GARDEN, Michigan – At some juncture in a marriage, a wife might suggest to her husband that he works many long hours — or vice versa.
The admonition from Shannon Leckson’s wife, Hannah, took the couple down an interesting path. Shannon, the vice president of Michael Leckson and Son Trucking, Inc., told Hannah he had to complete the work he lines up each day for his logging business.
The work included operating the company’s forwarder and getting the day’s production of logs out of the woods. And Hannah told Shannon, “I could do that.”
So it is that today Shannon harvests timber with a Ponsse Scorpion King harvester, and Hannah operates the company’s Ponsse Buffalo forwarder to get the wood to the landing. Shannon’s brother-in-law, Dan LaLonde, is the company’s sole truck driver at present; he has worked for the company for more than 30 years.
The fact that Hannah, who had had no previous logging experience, was able to become a forwarder operator attests to the simplicity of design of Ponsse forwarders, said Shannon.
“We produce our own pulpwood and logs and truck our logs to paper mills and sawmills,” said Shannon, who began in the business driving a logging truck for his father, Michael. “My dad started the company in 1976. I graduated (from high school) in 1984 and joined him.”
Today, Michael Leckson and Son Trucking (MLST) produces 500 tons each week. The company cuts for Lyme Great Lakes Timberlands, headquartered in Escanaba, Michigan.
Across the decades it has worked for Escanaba, Mead, Plum Creek, and Weyerhaeuser, as the companies have reconfigured themselves. MLST is based in Garden, a small community on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, situated on a small peninsula itself that juts into Lake Michigan. To the north is the Hiawatha National Forest.
The harvester Shannon runs is an eight-wheel Scorpion King with an H7 HD attachment. The machine was purchased new in 2020.
Why the Ponsse H7 head? “It’s the biggest head they put on when I bought (the machine),” said Shannon. The Ponsse H7 harvester attachment is capable of felling and processing trees 28-30 inches in diameter.
It’s a very rare day when a chainsaw is required. In the past, though, Shannon and his father had many opportunities to use saws. “We like the Stihl,” he said.
The Ponsse forwarder that Hannah runs is an eight-wheel Buffalo. (The machine is also available from Ponsse with 10 wheels.)
“We really wanted the active crane” on the Ponsse forwarder, said Shannon. “There’s less fatigue for the operator. It seems to be faster for Hannah.”
The active crane on the Ponsse Buffalo forwarder gives the operator a control system so refined that the grapple functions as an extension of the operator’s hand. At the same time, the Ponsse active frame suspension system on the forwarder ensures the operator does not get jostled around in the cab and can stay focused.
In addition to operating the Ponsse Buffalo forwarder, Hannah takes care of bookkeeping and some management tasks.
Other equipment on the MLST roster includes a John Deere backhoe and a Dresser TD12 bulldozer, which are used in road building. A low-boy trailer coupled with a 1995 Ford 9000 semi-tractor is used to transport equipment.
Michael, who is president of MLST, no longer operates equipment. “I am pretty well retired,” he said. He explained the company takes its name from its original purpose, which included trucking for other loggers.
Shannon’s mother, Bertha, has also been involved in the company. However, with the exception of one morning spent in the woods in the early days of the company, she has not been involved in logging.
In fact, Bertha said that after one-half day in the woods she was so hungry that she ate her bologna sandwich and it tasted like ham. An avid gardener, she has welcomed tours to her flower gardens.
The village of Garden, where the company has a garage for equipment, is home to about 220 people. MLST generally works within a 60-mile radius of Garden. Michael and Bertha own some 420 acres of timberland. It includes highland with mixed hardwoods and a red pine plantation that grew from fallow fields that were planted in the 1990s. The region contains swamps and, of course, snow is plentiful in the winter. Shannon often runs the Ponsse Scorpion King with bogie tracks.
Shannon, who is 55 years old, is a native of Garden, as is his father. His mother is a native of Manistique, Mich.
Michael started working in the woods when he was a teenager. “When I was in high school, I cut with a chainsaw on weekends, peeling poplar,” said Michael. He bought a Ford N-9 tractor-skidder and then an Iron Mule 2200 skidder served him for many years. After he and Bertha married in 1965, they moved to Flint for a time where Michael worked for a crane firm. A decade later, and after a few other jobs, they settled in Garden, and Michael started MLST.
