FINLAND, Minnesota – Greg Tibbetts is always looking for ways to make his logging and trucking business more productive, more efficient, more profitable.
“I’m always trying to improve,” said Greg, 57, whose business is based in Finland in northeast Minnesota, just a couple of miles from the shore of Lake Superior.
The path to improvement has led him into cut-to-length logging, or a hybrid form of it, and to growing reliance on TimberPro forestry machines. He took delivery of a new TimberPro 735 track feller buncher in mid-January, and the week he talked to TimberLine he ordered a new TimberPro 830 combo – his fourth 830 machine.
Greg, who grew up in nearby Silver Bay, sort of backed into logging. He worked in the woods for a couple of years and then started his own trucking business in 1988. He hauled pulpwood for loggers and in the mid-1990s started building roads for them, too. Greg began getting into logging around 2012-13 when he bought a feller buncher and a skidder primarily to remove trees to make way for logging roads. Before long, he was doing just about everything for loggers – building roads, contract felling, and trucking and moving equipment.
Greg rented a slasher and a stroke boom delimber in late 2014 and got into logging himself. “I was doing everything. I figured, why don’t I just cut some wood?”
“Instead of getting up in the middle of the night and going to work to make life easier for someone else,” he added, “ I started doing it myself…cutting my own wood.”
He already had good connections with mills because he had been building logging roads for some of them, and he started cutting timber for them. Initially he began contracting to cut timber for the mills, but in recent years he transitioned to buying his own timber, which now accounts for about 90 percent of his production. “I had the capital to buy the timber, and I believe in creating my own destiny,” said Greg.
Tibbetts Trucking does logging, trucking, and logging road construction. With an office in his home, Greg has 12 employees, which includes three truck drivers and a mechanic. “The rest are logging.” His “core group” of logging employees is five men, and he usually adds a couple more in winter.
Greg has three TimberPro 830 eight-wheel forwarders plus the fourth on order. The machine also can be configured as a clam bunk skidder. In Greg’s case, one of his machines is a combo unit that can be quickly changed over to function as a forwarder or a harvester or processor simply by switching out the attachment, which only takes 15 minutes.
Greg operates two cut-to-length crews and a tree-length or conventional logging crew. The cut-to-length crews use the new TimberPro 735 for felling the trees and bunching them. It is followed by the TimberPro 830 combo machine with a Waratah 219 and a John Deere 830 track harvester – the first cut-to-length harvester he purchased – with a Waratah 623, processing the timber. The other two TimberPro 830 forwarders transport the wood to the landing.
The tree-length crew uses a Cat 521B track feller buncher for taking down and bunching the trees. A Cat 545D skidder moves the trees to a Cat 316F excavator with a Pro Pack stroke boom delimber for processing. Another Cat 545D skids the logs to the landing. At the landing, the company has two Serco 300 slashers and a Serco 170 slasher to cut the logs to length and three Liebherr loaders at various landings to load and unload trucks.
When Greg got into logging he focused 100 percent on tree-length logging. “I had zero time for cut-to-length,” he said. “I thought it was too slow.” He was producing a lot of pulpwood. With the Serco slashers, equipped with 72-inch circular saw blades, a loader could stack 20 small diameter logs and cut them to length at the same time.
However, with the shutdown of the Verso paper mill in Duluth in 2020, Greg had to make a change. He was one of the mill’s largest suppliers of softwood pulpwood, hauling about half his pulpwood production there. “I had to change my game,” he recalled. (The mill was subsequently acquired by ST Paper, which invested in new equipment and began operating this year.)
The slashers were not a good fit for processing saw logs, and Greg began considering cut-to-length machines. That was when he invested in the John Deere 803 track harvester with the Waratah 623 head and his first TimberPro forwarder. He discovered he could merchandise every piece of wood, and seeing the benefits of cut-to-length, he began leaning toward that type of logging.
