Ice Cold Reserve

Jared Fitchett braved far-off Siberia and found a new future in
cut-to-length logging with Ponsse machinery

By Brandon Hansen
For Loggers World

      Jared Fitchett has never given up.
     And after years of riding the up-and-down markets of western
Montana, Fichett went to Siberia for a reality TV show as a way to open
doors and opportunities for his small family business. Those doors
opened in the form of Ponsse equipment and he’s found success in doing
cut-to-length work once he returned from overseas.
     Fitchett had to overcome a few rocky oceans during his life, but
when presented an opportunity, he was able to convert his operation with
Ponsse equipment and continues to keep work flowing for his brother and

      Jared started out at a young age in the woods to help his parents
with financial struggles. Fitchett did not like how school teachers in
his hometown of Noxon, Montana, talked badly about the timber industry
that supported the local economy with family-supporting jobs. He had a
love for the woods.
     “My dad did not force me to start logging,” Fitchett said. “He was
at a point with the timber industry where he did not know where he
should proceed.”
     His dad, Dan, was hauling gravel and doing work for Jared’s
grandpa. Dan picked up some private timber in 1998 to cut but couldn’t
log and haul at the same time so Jared picked up the sidejob from his
dad where he fell, skidded, limbed and decked everything himself. Since
Jared would be logging near where Dan was doing a road job, he could
keep an eye on the young buck.
     Jared used his dad’s 1970 540 John Deere Skidder and Stihl 044
chainsaw that he would eventually buy from his dad.
     He worked under Dan for three years doing work for private
landowners. Despite the help, Jared could not stop his parents from
losing their home to the bank. They persevered, however, finding a
different place and then Jared bought an old skidder and began getting
his own work.
     “I had a really hard time because I was young and everybody thought
I didn’t have enough experience,” Fitchett said.
      Jared hand-logged well into his 20s for private landowners and then
his dad began working with him. In 2003, they got their first log truck
and Dan did all the hauling. They would go on to work in Idaho and
Washington as well as Montana. .
     In 2005, things began to get more mechanical for Fitchett and he
bought a log processor as work seemed to involve smaller and smaller
wood. He also figured he needed to slowly get out of the physical aspect
if he wanted to save his body.
     He bought his first fellerbuncher in 2007 and his younger brother
Matthew started working for the company and running the grapple skidder.
     “It got to the point where we had so much work I couldn’t handle it
anymore by myself and he helped me out,” Fitchett said. “I did the
cutting and processing and he ran the skidder.”

     Jared bought some new equipment to handle more wood, but that’s when
the big crash of 2008 happened and off-road fuel prices went up to five
bucks a gallon. His operation only ran six months in 2008 and shut down
in November and bankruptcies and mill slowdowns struck the Montana
timber industry.
     “The was no work to be found and I delivered a newspaper route just
to pay rent,” Fitchett said.
     He was recently married - to his wife Sharlyn in 2006 and the two
now have two children - and was focused on survival and holding on to
his newer equipment. The recession stuck, however, and he had to
relinquish them and start over. He was able to keep his older equipment
and most importantly didn’t throw in the towel.
     “My goal was to keep my dad and my brother in jobs,” Jared said. “I
could pull out of this and just chose not to quit.”
     It took longer for the recession to start going the other direction
but they began to be able to make a living again with logging.
     “We did all our mechanical work on our machines,” Fitchett said. “If
we didn’t know how to do it, we learned how to. There were long hours
and asking other outfits how to do things. We had the mechanical ability
with very few parts and money.
      Things began to look brighter in 2013. Jared was able to buy a new
house in the spring 30 miles from Libby, Mont. Bob and Linda Taylor had
worked with him on getting the new place and another fresh start.
      “It was a matter of meeting great people who wanted to help,”
Fitchett said. “It was a changing point and I felt like I was rising
above the financial struggles.”
      Jared had good contracts and was paying off debts. But he was hit
with a bombshell in October of 2013 when a timber company rep showed up
to the jobsite and said to finish up cutting, there wouldn’t be more
work until January of 2014.
     “I was very unhappy,” Fitchett said. “I was just recovering. I did
round up some private wood to keep us afloat but anything that would
have came my way at this time I would have considered it.”

     Jared’s brother Matt saw an ad from the Discovery Channel that was
looking for loggers to go to Siberia. After the two took a look at it,
they decided to do an interview.
     “Had it happened at any other time I probably would have not pursued
it,” Fitchett said. “I was weary of reality TV and wouldn’t want to
jeopardize steady work.”
      But having experienced the ups and downs of the timber industry,
Jared was willing to see if this could lead to something bigger and
better.Fitchett was picked out of thousands of applicants to go to
Siberia in Russia.
      “My goal was to create a better future for my family,” Jared said.
“I could meet one person and it could change my fortunes.”
      The prospect of Russia and Siberia was scary for Fitchett, who
admitted he had never been too far from home.
     “I was terrified and it was a country the US had not had good
relations with and it was far from home,” Jared said.
      “They needed people to operate a fellerbuncher, processor, loader
and skidder operator and I had been in all four of those things.”
      Fitchett would work for a former Montana logger who had spent 17
years in Siberia. The operation would be outside of Krasnoyarsk, a city
of a million people and it was a 50-hour flight away from rural Montana.
      But first they went to Rhinelander, Wisconsin to train on the
Ponsse equipment they would be using.
     “I was really excited because I knew about Ponsse and knew they made
the best cut-to-length equipment out there,” Fitchett said. He was paid
to train and that’s when his outlook changed on the show and the
uncertainty of it.
     “I believe in God and family and it’s been hard for me but I believe
He leads me in the right direction,” Jared said.
     It was in Wisconsin where Fitchett met Ponsse North American Area
Director Pekka Ruuskanen who picked the four reality TV show subjects up
at the airport. For several weeks they were treated well and trained on
simulations, running the actual machine and then working out on a
      The four loggers became friends over that time, and at age 31,
Fitchett took his first flight overseas.

