GOODRICH, Wisconsin — How important is logging to Jason Smola, owner of Smola Transit? “Logging is in my blood,” he said.
So much so, when Jason had the opportunity to start a logging company, he did. He launched Smola Enterprises in 2021 with an Eco Log 590F harvester and an Eco Log 574F forwarder purchased from Scandinavian Forestry Equipment.
The Eco Log machines Jason invested in connect him to the man who imbued him with a love of logging. That is his grandfather, George Smola Jr. “My grandpa taught me everything I know,” said Jason. “I lost him this past February.”
George put the Eco Log forwarder he ran to the test. “My grandpa wasn’t the easiest on equipment, and the 574 he ran just kept running,” said Jason. “That’s why I decided to go with the 574 forwarder.”
Family ties and experience also helped inform Jason’s decision to purchase an Eco Log harvester. Jason’s uncles, Brian Smola and George Smola III, own Smola Brothers, a logging company featured in TimberLine in 2016.
“My uncles owned an older Eco Log 590 harvester, and I just noticed they never worked on it much,” said Jason, 42. “That’s why I went with the Eco Log with the Log Max 7000 head. It just handles everything we throw at it.”
The Log Max 7000 head easily tackles the hardwood, pine and aspen that Jason’s team routinely harvests in north-central Wisconsin. And the operators of the Eco Log harvester and Eco Log forwarder tell Jason the machines run smoothly at all speeds.
Jason started his trucking company, Smola Transit, 20 years ago. It all began when his grandfather needed a driver for the trucks he had purchased from his brother, Jim Smola.
“Grandpa needed a driver and I hated college, so I quit, and he had me start hauling with ‘Wheels’ Ken Bartelt,” recalled Jason. He learned a lot from ‘Wheels,’ a septuagenarian, and still puts the knowledge to good use in his trucking company.
Smola Transit hauls logs, pulpwood, chips, equipment, and aggregate for logging companies and other contractors in northern Wisconsin. “We are a company that mainly thrives in hauling raw forest products,” said Jason. “We also haul equipment for other loggers and construction companies.”
Being able to offer diverse services is critical to stabilizing a business, explained Jason. It’s a lesson learned in not the easiest way – having “too many eggs in one basket” during a downturn in the economy. “Logging is our forte,” said Jason, “but we do a fair amount of dirt work in the summer, also.”
The “dirt work” includes excavation, digging foundations, building roads and rights-of-way. For those projects the company is equipped with a Cat 323 excavator, a John Deere 650K dozer, and a Cat 259 skid-loader.
Jason’s companies are based on 88 acres in Medford, which is a little over 30 miles northwest of Wausau. “We have a shop, scale, and holding facility for mills and construction companies,” said Jason. When he talked to TimberLine, his wood yard held about 24,000 tons of pulpwood that will be supplied to paper mills in the region.
Depending on the season, Smola Transit employs 12 to 15. The trucking operations are equipped with three Peterbilt 567 semi-tractors, a Kenworth semi-tractor and a Volvo semi-tractor, four Great Lakes crib trailers, a chip trailer, a lowboy, and one quad-axle dump truck. The company hauls about 180,000 tons of pulpwood and chips annually.
Word-of-mouth is the principal means by which both of Jason’s companies secure jobs. “I very rarely bid on work,” he said.
With two businesses going simultaneously, Jason must be able to depend on his vendors, including Scandinavian Forestry Equipment. “They keep you running,” said Jason, referring to Scandinavian Forestry Equipment. “They are not your typical dealership. Our world is based on production, and it is huge when those machines keep running.”
Jason appreciates being able to interact directly with Ron Raith, who heads the Wausau branch of Scandinavian Forestry Equipment. The company, owner and president Greg Porter, is headquartered in Manchester, Pennsylvania.
Smola Enterprises works within about a 150-mile radius of Goodrich. The company performs select cuts and clear-cut harvests. It is on track to produce 17,000 tons of wood products annually.