When he added the TimberPro 830 combo machine with the Waratah 219, he only used it twice for cut-to-length harvesting and then changing the attachment to do forwarding.
After that he decided to invest in another TimberPro forwarder and let the TimberPro 830 combo machine be dedicated to processing.
He uses the TimberPro 735 feller buncher to drop the trees and group them in bunches. “So the processor doesn’t have to cut the tree down,” noted Greg. That approach, which he considers a hybrid approach to cut-to-length, enabled him to increase production about 50 percent, he estimated. When the trees are bunched in piles and processed in the same place, the forwarder can come in and get almost an entire bunk full of wood with only one stop.
In the transition, his tree-length logging machines sat idle for about six months as Greg refined his new logging methods with the other equipment. When a mine in the region closed down, some of the men came to Greg, looking for work, so he started up his tree-length logging operations again.
Greg previously owned two Cat feller bunchers, but one caught fire and was destroyed 18 months ago. When he eventually decided to replace it and add a second buncher, he considered Weiler, which acquired Caterpillar’s forestry equipment several years ago. “I was pretty loyal to Cat,” noted Greg. In fact, all of his road-building equipment is Cat.
Ziegler Cat flew him to the Weiler factory in LaGrange, Georgia, for a tour, and he met Pat Weiler, who favorably impressed him. Weiler “treated me as good as they possibly could,” he added.
In the end, however, “I truly wanted a TimberPro. I was ready to change teams.”
He had experience with TimberPro by then because he had already bought a used TimberPro forwarder, then the TimberPro combo machine with low hours, then the next TimberPro forwarder, which was a rental machine with low hours.
Greg has purchased his TimberPro machines through Road Machinery & Supplies Co., a distributor of construction and mining equipment with sales and support operations throughout the Upper Midwest. The company has two locations in Northeast Minnesota.
Asked what he liked about TimberPro, Greg responded, “I like the fact that I’ve had several pieces of TimberPro equipment for a combined 8,000 hours and never needed a service call.” In addition, TimberPro, based in Wisconsin, is only a couple of hundred miles away, he noted.
He’s not really familiar with the company’s service because he’s never needed it. “What does that say?” he asked rhetorically about TimberPro’s reliability and durability. “That’s no BS.”
He has been very pleased with the performance of the Cummins diesel engines in his TimberPro machines, and TimberPro has excellent parts availability.
The TimberPro D-Series machines feature a larger cab with improved visibility both in front and to the boom side. A digital climate control system keeps the temperature steady and comfortable.
The machines are powered by a standard Cummins L9 Performance Series Stage V engine that generates 338 hp and 1,125 foot pounds of torque for and faster cycle times; the engine boasts increased fuel economy and longer maintenance intervals that contribute to reduced operating and ownership costs. It contains an EGR-free architecture and compact Single-Module™ aftertreatment system. Because of reduction in size of the emissions components, they retain the almost zero tail swing design.
Other features include auto reversing variable speed fan, Caterpillar D7 HD track frames with double flanged rollers, improved hydraulic cylinders, and large swing bearing with continuous rotation powered by an energy recovering hydrostatic swing system. The machines can be equipped with feller buncher booms for heavy, fixed attachments or optional harvester booms with a 6-foot squirt. Leveling capability is optional as well as winch-assist tethering hitch.
(For more information on the D-Series machines, visit www.timberpro.com.)
Joel Eden is a sales rep-territory manager for Road Machinery & Supplies, working out of the Minnesota locations of Duluth and Virginia. He previously worked at another dealership, so he has known Greg for a number of years.
“He’s a down-to-earth, hard-working Northern Minnesota logger,” Joel said of Greg. “He just tells it like it is.”
Joel sold Greg four of his TimberPro machines. Road Machinery & Supplies has several other logging contractor customers in Northern Minnesota who have purchased TimberPro equipment. “They’ve been amazing,” said Joel, referring to the TimberPro brand.