      “When we landed, that’s when it set in,” Jared said when they got
to Russia for the reality TV show.
      The four American loggers couldn’t read road signs, couldn’t speak
the language and were dependent on a translation app on their phone or a
translator to find things as simple as water or the bathroom.
      It was 25-below and the were dropped off in Krasnoyarsk with the
company owner nowhere to be found. A russian man hauled them to the
village where they’d be working in a van.
      “There were no seatbelts in the vehicle and it was on a main
highway,” Jared said. “There were car wrecks, people cutting each other
off and it was terrifying.”
      The logging village itself was like taking a time machine back to
the 1940s, Fitchett said. “You could smell burnt diesel all the time and
it was kind of like a warzone.”
      The country had poor infrastructure and the pace of life was just
slower. Jared didn’t get to call home for two weeks once getting to the
country. The village was a timber community with a big rail and wood
yard as logs were shipped to China. It was also surrounded by ancient
logging equipment left to rust in the mid 1990s when the USSR fell.
      The log trucks looked like they were from the 1950s since Russians
manufacturers don’t break a design if it works.
     “Things looked primitive but they were working trucks,” Jared said.
     The temperature was so cold that they never ran antifreeze in the
trucks but rather ran water in them and just drained it at the end of
the day so they wouldn’t freeze up in the block.
      The Ponsse logging equipment was built for cold weather and had
heaters for the engines and hydraulic system. While working, the crew
never turned the machines off.
      “We get cold weather in Montana but it doesn’t last long as it does
in Russia,” Fitchett said.
     The temperature indoors was usually around 100 degrees. Russians
didn’t mess around with the heat.
     “As soon as you walk inside you get rid of all your warm clothing,”
Jared said. “Because if you sweated on your clothes, you were miserable
the rest of the day.”
     You also had to drink vodka with people, as not to insult the
     The people in the village were good to deal with, Fitchett said.
“They wanted to work hard and making a living just like us.”
     Jared became good friends with one Russian logger named Ruslan who
just like him wanted to support his family. After leaving Siberia,
Fitchett contacted him weekly and Ruslan recently got a job at the US
embassy and visited Jared in Montana.
      Logging was not any tougher than in the states, and Russia had many
of the same logistical problems as logging in Montana does. Basically it
takes a long time for you to get parts shipped to the job site.
      Fitchett had the added layer of dealing with a film crew sometimes.
     “During work they were a pain in the butt and they were in the way,”
Jared said. “But they worked very hard to get the shot.”
     The loggers had a love-hate relationship with the reality show
     “You kind of live in a glass house and you don’t know how much
they’re going to expose,” Fitchett said.

     After spending 2.5 months in Russia, the muddy season came early and
the roads disappeared into a swamp. Fitchett had to walk a fellerbuncher
out of the woods for 50 miles over two days.
     Once they left, they stopped by Finland to see the Ponsse factory.
After spending several days - Fitchett talked with Ruuskanen about
getting into the cut-to-length business. Ruuskanen was very receptive of
the young loggers ideas and story.
     When Jared returned to Montana, Ruuskanen came a few months later to
see his family’s business and by November of 2014, had them set up with
a Ponsse 2001 Ergo Harvester, 125 crane and a Ponsse head. Then they
flew his brother to Wisconsin to train on a forwarder.
      Now with 2002 Buffalo and 90 crane as well, Fitchett is humming
along in the cut-to-length business.
      “CTL had done extremely well,” Fitchett said. “2015 was the best
year I’ve had. We did really well financially, we have a good team and
we all have newer, nice equipment and I owe it all to Ponsse.”
     Dan still drives truck for the business, driving a 2007 Kenworth
T-800 mule train with a 2000 alpine trailer and ISX Cummins motor.
     “It’s changed my life,” Jared said.
      Montana has a wealth of clear cuts that have been replanted and the
new timber that was pre-commercial thinnined in the 1990s now needs
low-impact commercial thinning. and that’s where J.Shar. Timber
Harvesting comes in. Jared’s company now cuts for Weyerhauser.
     He still does all his maintenance, and while the Ponsse tech support
can help him with parts or ship him parts in a hurry, they can take care
of things in western Montana. Fitchett has a small shop truck to help
keep things going.
     Bill Davenport out of Portland does all the bar repair, but other
than that, the Fitchett operation stays close to home.
     “We used to work 230-300 miles from home but it has only been within
100 miles the last 7-8 years,” Fitchett said.
     Nick Marich, Jared’s uncle, has also proven to be very helpful
through the years.
     “He has always been somebody to talk to and learn from,” Fitchett
      Another person that’s helped throughout the years has been Jeff
Walters of Thompson Falls who has been logging most of his life and a
good friend to Jared over the past eight years.
     Jared plans to return to Russia someday and log with his best
friend. He sees it as a challenge and wanted to go back. But now things
are running smoothly after years of up and down.
     “I really hope to be an inspiration to young contractors,” Fitchett
said. “It’s going to be tough but if you keep going after it and keep
fighting, things will go your way and you can build your own business
and a way to feed your family.”