Work Hard, Play Hard

The Loggers' Expo Returns to Vermont

By Erin Kessler

Against a backdrop of blue skies, nearly 175 exhibitors showcased their machinery, wares, and heavy logging equipment at the Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex Junction, Vermont last month. This is the ninth time The Northeastern Loggers’ Association (NELA) has brought the Northeastern Forest Products Equipment Expo to Vermont’s premier events venue. Attendees and exhibitors alike were enthusiastic, and there were broad reports of a general mood of optimism.

The show’s firewood processor and portable sawmill demos attracted curious attendees and potential buyers, and the Weiler Log Loading Competition and performances by the Axe Women Loggers of Maine entertained enthusiastic crowds. The timber athletes showcased crosscut sawing, axe throwing, and log rolling, with engaging commentary provided by announcer Mike Wetherbee. “It was an amazing performance!” said Charles Rice, Vermont chainsaw operator and attendee.

Indoor exhibitors reported that they were busy throughout the day, catching up with folks they hadn’t seen over the past year and some selling almost all the equipment they had brought along with them.

Outside exhibitors saw the same great crowds, but on a different timeline, on both days. For many exhibitors, it’s difficult to match their general impression with published attendee numbers, and many commented that it’s always a surprise to hear the final attendance figures. The show organizer is among those who are often surprised by the final numbers. “We had just about 5,000 registrants for the show this year, but there were times when I looked down the crowded aisles and would have sworn the numbers were far higher,” said Joe Phaneuf of NELA.

Outdoor equipment exhibits under blue skies.

“It was a great show for us,” said CrossTrac Equipment’s VT Branch Manager Jack Bell. CrossTrac is a well-established forestry dealer in the Midwest (Wisconsin and Michigan), but their Hartland, Vermont store is brand new. It officially opened on March 1, 2024, and sells Rottne, Barko, and Neuson machinery.

“Friday was very busy until lunch – too busy really to be able to talk to everyone coming through – then was pretty quiet in the afternoon,” said Bell. “Saturday was steady and probably a better day overall. We didn’t sell any big machines at the show but got a lot of interest and have plenty of work to do following up with customers in the months ahead. I do want to give a shout-out to Tim Muzzey at Savage Trucking for buying the Barko 4222 grapple we had at the show!”

Many visit the Expo to connect with others in the industry. “The show is great. We come every year,” said Brian Matarozzo, head mechanic at Whytes Logging in Boscawen, New Hampshire. He had brought his two young boys along with him. “[I come mostly] for the social aspect. I’ve met a lot of people through Instagram and Facebook and social media, just talking on the phone trying to figure out problems with equipment but never actually physically met them, so this is usually a place to meet everybody.”

He also says it’s exciting to see the new equipment, just to know what’s out there. “In our territory, we don’t see a lot of cut-to-length processors or forwarders – yes, they’re around, but not what we deal with, so it’s nice to see the products,” Matarozzo said.

In addition to being an event focused on forestry equipment, the Loggers’ Expo is an opportunity to raise public awareness of the timber industry. Instead of sitting in a classroom or in front of a screen, younger generations were able to have a hands-on experience. Kids enjoyed climbing up on the big machines, and “test-driving” heavy equipment, and students from area technical schools were able to explore the Expo and meet with industry experts face-to-face.

Students explore various types of equipment during the Shelterwood Program.

Also during the show, NELA hosted its own educational program – the Shelterwood Project. This program invites a local elementary school group to the Expo to learn about the forest products industry. Multiple industry volunteers talk about their jobs, exposing students to the various roles and careers in the industry, from logging and sawmilling to forestry and working at paper mills. Students also learned about the wide variety of forestry equipment through scavenger hunts. Forester Joan Nichols, one of the Shelterwood volunteers, said, “This year’s Shelterwood project was a resounding success. The kids were very excited to learn about the various types of logging equipment. Sitting in the equipment was the highlight of the day. The beautiful weather allowed them to sit outside and watch the loader competition… that was an added bonus!”

For attendees eager to get through the doors, registration seemed to flow much better than last year in Bangor. “Things couldn’t have gone more smoothly,” said Expo show manager Joe Phaneuf. “Clearly, this year was a stark contrast to last year’s show when there were extremely long lines of irritated folks. The biggest key to the improvement is that nearly 2,000 people pre-registered online for the Expo this year, while only about 750 pre-registered last year. Pre-registrants can show up at the door, go to a kiosk, print their own badge, and get onto the show floor in a matter of minutes. We also nearly doubled our onsite registration staff, so we were better prepared for the initial rush each day. We’ll work hard to improve things even more next year.”




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