By Diane Mettler
Photos by Lanny Tremble
Colorado-based JT Timber Falling Inc. is a traditional logging company, working primarily in forest restoration, forest health, fuels reduction, and wildlife habitat improvement. But what makes JT Timber Falling unique is that they do all this and are the sole harvesting operation for a private ranch.
“We started as a timber falling contractor in seventy-eight,” said Jim Trumble, co-owner of JT Timber Falling. “I was a timber feller for the company I was working for in Flagstaff, Arizona. As they grew, they contracted that out, and I took it. The mill closed in Flagstaff. In fact, a lot of mills closed in Arizona, and that’s how we ended up in Colorado.”
Once JT Timber landed in Blanca, Colorado, the company primarily did forest restoration work on private land. “After the big mill closed here, in 1999, we decided to switch from following sawmills around to doing the forest restoration work,” Trumble says. “In 2004, we did a small job for Tercio Ranch, which is owned by the same owner as the Trinchera Blanca Ranch, and have been working for them ever since.”
Operating on Trinchera Ranch
Trinchera Blanca Ranch sits on the east side of the San Luis Valley, near La Veta Pass. It was purchased by conservation philanthropist Louis Bacon and is one of the largest ranches in Colorado. In 2015, JT Timber Falling became the only loggers to work on the property.
“Right now, we’re running three sides,” Trumble says. “All operators working for JT Timber Falling are compensated well, have benefits, and are able to be home nightly. It’s a great place to work. I guess it could be compared to a stewardship contract, only it’s on private ground. They have an in-house forester, James Fischer, who is here every day.”
Jim’s work is focused less on harvesting, more on stand improvement, fire mitigation, fuel reduction, and wildlife habitat improvement. “The main species here is Engelmann Spruce, and we’re trying to get ahead of the beetle infestation. We also cut Doug Fir, White Fir, Aspen, and small amounts of other species.”
Cut logs are taken to the newly completed Blanca Forestry Products mill, also owned by Mr. Bacon, where they’re made into 2x4 or 2x6 boards.
Adding Ponsse to the Iron
Much of the harvesting is on steep ground. Trumble was searching for different ways to log it and had considered either line logging, or possibly a winch-assisted system, when in August 2018, Trinchera Blanca Ranch Manager Ty Ryland suggested Trumble take a look at Ponsse’s new winch assisted cut-to-length system.
“We went to Montana to a demo,” says Trumble. “I still wasn’t really convinced that it would work for us. So Ponsse offered to bring two new machines to Colorado and demo them on the ranch. They brought some guys out to run them, and they put them on some seventy to eighty percent slopes on frozen ground with snow on it. I was impressed.”
Trumble soon acquired the Bear Harvester with a Synchrowinch and the Elephant King Forwarder with a Synchrowinch.
“Ponsse spent a few days training. We took our two best operators and asked if they were interested, and they were. These two operators pick things up fast. They’ve both been logging all their lives and were up for trying something new,” adds Trumble.
After some training, the operators worked for a few weeks on flatter terrain to get used to the machines. By the middle of January, they were ready for steep slopes and have been working them ever since.
Trumble says the equipment is working out beautifully, with a much lighter footprint than other options he had considered. The Bear Harvester and the Elephant King Forwarder were the perfect alternative to starting a line logging side, which would have involved a lot of people on the ground and a larger footprint.
“This was a better way to handle things — just two guys,” says Trumble. “A lighter footprint is part of the reason the ranch manager wanted [Ponsse]. On the steep ground you put the brush on the trail in front of you and run on it.”
JT Timber does its own equipment maintenance. “If there’s a warranty issue, we will either get parts shipped to us from Ponsse in Coburg or Rhinelander, and we install them. But for the 250-hour services, Ponsse sent two people out, and they serviced on-site.”
Lanny, Jim’s wife and co-owner of JT Timber, tracks costs, enabling the company to keep its rates low and wages high. “If you don’t know what your costs are, that’s hard to do,” says Trumble. “And even though we don’t have to bid it, it still needs to be competitive.”
Maintaining a Fleet
With a fleet of various equipment, maintenance and safety are priorities.
“We have four Caterpillar 517 track skidders,” said Trumble. “We use anywhere from one to all four of those, depending on where they’re needed on the ground. We also have three Caterpillar rubber-tired skidders and an older Prentice 490. We cut and masticate with TimberPros. We have four TimberPro 725s — two C’s, two B’s. The TimberPros all came from DDI Equipment, our local supplier. They’re set up to run 360-degree disc saws or Quadco brush mowers.”
For processors, JT Timber uses one Doosan with a Waratah 622c, and a John Deere 2154 with a Waratah 622b. The company also uses two Timberline stroke delimbers as needed.
“We try to run newer machinery,” says Trumble. “The 517s, they quit making those in 2012, so that’s the latest we have of them. I think the rest of the equipment ranges from 2006 to 2019.”
JT Timber also owns and operates six log trucks — a 2005 Peterbilt , a 2008 Kenworth T800, and four Kenworth T880s.
“The Kenworth T880s are 2016, 2017, and 2019,” he says. “We have good drivers, and we keep newer, well maintained trucks. Some of the drivers also have logging experience and help out in the woods when needed.
Top Notch, Full-Time Crew
As for his crew, Trumble had nothing but praise. “We have some awesome guys. All but a couple have been logging all their lives, so ten or more years. And then with us, 10 to almost 20 years.”
The crew works nearly all year long. The frozen ground in the winter is advantageous for logging, and a lot can be accomplished. “We have breakup, usually in March and April, when we bring everything in for maintenance. We keep whoever wants to work doing maintenance busy during breakup. The last few years we lost maybe five or six weeks in the woods.”
“Our type of work is not really based on production,” says Trumble. “It’s not the same as logging. The ranch forester provides a detailed prescription for each unit for the logging crew to follow. Most loggers probably wouldn’t want to do this. It takes a more meticulous operator. The forester comes out frequently to monitor our progress, and a lot of days we don’t cut anything that’ll make a log. However, material that won’t make logs, we make into firewood or masticate. This situation is pretty unique, and it works for us.”
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