Sept Oct, 2002





15,000 HOUR HEAD

Jeff Rohr stays in the game through

the longevity of his equipment

By Jack Petree

Jeff Rohr is realistic about what he must offer his customers. Jeff’s firm, J. C. Processing, specializes in processing tree stems at the landing for clients in Southwest Washington. To thrive in his niche market, he must not only provide his customers with top quality and reliability, but also “ able to come out to a job and process at a price that makes it more profitable to hire me than it is to buy their own machine and do the job themselves.” To accomplish that task and still operate profitably, Jeff says, he counts heavily on his equipment.

In particular, he told TimberWest, the Keto 500 processing head on a Kobelco excavator he’s used for several years has been the mainstay of his business. The head, which had over 15,000 hours of operation on it when Jeff sold it recently could, he believes, last a new user five years or more without major problems. That durability, and the accompanying return on investment, is the competitive edge he needs to make a good living.

Jeff Rohr says that despite the age of his Keto head it still cuts accurately and reliably.

To maintain that edge, Jeff recently replaced the old head with another Keto unit with “only” 5,000 hours on it and is already off and running toward the 15,000 hour mark on the “new” processor. Jeff came to harvesting more than two decades ago as a kid fresh out of high school. “I found I enjoyed the woods and wanted to make a career out of logging,” he says, “But I wasn’t sure what part of the business that would be in until I got into processors in 1993. Almost from the day I first stepped into a machine and began operating a processing head I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I fell in love with it and decided then and there I’d like to have my own outfit someday.”

As he’s learned his trade, Jeff’s discovered three things are vital in the processing business for the contractor working for himself. First, clients count on a firm to show up every day, ready to go. “When a company hires you to process they’re counting on you for production,” he says. “If you can’t provide good production levels you’re a bottleneck. If you’re not running, everyone on the job is impacted so you have to be running most of the time.” Second, clients depend on the processor to provide a quality job. “There’s a lot of money at stake when a tree is dropped,” says Jeff. “The company depends on you to get the best out of the tree without damaging the fiber. You have to give them quality if you want to keep working.”

Job security. Every tree down on the hillside will go through Jeff’s Keto processor. The company counts on Jeff to be working every day at top production levels. If he’s down, everyone is down.

Third, a company like J. C. Processing must be cost effective. “If they can buy a processor and hire someone to do the work for less than you’re processing for, they are going to do that,” he contends. “You have to be able to give your customers a price that’s low enough to discourage them from doing the job themselves but high enough to allow you to be profitable.” The Keto 500 processing head Jeff has used for most of his business life is an important element in allowing him to address all three issues in his own business.

In fact, he laughs, “I’m not really a good advertisement for Keto because you probably can’t sell as many new heads as you’d like to when people are putting 15,000-plus hours on them.” More seriously however, Jeff says that the longevity of his processing head is exactly what’s allowed him to prosper though the ups and downs the harvesting industry has seen recently: “If you can do a better job than most at a good price and you always show up for work, you’ll find work most of the time. With Keto I’ve been able to do that, so I stay busy.”

The Keto processing heads, both old and new, have allowed J.C. Processing to address productivity and cost issues not only because they are durable, but also because they’re easy to work on at the site. “I don’t care what kind of processor you have, you’re going to be working on it,” he declares. “These machines are pushed hard. Sometimes they break. Keto’s design allows you to work on them in the woods when they do break down. They are very logger-friendly so you don’t need specialty tools or presses to work on them. I can have every hydraulic motor in this head out in an hour and on its way to be repaired. That’s essential if I’m going to be back to work with minimum downtime.”

In terms of producing quality at an attractive price, the heads have been more than up to the task despite their longevity. “When these heads came out they were so far ahead of everything else that even after they’ve been used for thousands of hours I can buy them at an affordable price and still go out and do a first class job of processing for my customers,” says Jeff. While equipment is vital, the operator is an equally important part of the equation on a processing job.

All processing heads, in the course of a day’s work, can take a terrific beating if operators don’t know what they are doing, and that can mean excess downtime. The key to processing well is a smooth hand at the controls. “The biggest mistake people make is to put a shovel operator at the controls and tell them to go after it,” Jeff says, laughing. “These things are dangling out there controlling a lot of weight. You have to learn to be smooth and consistent. You can’t be in a big rush and abuse your equipment. I hear people all the time bragging about how they got 20 loads out of their head in a day. That doesn’t impress me. I want to know how many loads you can average day in and day out over a month or a year and still be doing a good job. Consistency, quality, and longevity — to me that’s the mark of a good operator.”

While he’s a successful operator with a large backlog of work, Jeff Rohr is modest about his successes, attributing most to others. “I’ve been fortunate in having wonderful people help me along the way,” he comments. “Some top loggers took me under their wing when I was young and unselfishly taught me most of what I know about this business. My wife Connie is the brains of our business, so she’s really the person who has kept us going as an enterprise over the years.

Forestry Equipment has been the kind of equipment supplier every logger needs. They made it possible for me to go into business for myself through their help in finding and buying equipment when I started out. Most important, Willipa Log has been the finest employer a subcontractor could possibly work for. They have really taken us under their wing and taken care of us.” Jeff doesn’t see expanding much in the future. “I’d like to add a second machine and have my son run it but that’s about it for me,” he says. “Other than that I’m just grateful to get to do what I love doing. I plan to keep doing this until I can’t do it anymore.” TW

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This page was last updated on Tuesday, September 28, 2004