. In addition, the new particleboard mill that has opened in the region competes for logs. “If he told me 10 times he told me once,” recalled Ron, “‘I’m not going into logging because I want to. I’m going into logging because I have to.’”
Tigercat machines warrant serious consideration from other logging contractors who are considering investing in equipment, suggested Ron.
“These machines are heavy built,” said John. “To me, that’s what we needed.” He considered other manufacturers and observed loggers who ran those brands of equipment. “Just from watching them work, I wanted to try something a little different,” he said.
John has been very satisfied with his buying decision. The Tigercat machines provide “great performance,” he said, as well as good fuel economy. The machines are powerful and productive, he added, and easy to maintain. “I’m looking forward to buying more.”
Tigercat offers a complete line of forestry machines, including wheel and track feller bunchers, track harvesters and wheel harvesters and felling and harvesting attachments, skidders and forwarders, and track logging machines that can be configured for various forestry tasks, from felling and processing to shovel logging and loading. Based in Brantford, Ontario, the company’s approach is to manufacture forestry machines that harvest timber at the lowest cost per ton. Tigercat also offers off-road land clearing and site preparation equipment and severe duty carriers for niche applications and industries that include utilities, oil and gas, and silviculture.
Woodland Equipment is committed to keeping logging customers up and running with parts in stock, technical assistance, and on-the-job or shop service. In addition to Tigercat, the company also represents TimberPro, Log Max, Quadco, Risley Equipment, and Kesla. Woodland Equipment also offers the Woodland Computer System, which it developed for cut-to-length harvesters.
John recruited an experienced logger, Josh Herbert, to head the logging crew. He also had Josh train him on operating the Tigercat machines and spent a few months working with the crew in the woods in order to gain an understanding of logging work and timber harvesting operations. “I just thought I needed to know,” said John. “I’d never done it before.”
The logging operations employ seven men. The crew stays together on the same job and generally works within a 120-mile radius of the mills. The terrain varies from flat ground to hills and swamps. Most of the time the crew conducts cut-to-length logging operations.
The company’s logging operations largely keep the sawmills supplied with enough logs, and John also sells logs and pulpwood produced on his logging jobs. At the time John was interviewed for this article, the logging crew was working in a stand of northern hardwoods, performing thinning as well as clear-cut harvesting of some tracts.
The mills are equipped with well known brands of sawmill and pallet lumber equipment. The list includes a Precision rosserhead machine and a Nicholson A-522 machine for debarking logs. The main sawmill building has two head rigs, each one a Cleereman carriage paired with a circle saw; they are used to square up large diameter logs and remove grade material as well as cutting railroad ties and pallet cants. Other equipment includes a Crosby thin-kerf gang saw and a Crosby edger.
For making pallet lumber, the main workhorse is a Timberland log merchandiser feeding logs to a Timberland Big Jake scragg mill that removes four sides to make a cant. The production line also includes a Timberland slab edger and two Timberland trim saws. (The Timberland brand was acquired by Brewco.) The cants are resawn on three Brewer gang saws that feed to two Pendu board stackers. Other key machines are a Brewer 5-head multi-trim saw and a Newman 3-head multi-trim saw.
For processing residual material the mills are equipped with a Vermeer 4400 grinder, and John is in the process of upgrading his chipper to a Nicholson machine. Chips are supplied to the Auraco particleboard mill. Grindings are sold for hog fuel, playground surface material, and for feedstock to fuel pellet manufacturers.
Most of the company’s lumber production recently has been industrial lumber products – about 80 percent – because prices for grade are so low. “The price is in the tank, to say the least,” said John, after steadily declining for about seven months. Accordingly, the company is cutting mainly pallet stock, pallet cants, and railroad ties.
John works in the log yard most days, operating a knuckleboom loader and unloading log trucks and stacking logs in the yard. His wife, Debbie, and their sons, Jared, 26, and Brett, 24, also are involved in the business. Debbie works in the office part-time. Jared and Brett “pretty much run the sawmills,” said John, and also handle a lot of sales.
In their free time the family enjoys boating, fishing, hunting, skeet and sporting clay shooting, and traveling.