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4 Seasons Forest Products Set to Add Two Full-time Employees: Six-year old Company Growing with Help of Equipment from Ponsse North America
Wisconsin logger Eli Ladwig grows business using six-wheel Ponsse Ergo HD with an H7 head.
By Diane M. Calabrese
Date Posted: 2/1/2014
MONTREAL, Wisconsin – What’s the measure of a business owner who is demanding about good outcomes? Try this: Ever since Eli Ladwig launched 4 Seasons Forest Products in 2008, he has typically run both harvester and forwarder.
Eli explained he is “very particular” both about equipment and approach. For the last two years, Eli has been harvesting with a six-wheel Ponsse Ergo HD with an H7 head and forwarding with an eight-wheel Ponsse Elk. Occasionally, he has had help in his forwarder and recently a close friend has been running it part time.
In late 2013, Eli purchased a second Ponsse Ergo harvester. It’s a 2006 model year Ergo and it will be retrofitted with a newer crane and 2011 H7 head in the spring. With three pieces of equipment on the roster, some changes are in the works. “I’m just adding two full time employees,” said Eli, when he spoke with us in early January.
Eli cuts for SAPPI and Lyme Timber Co. He got started in the woods when he was still in his teens. “I started running a firewood processor, then forwarder, and soon a harvester for a local logger while installing gravel and doing road work for Plum Creek,” he said. In 2007, he purchased a used harvester and further committed long hours harvesting timber full-time for the logging outfit he started with.
When Eli decided to make the shift to sole business owner, he began to look for equipment that would support a full-time commitment. He soon found himself interacting with Pekka Ruuskanen, the president of Ponsse North America Inc. in Rhinelander, Wis.
Eli explained he was very interested in Ponsse equipment because of all he had heard and read about it. “They were just recognized as one of the best up here,” he said. (4 Seasons Forest Products is located in Montreal, Wis, a town of 800 residents. Montreal is connected to Hurley, where Eli grew up, with almost 2,000 residents. Both are located in the very forestry industry oriented Iron County, which borders the western edge of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.)
Yet in terms of harvesting, most of Eli’s colleagues in the industry had a different perspective. “Up here, most people ran fixed heads, so Ponsse harvesters were rare,” he explained. “When I decided I wanted to give it a try, Pekka took me to Grand Rapids to see a harvester in operation. Then he gave me a trial for a week.” But Eli reckons he was sold on the machine before that.
“My parents own and operate a transmission rebuilding business, so I’ve never been scared of complex machines,” said Eli. “Ponsse equipment is very well built and designed so that troubleshooting and diagnosing any problems can be done quickly and easily.” Any questions that he has had, have been quickly solved over the phone with one of Ponsse’s many technicians dedicated to any customers daily hiccups. “The technical support Ponsse has on standby to make sure guys don’t suffer down time is simply unbeatable,” Eli proudly comments.
“I’ve dealt directly with Pekka,” said Eli. “Pekka has been on a lot of my jobs.” The interaction with everyone at Ponsse has been wholly positive, he explained. “The people there, the treatment” are real plusses to the experience with the Ponsse equipment and the Ponsse North America team.
“The efficiency and speed” of the harvester is great, said Eli. “The roomy, comfortable cab itself” and “the visibility” are two among many features of the Ponsse machines that he appreciates.
From the beginning, though, one characteristic drew Eli to Ponsse machines. “I considered them workhorses,” he said. And his experience to date has shaped his opinion, “My first forwarder was a used, and rather high hour Ponsse Bison that I ran 18 months before updating,” Eli explained. “Besides maintenance such as simple oil changes, the only part I put into that machine was a joystick, so that made me a believer.” The new Ponsse Scorpion King is arriving this spring/early summer, and Eli is keeping a close eye on it. It will most likely be his next Ponsse purchase.
Up until the fall of 2012, 4 Seasons Forest Products had been harvesting almost all hardwoods. Eli has since expanded
his operation to harvesting various aged plantation pine, some 70,000 acres owned by Lyme Timber and managed by only a few select crews through Steigerwaldt Land Services, Inc. “Pine is very easy
on these machines, it absolutely sings through these heads,” Eli exclaims. “But the sand flats where this pine is prominent, is particularly cold.”
Although Eli paused from harvesting for a few days during the January polar vortex to protect the wood, the Ponsse equipment was ready to keep going. “The Mercedes engines in the Ponsse machines are excellent, even in extreme cold,” he said. “Just warm them up properly and buy quality fuel.”
Eli runs his equipment with both tracks and chains in winter snow. “In the past, we usually had some considerable downtime in the spring,” he said. But he will be able to continue working in the pine site this spring because of the layout of area, which can be traversed without damaging the substrate.
As for how it has been going back and forth between harvester and forwarder, Eli is candid. “I like harvesting,” he said. “Once you run a harvester, a forwarder is pretty boring.”
Moreover, Eli is similarly forthright about adding employees. “If you want to grow, you’ve got to hire.”
