WAUSUA, Wisconsin — Mini excavator or skid steer? That was the ‘which-first’ choice for Jason Thomas, owner of Promethean Artisans, which offers a full complement of landscaping services, including hardscaping.
Jason officially launched his company three years ago and has been on his own for more than a year. However, he has close to 10 years of experience in the landscaping industry working for other companies. After starting his business, he was trying to decide whether his first major equipment purchase would be a mini excavator or a skid steer.
He happened to be bidding on a job at the Scandinavian Forestry Equipment dealership in Wausau, Wis. He didn’t get the job, but he got to know Randy Klug, the Scandinavian Forestry Equipment sales representative. Randy and Jason began talking about excavators, and Randy introduced Jason to a new product line from SANY.
Jason liked what he learned about SANY mini excavators. And he knows a great deal about excavators. “I have a lot of experience with machinery,” explained Jason. Growing up on a dairy farm, the 34-year-old native of Wausau, Wisconsin, had plenty of time to learn about and fix machines.
Jason began operating farm tractors for his grandfather when he was a boy. Later, when his father sold clay to a local landfill and racetracks, he gained experience operating excavators and bulldozers. “I owe all my machinery experience to my dad and his dad,” he said.
Although he didn’t want to do chores when he was young, “I am very grateful for the skills I learned.”
Jason began working in a factory when he was 18. At the end of 10 years and with two factory jobs behind him, he sold all his possessions and drove west, living out of his truck for two months. “I was looking for something in life that I felt was missing only to discover it was right in front of me the entire time,” he recalled. “That’s what made me come back to Wisconsin.”
When he returned to Wisconsin, Jason began thinking about coupling his love of the land with his knack for aesthetics. “My stepfather suggested I apply at a local landscaping company — Land Art — and I fell in love with the industry.” He worked for several different companies in the ensuing years, telling each employer that he planned to start his landscaping business. Not only was Jason learning while he worked for other companies, he was also imagining and envisioning his own business and what kind of services it would provide.
And he really got to know mini excavators. He operated most major brands.
That takes us back to the SANY. Jason took delivery of a SANY SY35U mini excavator in July. By the third week in October, he had put 172 hours on the machine.
“We use it for everything,” said Jason of the SANY machine. “We wanted to go for a machine that saves our backs.” And that’s why he chose the mini excavator – instead of a skid steer – for his first big equipment investment.
“We’re switching buckets all the time,” said Jason, who has three buckets for his SANY mini excavator. For example, he uses a 12-inch bucket for digging trenches. A 32-inch tooth bucket and a 36-inch grade bucket are used for tasks like pulling out stumps, and moving, handling, or loading stones and boulders, trees and shrubs, and other material.
To economize, Jason chose a manual method for changing buckets. SANY also offers an automated system to change buckets. The manual system — a push pin — works well, said Jason. He and his team — his brother and a friend — can change buckets quickly and easily.
Buckets for the SANY excavator came from Felco Industries, which manufactures them. The buckets illustrate the extent to which Scandinavian Forestry Equipment goes to assist its customers, noted Jason. He was having difficulty with the bolt attachments, and Randy jumped in a vehicle with a technician from the dealership and went to Jason’s site at 6 p.m. to make everything right.
Jason described the staff at Scandinavian Forestry Equipment as “really personable guys.” The company has “proved itself” during every interaction. “I’m really confident they’ll be there” if needed, he said.
Digging trenches, removing stumps, and moving earth and other materials are all part of what Promethean Artisans does in the course of performing jobs across the range of landscaping services. Currently, much of the focus is on hardscaping, but the company does everything from installing beds of mulch or rock to building retaining walls and drainages.
When TimberLine spoke with Jason, he had just completed a job building steps and a custom railing that involved moving some large stones. The real challenge, he explained, was finding anchoring points on boulders in order to attach the railing, which was made of 1-inch steel pipe.
Promethean Artisans operates on a customer engagement model. “I like to get homeowners involved in the project,” said Jason. “I want them to tell me what their goals are.”
After listening to a potential customer talk about their vision for a landscape project, Jason gives them some alternatives and cost estimates. He will take his team anywhere in Wisconsin for the right job.
Wausau, the home base for Promethean Artisans, is located in the center of the state. It has nearly 39,000 residents and is part of Marathon County; the greater metropolitan region has a population of about 134,000. The town is approximately 90 miles northwest of Green Bay. Jason works out of a house he rents and keeps the SANY mini excavator parked in the garage.
Jason is interested in expanding his business into timber frame construction. He envisions building small timber frame homes and leasing them to generate income. His first timber frame building will be a shop for his company when he gets the land.
Jason is no novice to working with wood. He has some experience felling trees with a chainsaw — always a Husqvarna or a Stihl — as well as milling logs with a chainsaw to make boards to build furniture. “I don’t mind cutting boards with a chainsaw,” said Jason, although he will outsource long cuts to a local sawmill. He can use the SANY to push a tree in the direction he wants it to fall, but for really tall trees he will recommend a customer use a tree removal company.
