A John Deere Publication
Rocky Ridge Trading Company uses a John Deere 859MH Tracked Harvester with a Waratah HTH623C Harvester Head to process hardwood logs in a steep-sloped Pennsylvania forest.

A John Deere 859MH Tracked Harvester with a Waratah HTH623C Harvester Head processes hardwood logs in a steep-sloped Pennsylvania forest.

Spring 2023



Rocky Ridge Trading Company is working on the edge

On a brisk October morning in a valley in Cameron County, Pennsylvania, Rocky Ridge Trading Company is hard at work, harvesting large timber off of a steep hillside. Fall colors are in full bloom. The natural beauty belies a rugged terrain that isn’t easy to log.

“Most of the timberland we are working right now is on slopes that are greater than 40 percent,” says Tim Crissman, president of Rocky Ridge. “Much of this timber hasn’t been cut in a long time, so it’s very large. We’ve cut on slopes before but not like this. Winch-assist tethering methods have allowed us to cut on steeper ground than ever before.”

Steeped in innovation

Rocky Ridge Trading Company is aptly named. Cameron County lies just west of the center of Pennsylvania in a mountainous region of the Allegheny Plateau. At the logging site, the company is harvesting northern hardwood and red and white oak. Pennsylvania has the country’s largest concentration of hardwood, accounting for about 90 percent of sawtimber volume. The state has an overabundance of larger old-growth tree stands, many located in tough terrain.

Successfully extracting large timber from these areas represents a great opportunity. It also demands innovative approaches that combine the best logging machines with the latest technology solutions. Steep-slope logging methods have been used successfully in the Pacific Northwest and New Zealand but have not been used in the Eastern United States until recently.

Rocky Ridge is one of the first companies in Pennsylvania to employ a tethered, winch-assisted traction solution. “We’ve always been trailblazers,” says Crissman. “We do things our way, using combinations of machines other loggers would consider unconventional, like combining cut-to-length with full-tree equipment. But it has worked for us.”

Anchoring more productivity

Trees are felled using a John Deere 959ML Shovel Logger with an FL100 Directional Felling Head. “The 959ML is Deere’s largest, strongest carrier, so it can handle big, oversized logs with ease,” says Crissman. “And Deere’s largest felling head, the FL100, has the capacity to cut them.”

Winch-assisted traction allows the machine to mechanically cut on steep slopes. The 959ML is tethered to an anchor machine at the top of the hill.

Operator Chris “Topher” Smith controls the winch system from the cab using radio controls, providing the traction he needs while he moves the 959ML up and down the hill. “It’s like cutting grass. You cut a swath on the way down, and you cut a swath on the way back up.”

After felling the trees, Smith then piles them along a trail, where they will be processed by a John Deere 859MH Tracked Harvester with a Waratah 623C Processing Head. A Deere 1910G Forwarder then gathers the processed logs and delivers them to the landing.

Smith has mastered the art of smoothly controlling the dangling FL100 Felling Head, cutting and positioning logs along the trail with minimal effort. “Everyone tries to work faster to be more productive,” he says. “But on this machine, you have to be smooth in order to become fast.”


Keys to success in the Keystone State

Rocky Ridge recently began running John Deere TimberMatic™ Maps on the 959ML. This real-time planning and monitoring system shows Smith his precise GPS location in relation to trails and areas of interest such as cut boundaries and sediment-management zones where he shouldn’t fell timber. “This helps me lay out a hill face when I’m cutting it,” he says. “At the end of the day, it’s a huge benefit. Without TimberMatic Maps, my job would be much more difficult.”

The company is working on further integrating TimberMatic Maps into its operation. A cellular connection will allow the 959ML and 859MH to share real-time production and location information, so the processor can immediately see where piles are located. In combination with TimberManager™, a web-based solution for PCs, tablets, and mobile phones, the system will allow the company to better plan and track production while monitoring live progress.

Technology is an important reason Rocky Ridge uses John Deere equipment. Service is why the company chose Deere in the first place. Like the keystone to an arch, it holds everything else together. “Uptime is critical because it keeps the wood and profits flowing,” says Crissman. “Our local dealer, Foster F Wineland, provides exceptional service so everything can keep going.”

Service was always important to Gus Crissman. “When my dad ran chain saws, he had a dealer just down the street from where we worked,” says Crissman. “If there was a problem with the saw, he’d take it to Elmer’s, and Elmer would fix it on the spot.

“We get that same high level of support from Foster F Wineland. They’re always paying close attention to what’s going on out here and keeping an eye on our equipment. That level of service can’t be beat.”

“The Legend”

Tim Crissman’s father Gus formed the family company in 1964. Back then it was known as Crissman Lumber Company. “My dad had been in the forest products industry all his life,” says Crissman. “He started out with a sawmill and a few logging crews. Growing up, I’d help him with the business. I’ve done everything from running a headrig that makes the initial cuts in the sawmill to loading drying kilns. But our hearts were always in the woods, so we got back into the logging business.”

During the summers when Crissman was in college, he’d run a skidder while his father hand-felled. “He didn’t want me to hand-fell at first because it was dangerous,” he recalls. “But he taught me everything I know about the woods and logging.”

The most important lesson his dad taught him was to “work hard until you make it work.” “Failure was not in his vocabulary,” says Crissman. “You could always find a solution if you worked hard enough.”

Gus acquired the nickname The Legend at a John Deere fly-in a few years ago. “Each night he’d share story after story about how things were done out in the woods in the old days,” recalls Crissman. “They were funny stories but had serious messages as well. After a couple nights, everyone started calling him The Legend.”

“Business has been good for us for so many years because of my grandfather,” adds Chris “Topher” Smith, who is Crissman’s nephew. Gus played a huge role not only in the logging community, but in the community as a whole, says Smith: “His favorite expression was, ‘No problem.’ He was a very down-to-earth person, and his family was so important to him. I work in the woods because of him. I miss him dearly.”

Rocky Ridge Trading Company Inc. is serviced by Foster F Wineland, Inc., St. Marys, Pennsylvania.

Clockwise from top left. To gather logs downhill on a steep slope, Operator Chris “Topher” Smith uses a 959ML Shovel Logger with an FL100 Directional Felling Head. The operator of a 959ML Shovel Logger uses TimberMatic Maps displayed on the in-cab monitor to navigate the logging site. A John Deere 350C LC Excavator outfitted with a winch assist system offers constant tension to a tethered 959ML Shovel Logger while logging the steeper ground of the forest. John Deere’s largest felling head, the FL100, grasps a large white oak tree to begin cutting. A John Deere 959ML Shovel Logger with an FL100 Directional Felling Head navigates in Pennsylvania’s beautiful Allegheny Plateau forest.

Related Articles

A John Deere 853MH Tracked Harvester with a Waratah H425X Harvesting Head harvests trees while the snow falls in a softwood pine forest.

Starting at Mile One

See how a logging company in the heavily forested northeastern U.S. has found a way to separate itself from its competitors.

Zachary Emerson, left, and Chris Emerson, right, stand in front of a log pile with a John Deere 853M Tracked Feller Buncher in the background.

The Green Mountain Boys

The father-son duo of Chris and Zachary Emerson have propelled the family logging business to success.

Illustration of Zachary Emerson near a log truck with a gradation of orange shapes in the background representing the fall trees of the hilly Vermont woods.


#DeereInTheWoods >

Authenticity and expertise have helped Zachary Emerson amass a major online following.

Clock Icon 3 MIN READ




Do you think your company's story would resonate with others in the logging industry?




More from The Landing

Read Latest Articles