By Nick Sampson
MCKENZIE, Tennessee – About 10 years ago Batton Enterprises was looking to make a transition to cut-to-length logging. The Battons found their solution, a Keto harvester attachment, and have stuck with the brand ever since.
Batton Enterprises is a family business: Bruce Batton Sr., 76, majority owner, and his sons, Bruce Jr., 54, and Chad, 44. The Battons work out of McKenzie in west Tennessee, roughly 130 miles west of Nashville.
The Battons have long roots as loggers. Chad’s great-grandfather, Andrew Jackson Batton, logged with an ax, crosscut saw, and mules more than 100 years ago. Andrew’s son, Fred, followed in his father’s footsteps. Chad can still recall Fred, his grandfather, telling him about those days working as a logger with hand tools.
The Battons use sophisticated equipment nowadays. For harvesting the company uses a TimberPro 735 track harvester paired with a Keto 873 harvester attachment to fell and process at the stump. A TimberPro 830 forwarder transports the wood to the landing, where a Barko loader puts it on trucks. The company also has an old Cat 535 skidder in reserve from when it used to do tree-length logging and a couple of tractor-trailers.
Chad, who talked with TimberLine for this article, explained why the Battons decided to convert to cut-to-length logging. “We were wanting to go to a cut-to-length setup because in our area in northwest Tennessee, the amount of working days that you can skid logs, get tree lengths out of the woods, is limited.” When wet weather comes, he added, “either you sit out until the ground dries up or you make a big old mess.”
Using a cut-to-length harvester to fell and process at the stump, and a forwarder to take the wood to the landing, “we could take care of the land a lot better,” said Chad. “We wouldn’t rut it (the forest floor) up as bad.”
The Battons looked at cut-to-length attachments for a long time – for years. There were very few being used in west Tennessee. Chad settled on Keto after looking at videos of different harvester attachments. One of the things that impressed him about the Keto heads were the tracks that are used to move the tree through the head instead of feed rollers or wheels used on other attachments. The tracks keep a better grip on the stem, contends Chad.
“You can pull up any other processor that you want to,” said Chad, “you name it, but with a round wheel (feed roller) the point of contact is small. The tracks (on Keto heads) don’t spin out.”
The company’s first Keto attachment was a model 870-B in 2013. They upgraded to a Keto 873 four years ago.
Keto harvester attachments, manufactured in Finland, are distributed in North America by TrackGrip Inc., of Saint Lazare, Quebec. The technology was developed in the 1980s, and today Keto attachments are used by loggers in Scandinavian countries as well as Western Europe, Great Britain, Japan, Australia, Canada, and the U.S.
Keto harvester heads are light in relation to their efficiency, and they are suited for both thinning and demanding final felling applications. They feature powerful hydraulics and the unique feed track drive, which does not damage tree stems.
The Keto 873 features three delimbing arms for added stability in large diameter felling operations. Single cut felling capacity is 32 inches, and delimbing capacity is 27 inches. With a tractive force of 8,835 pounds force, it can handle trees weighing nearly four tons. Recommended for carriers with at least 210 hp, the Keto 873 feed speed is 18 feet per second and also features 360-degree rotation.
Keto heads have a triple length measuring system, with each of the tracks measuring stems independently and a Technion xLogger computer making a third measurement. The manufacturer does not use conventional saw bar position sensors inside the main saw bar housing; instead the head reads the accurate bar position remotely, eliminating related wiring and sensor issues.
Established in 2021, TrackGrip Inc. handles the sales and servicing of all Keto attachments in North America. Keto has been in the North American market since 1988, with about 700 heads sold and well over 6,000 worldwide.
(For more information on Keto harvester attachments, visit www.trackgripinc.com.)
The three delimbing arms of the Keto 873 are another feature that Chad appreciates. Keto heads “probably do the best job with processing hardwood of any processing that I’ve ever seen,” he said.
The attachment’s light weight (7,400 pounds) effectively gives the Timberpro carrier more power to lift, noted Chad. “It doesn’t weigh as much as the gigantic heads in the other brands. The more weight you have out there on the boom, the less lifting capacity you have.”
“One of the best things I like about the Keto is that it will process fairly large hard timber,” said Chad. “Like the job that we’re working on now. There’s a lot of that timber for which there’s not another processor head in the world that will cut and process that wood. It’s just too big. But this can handle it.”
