LILY, Wisconsin – Winter in northern Wisconsin: four feet of snow, chains on the forwarder, an eight-hour day. It’s all familiar territory. Or is it?
Make that a Gafner Iron Mule 4500 forwarder, new in 1978. And subtract all the comforts of contemporary forwarders, such as the Valmet and Komatsu descendants of Gafner.
Then, look at who is running the Iron Mule. It is Bernice Smith, the owner-operator of Bostwick Logging.
Bernice celebrated 69 years on her birthday in June. Her experience in logging began at age 12 when she peeled aspen pulpwood. Her uncle owned the logging business, and her father worked in it.
When Bernice was 13, she started driving a bulldozer. “We used it for skidding, pulling logs to the landing,” she explained.
Soon after marrying at 21, Bernice took a break from logging to raise two children. When her son was 20 and her daughter was 15, she went back to work, but not directly in logging. After a year as a sales representative at Sears, Bernice got a job with Polar Hardwoods (Sawco); she ran a trim saw at the sawmill.
The sawmill experience brought Bernice closer back to the logging work she enjoyed. Then, in 1993, she had the opportunity to move back into the logging side of the industry. That was the year she became friends with Joe Bostwick.
Joe’s father, Ray, owned Bostwick Logging. Bernice began working at the company. When Ray retired in the late 1990s, Joe took over, but after an accident in 2001, he was not able to work for a time.
Bernice then acquired Bostwick Logging from Joe. Today, Joe works with Bernice and Nicholas Doll, Bernice’s grandson. Bernice kept the name of the company because it enjoyed a good reputation and was well known in the region it serves.
Bostwick Logging is based in the village of Lily in northeast Wisconsin, about 80-plus miles northwest of Green Bay. The unincorporated community is part of Langlade County and is just west of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.
Most jobs that Bostwick Logging takes are within a 30-mile radius of Lily. “We used to bid on county, state, and federal jobs,” said Bernice. “Now we get private jobs by online advertising and word-of-mouth.” Storm cleanup and forest management are the types of work Bostwick Logging does for private landowners — both geared to helping owners manage their woodlands in a sustainable way.
Logs are merchandised to several mills in the region. Those markets include a Domtar paper mill, Sawco, which manufactures wood panels, and Nicolet Hardwoods, a lumber producer.
Bostwick Logging uses Charles Mihalko & Sons Trucking for hauling logs to its markets. Some buyers, like Kretz Lumber Co., send their own trucks to pick up logs.
Nicholas just joined the company full-time this spring after graduating from high school. He had worked with Bernice and Joe for more than three years part-time while being home-schooled.
The three-person team works well together. They work eight hours a day, five days each week.
Joe fells trees, delimbs and bucks them to length using Husqvarna 372XP chainsaws. Like Bernice, Nicholas runs a Gafner 4500 Iron Mule, but he also helps Joe delimb and buck trees. The machine he operates was new in 1970, and it’s a bit smaller than the 1978 model Bernice operates. (The Gafner Iron Mule was first introduced in 1957. Built on a modified Ford chassis, it was made in Escanaba, Mich.) Bernice also sometimes runs a 1969 John Deere 440A cable skidder.
Keeping machines humming for decades is something the team takes in stride. “We do most of our own maintenance,” said Bernice.
Born in Kentucky, Bernice was 10 years old when her family moved to Wisconsin. Her father took a job with White Lakes Sawmill before going to work in the logging company her uncle owned.
“I’ve always just enjoyed logging,” said Bernice. How does she tolerate the cold in winter in a cab without amenities? “I keep putting layers of clothes on.”
Nicholas recognized his grandmother’s intrepid spirit a long time ago. “She is a hard-working woman,” he said.
Moreover, Nicholas is sure he acquired his affinity for logging and the wood products industry from his grandmother. “Seeing how much she enjoyed it,” he said, kindled his interest.
“It skipped a generation,” Nicholas explained, noting his mother and Bernice’s son were disinterested.
And has his grandmother given him any valuable advice about the industry? “Be careful and expect the unexpected,” said Nicholas.
Nicholas, who not only works with Bernice and Joe but also lives in their home, plans to make a career in logging. Now that he has joined Bostwick Logging full-time, he is thinking about future possibilities in the context of all he has learned from his grandmother.
“Being able to be independent” is one of the things Bernice most likes about her profession. She said she also enjoys the opportunity to be outdoors. While working, seeing deer, sighting the occasional wolf, and encountering owls and porcupines are just part of the day-to-day pleasures.
It takes a big commitment of time and energy to both run and work in a business, as readers know well. “I just put my mind to it” whatever the task, said Bernice. “You can do it” is her philosophy for getting things accomplished.
When Bernice takes time away from the business, she enjoys fishing, hunting, gardening, and yard work.