4 Seasons Forest Products does do a bit of cutting for small, private landowners who make specific requests. “I do very little bidding,” said Eli. Working as a contractor for large companies is a better fit.
At one time, Eli tried to add trucking to his repertoire. But he decided to focus on harvesting and forwarding. The companies for which Eli works expect their contractors to arrange for trucking. “They give you a rate for the trucking,” he explained.
“Even if I’m cutting for paper mills, we always separate grade products,” said Eli. “For example, with ash right now on an active sale in Iron County, we are sorting three different products. We always sort bolts and logs.”
The Ergo harvester is easy to maneuver, said Eli. “People have an impression the dangle heads are restrictive.” It’s just the opposite.
“Dangle heads are very versatile,” said Eli. “I have only had to hand cut with my Husqvarna power saw one tree since getting my first Ergo. The head opens up to 28 inches. With bigger trees, it’s more of finesse” that gets the job done, moving the “head to notch them.”
The flexibility in performance of the dangle head has begun to attract attention. “There’s one logger in my area, [an industry veteran who] recently switched to an Ergo,” said Eli. The logger got interested after observing Eli operate his Ergo and talking with him.
What’s telling, said Eli, is that the logger who made the switch to the Ponsse Ergo and the dangle head is a man that commands great respect. He is someone Eli has looked to as a model of an industry leader.
The logger takes on the extraordinarily challenging tasks of “bidding against mills” and “working hard to get stumpage,” said Eli. As for making the change to a Ponsse Ergo, “he wished he would have done it sooner.”
Based on his experience with Ponsse equipment and the Ponsse team, Eli is keen to recommend the company, even to an established logger and mentor. “I can’t say enough good about the company,” said Eli. “The support…it’s like a family there. Pekka Ruuskanen is adamant; Ponsse is a family owned business and will always be operated like one.”
Indeed, family is important to Eli. “I give a lot of credit to my parents,” he said. “They gave me the drive to do what I do.” Even now, they often “run parts” to help him. Keith and Levon Ladwig, Eli’s parents, own Northland Transmission Service.
“My brother’s name is Ian [Ladwig],” said Eli. He graduated from Michigan Tech with a Mechanical Engineering degree and works designing plastic injection molds for a local company. He’s also the sole proprietor of Against the Grain Wood Products. “He ran my forwarder for a time for me in the evenings after work.”
As a sort of family venture, Keith, Levon and Ian, own a Wood-Mizer sawmill and they also assembled a Nyle kiln. The trio enjoys sawing and drying, mostly for their own building products. They also dry rough sawn lumber for other people.
The member of the family perhaps most directly tied to Eli’s decision to start a business is his sister Danielle Ladwig, who passed away in 2005 at age 22. At the time, she was a graduate student in civil engineering at Michigan Tech and a member of Engineers without Borders. Danielle had an adverse reaction to a yellow fever vaccination required so she could travel and volunteer her time and knowledge on a sewer system and water project for a school in Bolivia.
Eli was 18 when Danielle died and determined then that he wanted to stay where he was. He had taken two semesters of courses in pre-law and thought he might become a corporate lawyer, with a special focus on weeding out fraud. But when his sister died unexpectedly, Eli rethought everything. He still worries about whether he disappointed his parents by opening a business instead of completing a college education.
Of course, Eli is still able to put an analytical mind that would have served the legal world well to work in the context of the logistics of business. The mechanical background he got from his parents is also a big assist in the day-to-day of 4 Seasons Forest Products.
Kelsey Fischer, Eli’s girlfriend of five years, helps him often when she is in town; she is studying for a master’s degree at the Minneapolis School of Anesthesia.
August Nasi, Eli’s close friend, has been running his Ponsse Elk part time in the past. He is to become his full-time operator for the forwarder.
Eli is working on getting a pilot’s license. Someday he hopes to get his license and certification for float planes. Last year he enjoyed a fly-in trip via float plane in Manitoba with a family friend Pete Larson who owns a float plane and spiked his interest in flying, his brother, and flight instructor Bill Lauer. Eli also made a fly fishing trip for salmon in Alaska this past October. Hunting and fishing are two of his favorite recreational pursuits. When he was younger, he also raced dirt bikes competitively in Wisconsin and Michigan (in District 16).
Eli wanted to pay tribute to a few other assets to his success, one being his close friend Grant Gustafson who is a welder for Embridge. Eli says he has assisted with welding and fabrication on projects for his business since he started. Another, South Shore Oil Co., has supplied 4 Seasons Forest Products with quality fuel trouble free in all climates at exceptional savings for two years now, according to Eli.
Also deserving mention is his trucking contractor, Select Industry, Inc. of Stone Lake, WI. “They’re one of the best things to happen to my business since I started” Eli says, “easily the most professional and organized trucking company I’ve seen yet.”
4 Seasons Forest Products is a member of the Timber Producers Association of Michigan and Wisconsin.