PARK RAPIDS, Minnesota – Sometimes a birthday prompts us to make a decision. And that is the short story of how Robin Walsh, president of Dick Walsh Forest Products, decided to buy a Ponsse Scorpion King harvester.
Robin explained that when he turned 60 recently, he weighed two options: retire or buy a Ponsse Scorpion King harvester. He went with the second option.
The Ponsse Scorpion King is on order with delivery expected in late October or early November. Meanwhile, Robin and his brother, Steve Walsh, company vice president, rely on a Ponsse Ergo harvester and a Ponsse Elk forwarder for the cut-to-length (CTL) portion of their logging business. Robin runs the harvester, and Steve runs the forwarder; the CTL team generally works on thinning projects.
In addition to the CTL crew, Dick Walsh Forest Products operates a conventional tree-length logging crew that uses Tigercat and John Deere Equipment – feller bunchers, slashers and skidders. The tree-length crew is generally used for areas designated for clear-cut harvesting. The company never uses chainsaws.
“We can do any type of logging – clear-cut, thinning,” said Robin. “We do quality work.”
Dick Walsh Forest Products is committed first and foremost to doing quality work for its customers, said Robin. The company’s mix of equipment ensures it can do a quality job.
The Ponsse Ergo and the Elk are the third pair of Ponsse harvester and forwarder machines the company has had in service since 1994. Dick Walsh, the father of Robin and Steve, made the first connection with Ponsse.
“My dad went over to Wisconsin for a (Ponsse) demo when they were first brought to North America,” said Robin. “He was impressed.” On their father’s recommendation, Robin and Steve went to see a demonstration of Ponsse equipment. They, too, were sold on its capabilities.
When Dick Walsh Forest Products purchased its first harvester from Ponsse, it was known only as the HS15 and had a Perkins engine. Today its descendant, the Ponsse Ergo, has a Mercedes engine, which Robin said is a great match for the machine.
The Ponsse Ergo that Robin is currently running is 10 years old. He is in the harvester approximately 60 hours each week. “It’s very comfortable to run,” said Robin of the Ergo. He can operate it “all day and not get tired.”
The Ponsse Scorpion King promises an even more comfortable ride. The machine has been designed to fully align operator-controlled functions and ergonomics. Ponsse refers to the cab of the Scorpion King as the Future Cabin. The Ponsse Future Cabin puts a premium on spaciousness and quality materials, even as all the features that operators appreciate are retained – and refined. Visibility, safety, ergonomics, and usability are all in place in the Scorpion King. So is a rotating seat and abundant storage.
Ponsse puts a strong focus on the people who operate its machines. The Scorpion King cab is designed and configured to partner with an operator so he can work safely and efficiently without getting tired.
Ponsse serves loggers around the world. With manufacturing operations and headquarters in Finland, its affiliate, Ponsse North America Inc., is based in Rhinelander, Wisconsin.
The Scorpion harvester, launched by Ponsse in 2013, has become the company’s flagship harvester. It soon became a global sales success, with over 1,200 of the machines now operating in 25 countries. A unique feature of the Scorpion is the design of the crane, which is based behind the cab and gives the operator an unobstructed view of the work area.
Ponsse launched the newest version of the Scorpion earlier this year, based on feedback from its customers. Powerful, productive, and stable, it exerts small pressure on the forest floor. Ponsse also enhanced the operator’s cabin with improved visibility, usability, ergonomics, and safety.
“The cabin workspace is now more practical, and the quiet Scorpion landscape office has been developed specifically with the operator’s comfort and ability to keep working in mind,” said Jan Kauhanen, Ponsse’s manager of harvester products, in a news release earlier this year.
In fact, the Ponsse Scorpion’s Future Cabin won a product award in the Red Dot design competition, an international program that recognizes excellence in product design. Ponsse received the Best of the Best award — the highest recognition.
One of the most noticeable improvements is the new one-piece front window, which reaches all the way up to the cabin roof to offer even better visibility and safe working in any weather condition.
Besides numerous new features, PONSSE Scorpion and Scorpion King harvesters are equipped with an advanced fifth generation PONSSE Opti 5G information system and a completely upgraded user interface. The user-friendly information system, with its smoothness and speed, takes the operator experience to a new level.
The Opti 5G information system also enables the PONSSE Harvester Active Crane management system, which gives the harvester a new way to control the crane and work more efficiently. The operator can use Active Crane to control the movement of the harvester head instead of individual crane functions. This allows the operator to concentrate on timber processing rather than crane work.
Active Crane is easily controlled with two levers; one controls the harvester head height, and the other controls the direction of movement. The system also ensures the crane’s functions slow automatically before the range of movement ends, thereby preventing hits to the mechanical structures. When the operator indicates the required location, Active Crane performs the lift and uses the boom and extension automatically.
The Scorpion King features a patented stabilization system that detects the crane direction and position, and the rear frame is pressed in the working direction. Pressing the rear wheels against the ground and the weight of the rear frame improve the machine’s stability significantly when working on the side of the machine – also when the machine is moving.
A leveling system also balances the cabin in difficult terrain.
