Lee Crawford looks up at a picture of his father Pat and his logging crew in Wisconsin during the winter of 1955, then shifts to an image on his laptop displaying one of his company’s large, hulking machines cutting down eucalyptus trees in South Africa from earlier this year, and marvels at how far the family’s business has come.
The company, called TimberPro, is based in Shawano, Wisc., and was founded in 2002 by Crawford and his father Pat, who spent much of his time as a logger in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s prior to developing his first machine in 1992. Since then, TimberPro has grown to become a global presence in not just the forest equipment industry, but in other ones as well.
TimberPro is a company that focuses on the development and production of high-grade professional forest harvesting equipment. With markets all around the world, including having machines in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Russia, Scotland, Germany, and France, “we can pretty much do business anywhere people need trees cut down,” Crawford says.
Simplicity Meets Flexibility
TimberPro offers two machine models, a wheel-based machine and track-based machine, that they base their business around. “We offer two different models to choose from, then its up to the customer as to what they want from there.”
Their track-based machine, also known as a ‘feller buncher’, can climb up slopes as steep as 55 to 60 percent grades. It harvests trees using a disc saw that cuts through trunks as thick as 22 inches like butter and then uses an arm to grab the wavering tree and lay it down on the ground to allow for stacking.
The wheel-based machine, otherwise known as a ‘forrader’, takes logs off of the forest floor and places them on the back of the machine and can then carry them off to wherever needed. Crawford said the unique thing about TimberPro’s model is that the turntable allows for full 360-degree rotational functioning, which allows for “the users to work on everything around them while also allowing them to improvise and fix any obstacles that may be hindering them, which differs from what you’ll see, for instance, in a typical Scandinavian machine.”
Crawford said sales are evenly split between his two machines, largely based on his customers’ realization that with one of each, they can execute the job from start to finish.
In addition to his machines, TimberPro offers an assortment of attachments such as different processing heads, grapples, and rubber feet for the machines’ tires. Laughing, Crawford likened his company’s products to “Mr. Potato Head dolls, where you have your base model, but can easily attach and take off different pieces depending on what you want to do.”
Immersed In The Businesses
One of the key reasons a smaller company like TimberPro is able to compete with construction giants such as Caterpillar and John Deere is Crawford and his family’s personal ties to the forest industry.
In addition to his father Pat working as a logger early in his career, Lee has brothers who currently work as loggers and utilize his company’s machines on a daily basis. Crawford highlighted this as something crucial to his company’s credibility and success.
“Seeing as we’re a fourth generation logging family and having brothers right now that operate a logging company, they utilize our prototypes and provide insight for us as to what exactly are the modern-day loggers’ needs, concerns, and expectations for the future of the business.”
Crawford expanded on his ties to the industry by noting that a focus on TimberPro’s relationship with the customer and those actually out in the woods “putting in the work” is what separates them from other competitors.
“A design engineer from Caterpillar may go up in the woods once in his lifetime, whereas my family is actually immersed in the industry, and I will make trips up to the site myself and work directly with the logger,” he says.
And yet, while the company was founded on the goal of making a difference in the logging and forest equipment industry, it has quickly found itself providing solutions for other industries as well, most notably in the pipeline business.
“When you’re laying down pipes, often times the ground you’re working on can be very muddy and soft, or be labeled as environmentally protected, so not only is the progress slow, but you also have to be cautious as to what you’re ripping up out of the ground,” Crawford says.
Continuing, he says, “Our machines, specifically our wheel-based machine with its 360-degree rotational capabilities, can come in and chop down surrounding trees, cut them down into planks, pick them up, and then lay them down forming an endless wooden plank road for the trucks and supplies to drive on, making their work much more efficient and effective.”
He admitted that he didn’t know much about the pipeline industry prior to his machines being utilized by companies in it, but states that the success they’ve been able to have in it, which now constitutes almost a third of their business, is a testament to the adaptability of TimberPro’s machines.
“In examples like this, the company comes to us with an idea for a need, and all we do is facilitate it through our machines, however possible,” he says.
Ain’t No Mountain High Enough
The combination of innovation and structural flexibility in his company’s products came full circle a couple years back when a man representing a logging company in Austria approached Lee and TimberPro about finding a solution for his company’s struggles in running their business in a country like Austria, where the land is mainly characterized by steep mountainsides and narrow roads.
“He came in and said that he needed a machine that winches trees up mountainsides and cut them down on 50-60 percent grades, be able to load the wood up on, and then he needed that same machine to be able to run up and down the small roads,” Crawford recalls.
Crawford continues, adding, “Basically, he was looking for a Swiss-Army knife type of a machine and through his vision and our hard work, we were able to produce a highly customized machine that was able to do everything he needed. It’s situations like that where our company really distinguishes itself from others, in that our products aren’t limited in their capabilities and neither is our desire to help anyone, anywhere.”
With a philosophy embedded in its products, TimberPro has set itself up to continue its success in not just in the forest equipment industry, but many others as well.