The company has purchased its TimberPro machines and Keto heads from Bush Forestry, an equipment dealer in Huntingdon. “If I order parts, I might contact TrackGrip directly, but it all comes through Bush Forestry,” said Chad.
Chad operates the TimberPro 735 and does the felling and processing, his brother runs the TimberPro 830 forwarder, and their father operates the Barko loader and also drives trucks to haul wood. Given the size of the business, they all work together on the same job. Limbs and tops typically are left in the woods near the stump.
When Chad talked with TimberLine, the Battons had just finished harvesting a 20-acre block of hardwood. Chad cut some trees as big as 49 inches in diameter even though the head’s cutting capacity is only 32 inches. The 360-degree rotation of the Keto 873 makes that possible. “I can use that head to cut much larger trees than 32 inches because I can put multiple cuts in the tree,” he said. Even though a tree that big is too large to run through the processor, Chad can still work around it; he uses a tape measure to mark the tree and picks it up to top it, cut off limbs and buck logs.
Most of the company’s work is within 30-40 miles of its shop, but sometimes they go farther afield. For example, The Battons have done work for the Army Corps of Engineers at Fort Campbell on the Kentucky-Tennessee border, about 80 miles away.
That’s good work, noted Chad. “All the harvests were basically seed-tree harvests. They marked the trees, flagged the stream boundaries – anything like that they take care of. As long as we abide by the rules that they’ve got there, and we don’t get into any kind of water-quality issues or anything like that, they are pretty easy to get along with.”
The terrain in west Tennessee contains rolling hills with numerous creek and river bottoms. The forests grow a mixture of pine and mixed hardwoods; the hardwoods include hickory, poplar, red oak and white oak. The Battons do everything from thinning to final harvests. A recent job was 250 acres of plantation pine that had been planted about 30 years ago.
The Battons buy timber and contract for timber harvesting. They contract to harvest timber for Ghyers Timber and Sawmill in nearby Henry. However, they stay pretty busy harvesting the stumpage they’ve bought.
“It’s not that we don’t want to,” said Chad. “We just have so much work lined up that we don’t have time to get to anything of theirs. I’ve got landowners that are waiting on me to get to theirs, and they have been waiting several months.”
The Battons take jobs as small as 5 acres. Most jobs are about 75 percent saw logs and tie logs and 25 percent pulpwood. They average 15-30 loads per week.
They have markets in the region for saw logs and tie logs. Markets for pulpwood include Phoenix Paper in Wickliffe, Kentucky, which has shut down several times in the last several years, and Temple-Inland (a subsidiary of International Paper), which has several mills in the region but doesn’t consume the volume that it used to. The Battons normally haul their own wood.
Prices for hardwood saw logs and tie logs have declined over the last 18 months or so. Pulpwood prices are very low, a situation not aided by the fact that Phoenix “doesn’t have any competition in this area at all, hardly,” said Chad, “so the prices could be better.”
Eighteen months ago or longer, markets for wood “were as good as it has ever been,” said Chad. “Pallet logs, tie logs, white oak stave logs, the pulpwood market – everything was as good as I have ever seen it. Today it’s not as good as it was 18 months ago, but it’s not bad, as long as the market stays open and prices don’t decline so much.”
“But with the logging around here, we are typically just happy to have a place to carry it,” added Chad. “If we can move the wood and maybe make just a little bit of money, we’re happy to.”
Chad wonders whether he should allow his 15-year-old son, Ethan, to join the business. Ethan is enthusiastic about that idea, “and I tell him, ‘Man, there are easier ways to make a living.’ “
“He’s got a 4.0 (grade point) average. He’s handsome, he’s charismatic. He has got everything in the world going for him,” said Chad, “but if you love it, you love it. Once it is in your blood, it is kind of hard to get it out. I’m not going to tell him that he can’t do it.”
When Bruce Sr. began logging in the 1970s, he started with chainsaws and farm tractors and would load trucks with an old backhoe. The sons don’t think their father is going to slow down any time soon. “He is not going to stop. We don’t retire,” said Chad. “I mean, it is not in our family genes. He enjoys the work. He can’t wait to get to work in the mornings. He loves logging.”