A man with plenty of energy, Jason regards himself as different. “I’ve always been aware that I don’t fit in the box,” he said. “I’ve always been a little defiant.” His business is named for Prometheus, who was the mythical Greek god viewed as the author of human arts and sciences. “Defiantly original” is what Jason wants to convey with the name of his company.
If someone tells Jason he cannot do something, his response is, ‘“Watch me.” He is committed to learning more, when there is downtime in winter months, and takes courses to add to his knowledge base and the options he can give to customers.
When Jason first heard of SANY and its line of mini excavators from Randy, he didn’t know a lot about the brand, but he knew excavators. “I’ve run all of them,” said Jason of excavators. “I’ve got a huge amount of experience. I ran (the SANY). It felt like the others.”
After recognizing the SANY SY35U mini excavator was comparable to the best of the similar excavators he had run, Jason went through with the purchase from Scandinavian Forestry Equipment. Whenever he needs a skid steer for a project, he rents one, usually from Sunbelt rentals. An Iron Bull dump trailer is used to transport the excavator, which is strapped down. A GMC AT4 pickup truck pulls the trailer.
SANY manufactures a wide range of heavy equipment, including mini excavators, excavators, wheel loaders, backhoe loaders, cranes, forklifts, and more. The company was started by four welders in 1989. Today it is a multinational heavy equipment manufacturing company — reportedly the third-largest heavy equipment manufacturer in the world. Its operations include research and development and manufacturing facilities in Germany, Brazil, India, and a new $60 million facility in Peachtree City, Georgia.
The staff of Scandinavian Forestry Equipment understands that people who work in the forest products industry, which it has long served, include those whose jobs take them into a variety of areas — companies like Promethean Artisans. This year Scandinavian Forestry Equipment expanded into supplying construction equipment with the addition of the SANY brand.
Scandinavian Forestry Equipment’s mission is to exceed customers’ expectations and forge profitable, long-term relationships by supplying efficient, reliable, world-class forestry equipment solutions. The staff has over 80 years of combined experience in the forest products industry. The company has its headquarters in Manchester, Pennsylvania, and has a second location in Wausau, Wisconsin. It has a growing network of affiliate dealers and is represented in the West, the Great Lakes Region, and the Northeast.
Scandinavian Forestry Equipment is owned and led by Greg Porter, who launched the business in 2017 after a lengthy and successful tenure leading Log Max, which manufactures cut-to-length timber harvesting attachments.
The company’s primary product line for forestry is the EcoLog brand of wheel harvesters and forwarders for cut-to-length logging. EcoLog is a Swedish manufacturer, and its machines combine agility, compactness and power.
Scandinavian Forestry Equipment also offers Eltec track machines for forestry operations, Quadco, Southstar, and Waratah felling and harvesting attachments, Cranab and Hultdins grapples, grapple saws and cranes, Slagkraft forestry mulchers, mowers, and land-clearing equipment, and two manufacturers of forestry tracks for wheel forestry and construction machines.
(For more information on Scandinavian Forestry Equipment and its product lines, visit www.scandforestry.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (717) 793-3102.)
Promethean Artisans is not just a company that Jason established and operates. It is a manifestation of his philosophy for living. “I want a life of fulfillment,” said Jason. He recalled a conversation he had with an established contractor in Oregon well before he started his own company. The contractor impressed upon him the importance of integrating the aspects of life that he values with his life’s work.
Not only does Jason like to interact with customers, but he also enjoys meeting with competitors. He aims to be “authentically” connected to the professional life he has chosen.
“It’s not just about human interactions,” said Jason. As a self-employed business owner, “There’s nobody holding your hand,” and that independence matters.
Jason seeks information about landscaping methods and approaches in every venue — formal classes, person-to-person conversations, and online forums. At the most fundamental level, though, it’s about identifying a problem to solve and coming up with a solution.
“I love trying to figure out solutions to challenges – like the railing,” said Jason.
As for what hooked Jason on hardscaping, he cites a rock path he installed for his grandfather when he was only about 14. The satisfaction of looking at the results of a job well done inspired him to keep going on the course that led to Promethean Artisans.
“I want to build a community,” said Jason, “to do non-profit training (in trades).” The idea to help train young people in building trades fits with his interest and commitment in doing quality work.
“Cultivating trade skills is great and useful to their lives. However, creating a safe place for youths to be able to express their creativity and talk about life as well as form lasting friendships really interests me, and if along the way they learn a thing or two, that’s cool too.”
Jason’s grandfather died when he was almost 15, and a few months later his great-grandfather and great-grandmother both passed away. Losing those family members was difficult. “I really felt lost for a lot of my high school and early adult life working in factories,” he recalled. “I want to help youths so they don’t lose a huge portion of their lives chasing someone else’s goals instead of their own like I did.”
In his free time Jason likes to build furniture, do mechanical work, and stone work for personal projects. And there’s video games played via the Internet. “I am an old-school gamer,” said Jason. “A lot of friends moved out of the country and state. We keep in touch” through gaming.