LILY, Wisconsin – Mark Strong didn’t necessarily envision a career in the forest products industry, but that hasn’t stopped him from starting and growing a successful logging business. He’s had a good mentor: his father, Quentin, a life-long logger.
He’s also had good equipment as he transitioned into mechanized cut-to-length logging, including an Eco Log forwarder from Scandinavian Forestry Equipment.
The office for Strong Logging is in Mark’s home in the hamlet of Lily in north-central Wisconsin, a little over 80 miles northwest of Green Bay and on the southeast edge of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.
The region has heavy soil, and the terrain is fairly flat. Some areas contain rolling hills or steeper inclines. The forests generally are hardwood stands mixed with aspen. “We will cut quite a bit of aspen,” noted Mark. The dominant hardwood species are hard maple with some red oak, basswood, which is fairly predominant, and a mix of others, such a white birch, yellow birch, and cherry. “Red oak is the only kind of oak that grows in this area,” said Mark.
Mark buys timber from private landowners and also bids for timber sales on the national forest and county forests.
In addition to Mark and his father, the company has nine employees, which includes four truck drivers. The company normally is divided into two crews that work on separate jobs.
On large jobs they may work together. Mark likes for each crew to produce about 20 loads per week. Together, they average about 40-45 loads per week with the four truck drivers hauling wood full-time.
Mark, 37, attended the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing. He envisioned working in sales, but he graduated in 2008, and the nation’s economy already was weakening, a prelude to the recession of the early 1990s. Jobs were scarce. “The job market was in the tank,” recalled Mark.
He and his father, Quentin, decided to throw in together. Quentin has worked in logging all his life; after his brother, Kelly, left the business in the mid-1990s, Quentin down-sized and worked alone. Father and son began working together in 2008.
They started small. Mark did all the felling, removing the limbs and bucking with a chainsaw. They borrowed a cable skidder from a friend of Quentin, and his father operated the skidder. After three years they bought a Tree Farmer forwarder. They moved to mechanized logging in 2011 with a John Deere 120 cut-to-length harvester with a Fabtek head. They have continued to grow the company incrementally, adding equipment and employees.
The company is equipped with a John Deere 803 track harvester purchased new last fall, a Cat 501HD track harvester, an Eco Log 574E forwarder, and a Cat 564 forwarder. Mark also has a John Deere 650 bulldozer for building roads, a dump truck for hauling gravel and a front-end loader.
Mark invested in the Eco Log 574E forwarder from Scandinavian Forestry Equipment in 2019. He bought it to replace an older Cat forwarder that was requiring more repairs and creating more down time. Mark considered Scandinavian Forestry Equipment and three other manufacturers for a replacement machine. At the time, Scandinavian Forestry Equipment was relatively new to the Great Lakes Region.
“I heard that SFE was a good company to work with,” said Mark. He contacted other loggers that had done business with the company and asked them about the equipment and service. “Some guys had similar machines and had good experience,” recalled Mark.
“Plus, (SFE was) more competitive on price.”
He went to visit another logger who was running an Eco Log forwarder to watch it at work. One feature that particularly struck him was the long reach of the boom. Other than that, most forwarders are somewhat similar, noted Mark.
The other loggers talked favorably about the machines and Ron Raith, who heads the Wausau branch of Scandinavian Forestry Equipment. Based on their experience, “I knew that Ron was good to work with and took care of the machines and customers,” said Mark.
The Eco Log 574E belongs to the new range of E-Series forwarders developed for operator comfort and easy servicing. Eco Log manufactures six models in the forwarder series, and the 574E is a mid-size model.
The Eco Log 574E forwarder has a capacity of 15 tons. It is powered by a Volvo Penta 252 hp Stage V, six cylinder engine. The Volvo Penta engines are known for their reliability and fuel efficiency. The grill swings open for easy access to the radiator and cleaning, and the hood is opened with electric actuators to facilitate service. Large-dimensioned fenders house easy-to-access batteries, as well as a tool box. The diesel exhaust fluid tank is located with the central lubrication unit, fuel and hydraulic tank to facilitate easy access.
The operator cab has been designed and equipped for a high level of comfort to reduce fatigue and enable the operator to continue working productively all day long. The cab provides excellent visibility to give the operator a clear view of the work area.
Eco Log is a Swedish manufacturer of cut-to-length forestry harvesters and forwarders. It began manufacturing logging equipment in 1986. Eco Log operations in Sweden employ 140 people.
Eco Log machines are distributed in the U.S. by Scandinavian Forestry Equipment, which is led by owner and president Greg Porter, and is headquartered in Manchester, Pennsylvania.
In addition to being a distributor for Eco Log forestry machines, Scandinavian Forestry Equipment offers 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 Hultdins cranes and grapples. The staff of Scandinavian Forestry Equipment collectively has more than 80 years of experience in the forestry industry.