Michael explained that when Valmet acquired Iron Mule, he began using Valmet equipment. (Valmet was later acquired by Komatsu.) He also had several track machines – John Deere and Timbco – over the years.
The first Ponsse machine MLST bought was a Ponsse Ergo six-wheeled harvester. Other loggers recommended Ponsse machines, and the Lecksons have stayed with Ponsse since then.
The Ponsse Scorpion King cab design keeps the operator at center with attention to ergonomics and visibility. It incorporates many features to make things easy for the operator in the cab, including a rotating seat and a lot of storage space.
The Ponsse Scorpion King works rapidly in certain conditions. “Sometimes it’s really good – when we have the right mix of wood,” said Shannon. In softwoods, it is very fast.
Shannon appreciates the straightforwardness of the Ponsse maintenance schedule. Routine changing of fluids and Ponsse’s involvement at regular intervals for some maintenance tasks ensures the machines are functioning and being maintained optimally.
The Lecksons singled out two Ponsse sales representatives at the company’s offices in Escanaba for their help before and after the sale. Jim Charlier Sr. sold the Ponsse Buffalo, and his son, Jim Charlier Jr., later helped the Lecksons with the purchase of the Ponsse Scorpion.
“They both went way out of their way to help with trading in our machines and with the purchasing process to make it easier for us,” said Shannon. “We have really enjoyed working with Jimmy so far, and he helps whenever and for whatever we need help with. It makes a big difference when a machine breaks down and they are just a phone call away to get you back up and running.”
The Ponsse parts and service department at Escanaba was another reason the Lecksons chose to go with Ponsse. “They are reliable and go above and beyond to help when we need it,” said Shannon.
The Ponsse H7 HD harvester head is designed to be paired with either tracked or large wheeled harvesters. It is designed to maximize efficiency and durability.
Ponsse is based in Finland, where it manufactures cut-to-length logging machines and harvester attachments. It’s North American headquarters is in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. (For more information about Ponsse equipment, visit www.ponsse.com.)
The Ponsse Scorpion King works in a mix of species. MLST harvests about 50 percent softwoods and 50 percent hardwoods. “It depends on the mills,” said Shannon.
Sugar maple and soft maple predominate in the mixed hardwoods. For many years beech was in the mix, but beech bark disease has changed that, said Shannon.
According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, about 2.5 million beech trees of the roughly 32 million American beech trees in Michigan have been killed by beech bark disease. A sap-feeding scale insect first infests the trees. The insect’s feeding causes an infection by a fungus (Neonectria) that blocks the flow of sap and kills the tree.
Trees afflicted with beech bark disease are so weakened that branches may snap and trunks may splinter. The scale is ‘wooly’ so failing trees may appear to be covered in white.
Michael reminisced a bit about how much more challenging working in the woods was in the early days of his company. “A couple of times snow was right up to the window” of our equipment, he said. Men were still felling with chainsaws, and it was difficult in deep snow.
When Michael first got into the business in 1976 that would become MLST, he drove a truck and worked with his brother. His brother got hurt, and Michael took over operating a skidder.
For Michael, establishing Michael Leckson and Son Trucking was a good choice. “Just being my own boss” is what he enjoyed most, he said. “I went to work when I wanted and quit when I wanted.”
Shannon, too, is happy in his professional choice. “I like working with my dad,” he said. “I like the fresh air, being out in nature.”
Bertha said that “the home that I have lived in” makes her particularly happy. It’s a log home –an open concept – that she and Michael had built.
“We had a very good contractor,” said Bertha. “We did all the surfacing of the wood. I’m very happy with what we accomplished.”
Michael Leckson and Son Trucking is a member of the Michigan Association of Timbermen. Its team members hold Master Logger certification.
The philosophy of MLST was summed up by Bertha. “Just to be fair and honest,” she said. “The people around you – treat them the best you can.” And Michael and Shannon agreed.
Outside of the business, interests vary — but also converge on family time. “I enjoy quilting, sewing and gardening,” said Bertha. She also likes to cook for her family on Sundays.
“Basically, I like being with family,” said Michael. “We like to go out and have a nice meal on the weekends.”
Shannon said he does not get much time for his favorite activity – boating – at this point. “I like to be out on a boat,” he said. He also enjoys “spending time with family.”