Loggers appreciate good equipment and timely responses from dealer personnel when they need assistance, noted Joel. “It’s the support and the response that sets you above and beyond anybody else.”
Greg normally works within about an hour’s drive of Finland, a distance of 40-50 miles. The terrain in northeast Minnesota is “very mixed,” he said. It can vary from rocky ground to sand and gravel and swamp, all within 100 yards. There are some steep hills but no mountains. The trees in the region include aspen, spruce balsam, pine, birch, and maple.
“We don’t have a dominant species,” said Greg.
He tries to keep the two cut-to-length and the one tree-length crew working on the same job but with different landings. The tree-length crew mainly works in aspen and hardwood to produce pulpwood; the cut-to-length crews work in pine and produce wood for different markets.
A typical job may range from 50 acres to 300. His current job is 200-300 acres, but it is divided into small blocks, such as 7 acres and 10 acres. The crews were thinning pines, removing marked trees. The trees are mostly Norway pine with some jack pine, spruce, balsam, white pine, aspen and birch. Production is about 50 percent pulp and 50 percent bolts or saw logs. Production may range from 40 cords on a block to 1,000.
In winter his company averages about 18 loads of wood per day, but it falls off to about 10 during the summer. His own trucks haul about half his wood, and he hires trucking contractors to haul the remainder. In winter he runs four of his own trucks and contracts for up to six more.
Greg sends a lot of his wood to the Louisiana-Pacific mill in Two Harbors, which makes SmartSide, an engineered wood product that is used for siding and related building materials. More pulpwood is supplied to UPM in Grand Rapids, Packing Corporation of America in International Falls, and SAPI in Cloquet. Other customers are Hedstrom Lumber, a specialty sawmill in Grand Marais, and PotlatchDeltic, which operates a stud mill in Bemidji.
Markets have been “good, really good,” said Greg. Demand has been high. However, he believes a market correction is coming because demand has been dropping. “We’re definitely seeing a downturn. So far, pricing isn’t dropping, but I know it’s coming.” With the rise in mortgage rates “and things leveling off, there’s going to be a correction. I’m not super concerned, but I see it coming.”
Greg has six logging trucks plus lowboy trailers for moving equipment. He builds his own logging roads and roads for other contractors. For road building work his company is equipped with three Cat dozers, two Cat excavators, a Cat front-end loader, a Cat motor grader, a Cat skid steer, and a Volvo compactor. He also has several dump trucks for hauling gravel.
In addition to his duties of overseeing and managing his business, “I’m the guy who does everything,” said Greg. He typically can be seen operating a loader at the landing and loading trucks. Road restrictions were about to be imposed for the mud season. “Wood that doesn’t make sense to haul to the mill right now,” because of the turn-around time, “we’ll move it to another location with no restrictions.” Greg also moves equipment and operates equipment to build logging roads.
“It varies,” he said. “I kind of have a plan every day, but everything changes.”
Greg has a partner in the business, Ted Peterson. Ted oversees a crew and runs the new feller buncher as well as road-building equipment. Ted’s two sons, Chase and Cody, also are employed in the company and operate equipment.
Greg buys supplies and materials in bulk when possible to get better pricing. He invested in two 12,000 gallon fuel tanks so he can buy diesel fuel in bulk; he buys a semi-load per week. He buys grease by the pallet. He buys 50 tires at a time and keeps them in a shipping container. “I figured out what I need and what I’ll use. When I get a deal, I’ll buy it.”
Greg’s company doesn’t offer benefits, but he finds other ways to reward employees for good performance. “I take very good care of my guys,” he said.
Greg is a board member of the Associated Contract Loggers and Truckers of Minnesota and the Minnesota Timber Professionals Association.
Greg has a couple of side-by-side off-road vehicles and also does a little snowmobiling. He has a cabin on a nearby lake and enjoys spending time there. “I just like to kick back and relax.” He was planning a trip in the spring to a beach in Alabama.