Standing about five-foot-five, Ken Wilson likes to joke that he's no Bull of the Woods. But in today's logging, you don't have to be Paul Bunyon to get the job done right. For Wilson and his cousin Dan, success depends on doing quality work and matching the right equipment to the job. The two Washington loggers, based out of Oakville, rely on a pair of Rottne machines -- a processor and a forwarder -- for their cut-to-length success.
Getting Into the Game
Ken, a third generation logger, grew up on a dairy farm southwest of Olympia. He was headed off to college when Dan talked him into logging for the summer. The two cousins, just three weeks apart in age, are more like brothers, so the logging was about kinship as much as livelihood.
After working various jobs in rigging, and then hand falling for more than 14 years, the two heard about cut-to-length from Weyerhaeuser, and decided to check it out. By utilizing the high-tech equipment, they could work as a twosome, keeping personnel and payroll duties simple. That was 14 years ago, and they've never looked back.
"I like to keep up with changes in technology, and I also like to keep my equipment on the newer side because payments don't kill you as much as down time," Ken says. "You never get down time back. We just like to continue working. I try to finance my equipment out as long as I can, then make balloon payments when possible."
Finding Your Machine
Ken started with a Kobelco, then went to a Timbco, and eventually purchased a Valmet in 1999. Recently, he switched to the Rottne H-20. "The H-20 is my fourth processor, and it's a very maneuverable machine for the kind of ground we work," he says, noting that western Washington gets a lot of rain so weight has a lot of bearing on soil disturbance. "The 941 Valmet is comparable, but it's 5,000 pounds heavier. I demoed a 941, but the knuckle boom mounted on the cab was top heavy for my use, and it was dinging residual trees. The H-20 is not perfect, but there's not a perfect machine out there. The Rottne is the best one on the market at this time, in my opinion."
Ken still praises the Valmet processor he ran for seven years, and admits he fell in love with its features at the Elmia in the Woods show in Sweden. Before heading to Scandinavia, he'd set his sights on a new Valmet 911, but then the 921 caught his eye. He bought it and worked it steadily, until the Rottne won him over. Switching to the H-20 put him on a whole new learning curve.
"After seven years in the 921, I was like a kid with video games. But I'm learning this new one and I haven't lost any productivity," says Ken.
The boom on the Rottne is a main selling point for Ken, who operates the processor and leaves all the forwarding duties to Dan. The H-20 boom has a 29-foot reach and can pick up an 18-inch tree with no sweat.
"I have full utility of that boom, and the machine has the strength and stability to handle the boom at full extension. It is flexible enough to handle the small logs, but also the strength to handle the occasional large logs. It's been very good."
Ken likes the cab, as well, and says it offers a cushy ride. "The cab follows the boom and sits level, so you have very good visibility at all times. We get a lot of rain, so the wipers on the doors have to work well. Everything in the cab is ergonomically correct, thanks to the Scandinavian design."
Although Ken says the Rottne isn't the fastest processor head out there, he likes the honest 12-foot-per-second speed for his thinning work. A current job for Port Blakely involves harvesting mostly fir and alder, and he likes the way the feed wheels just keep putting materials through. "It's an impressive head," he adds.
Tires over Tracks
In keeping with the need for quality jobs on those wet western Washington soils, Wilson favors tires over tracks, explaining, "Rubber tires leave the ground in better shape. We run eco-tracks on our machines, but they never dig in. Here we have steep ground and undulating softness from the rains, so it's slick."
Ken adds, "If people run tracks on a job, and then I come in after that, they can see the difference in ground disturbance and root cut. Sometimes I think they should outlaw tracked excavators here. I just believe in rubber tires where I'm at."
This is the second Rottne forwarder for the Wilsons. "I bought the first Rottne SMV nine years ago, and the thing was just a worker," Ken says. "It didn't necessarily have the bells and whistles of others, and it's more of a Clydesdale than a thoroughbred. It's just a work horse."
Like the H-20, the SMV was purchased early in 2007. Dan, who operates it, is as happy with the second Rottne machine as he was with the first. As for performance, Dan says, the machines have a good footprint for their size. "It carries its weight a lot lower and it's got a twin rail system that's not as tippy. For what it packs, it can get around, and it handles the ground a lot easier."
Staying in the Game
"We've been in cut-to-length for 14 years, and we still see a good future for what we do," Ken says. He describes the move to cut-to-length as somewhat happenstance, but it's a move he's glad he made. And he's glad his cousin has been out there with him.
"We're not cowboys, but we'll put our work up against anyone's," he says. "I've enjoyed my tenure in the woods and have no regrets. You can be independent and flexible, plus I enjoy getting out there and giving some tours to open the eyes of people receptive to learning. There are a lot of people who have been around the woods, but have never seen cut-to-length. When they do see it, they're impressed and that makes it all worthwhile."