When Greg launched Scandinavian Forestry Equipment, he brought years of leadership experience with the forestry equipment industry and notably harvesting heads – 17 years heading the North American operations of Log Max. His 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 a contractor’s operations.
(For more information about Scandinavian Forestry Equipment and the products it offers, visit www.scandforestry.com.)
Mark has been pleased with the Eco Log 574E forwarder. “It’s a dependable machine,” said Mark. “We haven’t had too many issues with it. It’s very productive. It does what it’s supposed to do. It’s a good one.”
The Eco Log 574E forwarder has “absolutely” met his expectations, he added.
The crane has a very long reach, noted Mark. “That was one nice feature about it.” The machine also has good fuel economy. “It’s very reasonable on fuel,” said Mark.
Mark contracts with Scandinavian Forestry Equipment to perform preventive maintenance on the Eco Log forwarder. “They have a set rate for service calls,” he said. The company is “very responsive” to requests for service or support and also is “very reasonable” on repairs, said Mark. For the company’s other machines, employees perform most preventive maintenance. Mark and his father built a shop for their equipment in 2019.
Mark purchased the Cat 501HD in used condition from Woodland Equipment in 2018. Woodland Equipment serves loggers in the Great Lakes region and has two locations in Upper Peninsula and Lower Michigan. The company represents Tigercat as well as three manufacturers of forestry attachments: Log Max, Quadco, and Kesla.
The CAT 501HD is equipped with a CAT PF-48 harvester attachment that was updated with a JP Skidmore package of enhancements that converted the head from four rollers to two.
The conversion package provides a number of benefits, including improved roller speed, elimination of idler rollers and H-chain and sprockets, and reduced maintenance. The conversion also reduces the weight of the attachment by about 350 pounds.
When Mark talked with TimberLine, the crews were working on two jobs. One job, about 200 acres, was logged years ago, and the crew now was thinning the hardwood forest, removing trees marked by foresters. The other job was about 350-400 acres on the national forest, removing storm-damaged trees and clear-cutting some areas of aspen.
Beside his crews, Mark also contracts another logger with a cut-to-length harvester who produces wood for Strong Logging.
In winter or on soft ground, the harvester operators cut the slash into smaller pieces and sets it down in front of the machine’s path, so both harvesters and forwarders travel over it. The mat of limbs protects the ground as it is broken up to eventually be composted back into the soil.
A little over 50 percent of Strong Logging’s production is pulpwood. About 15-20 percent consist of low-grade bolts supplied to mills that cut it into pallet stock. The remaining production is saw logs.
Mark used to sell most of his pulp to the Verso mill in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, but since it closed he is sending pulp to the Verso mill in Quinnesec, Michigan, a haul of just over 70 miles.
Markets are decent, according to Mark. “They’re not too bad right now. There’s a little more demand this year than last year. That helps, being able to get rid of the wood, and the price as well.”
Saw logs go to Kretz Lumber, which has a mill in nearby Antigo, and Kersten Lumber, a little further south in Birnamwood. The markets for saw logs are “pretty good,” said Mark.
Demand has been strong but recently has been slowing slightly.
Bolts are supplied to Timber Creek, a wood packaging manufacturer with a mill in Antigo as well as numerous other facilities, and to some other, smaller companies more sporadically.
When Mark and his father started Strong Logging, Quentin sold his self-loading truck, and they contracted truckers to haul their wood to the mills. As they have grown, they began buying trucks. “It gives us more stability, more reliability,” observed Mark, since he is not relying on a contractor to get his wood to a mill. Also, contract trucking is a considerable expense. Having his own trucks, there is the potential to haul for other loggers, but so far Mark is only hauling his company’s wood.
Up until a few years ago, Mark was operating a harvester. Now he scouts timber, bids on new jobs, sets up the jobs, and oversees the operations. His wife, Samantha, handles a lot of the paperwork for the business, working in their home office.
Quentin, 76, is slowing down and is talking about cutting back. “He doesn’t want to retire completely,” said Mark. Quentin spends a lot of his time driving company trucks, but he also sharpens the saw chains for the harvesters and fills in as needed.
Mark is a member of the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association. He likes to do a little golfing in the summer. He enjoys hunting deer and fishing when time allows. He and his father take an annual pheasant hunting trip to South Dakota each year.
Mark would like to continue to grow Strong Logging, although he said there is “nothing in the pipeline.”
“We’ve been trending in that direction, upping production, and trying to keep up with the hauling that goes with it.”
His employees have enabled the company to grow, said Mark. “What I’m doing right now would not be possible without them. We’ve got a good crew working for us, and we owe them a lot of credit.”