The Eco Log 590F is the largest model in the 500 series of harvesters. It is powered by a 320 hp Volvo Penta engine that delivers high performance, reliability and fuel efficiency.
The cab can swivel 350 degrees and tilt laterally 25 inches. Eco Log’s unique pendulum arm suspension system allows the operator to traverse uneven and rugged terrain with maximum safety and comfort. A balanced bogie is an option for added flexibility.
The Eco Log 574F forwarder has a capacity of more than 15 tons. The rubber tires can be fitted with bogie tracks to match seasonal and geographic conditions as needed. A grill swings open to provide easy access to components for cleaning and maintenance.
Eco Log equipment is manufactured in Sweden. In addition to being a distributor for Eco Log forestry machines, Scandinavian Forestry Equipment sells Eltec track harvesters and FECON forestry mulching equipment. The company represents a wide range of manufacturers of timber cutting and harvesting attachments, including Log Max, Quadco, Southstar, Waratah, and JPS Saw Systems, and also offers Cranab and Huldtins cranes and grapples. The staff of Scandinavian Forestry Equipment collectively has more than 80 years of experience in the forestry industry.
Greg adheres to the premise that customers ought to be given choices in forestry equipment. He brought years of leadership experience with the forestry industry and notably harvesting heads – 17 years heading the North American operations of Log Max.
Greg’s philosophy for Scandinavian Forestry Equipment is to help customers determine their precise needs and then find an equipment solution for them. It is common practice for team members to visit logging job sites to get a first-hand perspective on the contractor’s operations.
(For more information about Scandinavian Forestry Equipment and the products it offers, visit www.scandforestry.com.)
Given the modest abundance of white ash yet few markets for it, Jason started processing some white ash into firewood some time ago. “We have a Brute-Force 20-24 firewood processor,” said Jason. “We produce about 500 face cords annually.” The firewood is delivered to customers via dump-truck load.
Jason’s experience in the forest products industry extends to many facets, even sawing. “My Uncle Brian owned a Wood-Mizer back in the day, and I used to saw dimensional lumber for him.”
A member of the Timber Producers Association of Michigan and Wisconsin, Jason traces his interest in logging to his maternal grandfather. He recalls watching and helping his grandfather in his logging business from his earliest childhood.
His grandfather started a logging company with his brother, Jim, in the early 1980s. In 1998, Jim sold his interest in the business to George and George’s sons (Brian and George III).
“I always worked by my grandpa’s side on the farm, raising beef and running his skidder in the summertime, along with peeling poplar and baling hay,” said Jason. “So there was no other place I would want to be than by [his] side. That’s how I ended up in this business.”
When Jason started college, he intended to earn a degree in surveying. Although he withdrew in order to work with his grandfather and begin his own entrepreneurial path, the studies would prove to be relevant to his excavation and site preparation work.
Jason said that he has a philosophy about the nature of formal education: “Intelligence enables a man to live without an education. An education enables a man to live without intelligence.” That’s a lighthearted way of contrasting the difference between formal and informal education.
Jason notes that he learns every day through various interactions with other people. “I love talking with people, whether it’s my employees or new clients,” he explained.
“My grandfather] taught me everything I know,” said Jason. “He has contributed to a lot of my success, along with my employees. Until the day he died, we talked every night about the business and how the great-grandkids were doing.”
“The man knew how to skid wood like no other, and he knew how to set up a landing in the woods. People ask how I got to this position in life, especially without a college education.
My response to them is listen – and listen to everyone. You will always gain some knowledge out of a person even if they are eccentric. My motto in life is: just be a good person, the rest will follow.”
Jason sums it up this way: “Ignorance gets you nowhere, but humbleness does. My grandpa taught me to forgive, and those words I live by.”
Married 17 years, Jason and his wife Amy have four children. And family time is important to all. “I love the lake life,” said Jason. “We have a cabin by Lake Tomahawk, and I enjoy doing things with my family and friends there. I also enjoy a good golf scramble.”