Other features include a Mercedes-Benz Tier 4 Final engine generating 281 hp, a two-arm lift boom with a reach of 32-36 feet, crane turning angle of 280 degrees, and separate hydraulic circuits for the harvester head and crane.
(For more information about Ponsse or Ponsse machines, visit www.ponsse.com or call its North American headquarters in Rhinelander, Wisconsin at (715) 369-4833.)
The geography of the region where Dick Walsh Forest Products works is not unlike Finland, noted Robin. The logging company is based in Park Rapids, north-central Minnesota; it is almost 200 miles northwest of Minneapolis and less than 150 miles from Canada. The region is marked by undulating prairie land punctuated by many small streams, cascading rivers and lakes — and loamy soil and rocks. The compact and agile six-wheeled Ponsse Ergo and Ponsse Elk machines traverse the less-than-even and often disrupted surface easily — and without unnecessary environmental impact. Robin’s company works within a 50-mile radius of its home base.
The two brothers share responsibilities for running the business. “I pretty much buy all timber and market it,” said Robin. Steve takes care of planning the jobs, such as building roads and landings and erosion controls. He also runs their firewood business.
The firewood segment of the business sells 8-foot firewood logs to customers who cut and split their own firewood. It also supplies logs to Robin’s sons, who run a small firewood business equipped with a Dyna Products firewood processor.
Including Robin and Steve, Dick Walsh Forest Products employs nine people. Three men work on the tree-length logging crew, three men are truck drivers, and the company has a full-time mechanic. The company operates from a series of buildings with stalls for equipment and space for an office and shop. There are four buildings total and another building with a boiler that burns chips and heats the other facilities. The boiler was built by Dick, who started the logging business in 1962.
Robin recalled how his father, who is now deceased, started the business. “Back then, everybody ran a small farm and did logging in winter,” explained Robin. As the logging business kept growing, Dick formalized it into his primary business.
Robin and Steve began working with their father when they were teenagers. “We used to work in summertime, peeling poplar,” said Robin.
After high school, Robin went to college for two years. He thought he might become a forester, but he realized he was more interested in the logging business.
Dick Walsh Forest Products buys standing timber on private, state or county land. There are no nearby national forests.
In bidding on timber stands, Robin aims to purchase mixed hardwoods when possible. Most of the non-hardwood sites are red pine plantations, which predominate among clear-cut jobs, or a mix of aspen and hardwoods. The CTL crew produces between 8,000 and 10,000 cords of wood annually.
“We merchandise all the wood we can,” said Robin. “A lot of the hardwood bolts go to pallets. PotlatchDeltic gets the pine bolts for 2×4 and 2×6 studs.” The company has a number of customers for saw logs.
“We do almost all transport,” said Robin. The trucks are all Peterbilt, and the trailers are “a mixture of everything.”
Dick Walsh Forest Products logs 12 months each year. Instead of using tracks on his wheeled Ponsse harvester and forwarder, Robin uses chains when needed. “There’s not a lot of snow anymore,” he said.
In addition to his broad experience in logging, Robin worked on the sawmill side of the industry during the three years his father owned a mill. “When the sawyer took time off, I ran the saw,” he said.
Robin recalls fondly the community involvement when Ponsse delivered the first harvester and forwarder pair to Dick Walsh Forest Products in 1994. Many residents of nearby Menahga, who were older and had emigrated from Finland, learned there would be visitors from their native country. And they travelled to Park Rapids for the opportunity to chat with them. Ponsse earned the first ISO 9001 quality management certification for a forestry machine manufacturer that same year.
It’s a routine matter that whenever a new machine is delivered by Ponsse, onsite technical assistance is available from a trainer. “They actually had trainers come from Finland for two or three weeks,” said Robin.
Since investing in those first Ponsse machines 27 years ago, there has never been a question whether the Walshes would not continue to rely on Ponsse equipment. Robin likes “the reliability” of Ponsse equipment. “There are very, very few problems with them,” he added. “They run day-in and day-out.”
Robin puts Ponsse machines among “the best out there.” With the Scorpion King on order, Robin and Steve also are considering upgrading the Ponsse forwarder to a Buffalo.
A native of Park Rapids, Robin enjoys everything about his profession. “I just like looking at the tracts of land and helping landowners,” he said. “I like dealing with the public in general.”
Dick Walsh Forest Products is a member of the Timber Producers Association and the Associated Contract Loggers and Truckers of Minnesota. Professional participation is important to Robin because it helps him better serve landowners.
“We strive to keep our customers happy,” said Robin. “I make sure jobs are done right. We strive to keep our reputation.”
Two or three times a week, Robin travels to the conventional logging site the company is running. It’s a quality check on the job. It’s also an opportunity to see the Tigercat and John Deere equipment in service. “I like Tigercat equipment for tree-length logging,” he said.
In his free time, Robin enjoys hunting and fishing. He also has taken on the role of coach for a high school trap shooting team.
“Years ago, we used to have a trap team,” said Robin, noting it’s gratifying to help a new generation participate in the sport. His older son was on the team five years ago. Now his younger son is a member of the team.