Snow Business

’Skandi’ furnishings are currently very much on-trend and this would not be happening without the contribution of skill and expertise of a family of forest workers who operate a fleet of top-spec Volvo trucks in possibly the harshest conditions on the planet.
Volvo FH16 rigid.

Mika Korkeaniemi was born in Finland. He established Korkeaniemi Brothers Transport four years ago, after decades of operating forestry machines and timber trucks.

Mika has recently stepped back from the transport operations, leaving the business in the capable hands of his sons Christoffer and Johannes, and daughter Paulina who all drive the family’s trucks.

It’s truly a family enterprise and a younger brother will soon join the team.

Best known in Australia for being the off-season residence of one S.Claus and lots of reindeer, Lapland is the largest and most northern region of Finland and the extensive forest plantations provide pine timber for construction and furniture purposes, while the timber from the birch forests is used in the manufacture of paper.

Sustainability is ensured due to extensive replanting programs and today Sweden has more areas under forest than it did a century ago.

Forestry is a massive business in Lapland, Sweden and Finland and presents some very tough challenges for those who choose to work in the industry. Obviously, weather is the major factor and must be considered in almost every aspect of the operations.

During summer 20 degrees Celsius is considered normal, while in winter minus 40 degrees Celsius is common.

To cope with the extreme cold the hydraulic systems on the trucks are equipped with heaters to maintain the viscosity of the hydraulic fluid used to operate equipment such as the cranes.

It’s a relatively mild minus 17 degrees Celsius when we boldly venture into the forest to see the Korkeaniemi Brothers operation at work.

Volvo FH16 in Lapland where temperatures plummet to minus 40º celsius in winter.
To cope with the extreme cold the hydraulic systems on the trucks are equipped with heaters.

The access roads – tracks really – don’t appear on any maps or GPS screens and we use dead reckoning, combined with a little luck and numerous phone conversations, to eventually locate Johannes Korkeaniemi three metres off the ground atop the crane operator’s seat which is attached to the rear of his Volvo FH16’s chassis. Johannes has been communicating with us via the cellphone incorporated into his ear muffs.

Thankfully our local driver and guide is Gunnar Hansson who is a sales engineer with the nearest Volvo truck dealership located in the city of Lurlea and is very familiar with driving in these conditions.

His all-wheel drive Volvo station wagon is equipped with studded tyres and he drives with such easy confidence that he is quickly dubbed “The Stig”.

Out in the forest, step away from the road and you could find yourself struggling more than waist deep in a snow drift.

The relentless wind carries with it icicles which hit any exposed skin such as your face with what feel like thousands of needles, melting immediately into an icy cold liquid state which manages to run down our neck despite the layers of thermal clothing we are wearing.

The sense of isolation permeating the forest is made even stronger by the stark white landscape, so different from the red tones found in the Australian Outback.

There are no truck stops up here, just the occasional lonely roadhouse which is likely to literally be a “house” on the roadside with a few fuel pumps out front. The Korkeaniemi Brothers fleet currently includes five Volvo FH16 rigids powered by engines rated at 750 horsepower connected to five axle trailers.

The reduction hub drive axles provide a good compromise between off-highway capability and on road fuel efficiency. There’s also a lone Scania in the fleet and two additional Volvo FH16’s are currently on order with 750hp engines and will be connected to trailers with four or five axles.

Winter in Lapland has short days and long nights so an array of powerful LED driving lamps dominates not only the cab grille, but also another rack of powerful lights that are fitted above the windscreen.

The combination is loaded to a gross weight of 74 tonnes.

As sunset in winter is at 4.00pm, numerous work lights are required.

The single tyre axle located behind the drive bogies is steerable and even with studded tyres on the front axle, when the traction chains are fitted to the drive wheels the truck tends to understeer and proceed straight ahead regardless of the driver’s input into the steering.

To counter this, and to keep the combination on track, Johannes is constantly engaging and disengaging the diff locks and the power divider as well as frequently manually shifting gears.

His virtuoso performance on the big Volvo’s driveline controls reminds us of a concert pianist working at his keyboard.

The Volvo’s steering wheel is fitted with a spinner knob similar to what is found on many forklifts. This assists Johannes with the steering function as he keeps one hand close to the driveline controls.

The snow chains are fitted to the front wheels of the drive bogies to achieve maximum drive traction.

Fitting the chains is probably quite an acquired skill but Johannes makes it look easy, assisted by the quick release mechanisms which permit the mudguards to be quickly removed and later replaced when the chains are taken off for the main road journey to the mill.

“Putting chains on is better than getting stuck,” says Johannes.

The wheel chains also create a unique almost musical sound, appropriately reminiscent of sleigh bells. Very occasionally a truck will become stuck, either in the winter snow or the mud created by the spring thaw.

Johannes is surprisingly philosophical about getting bogged. “It happens, and depending on where, sometimes it’s fun getting out,” he says. The two new 750hp Volvo FH16s joining the fleet in 2024 will be fitted with snow ploughs at the front.

Ask Johannes if he considers himself Swedish or Finnish and he diplomatically and emphatically answers, “I’m both!”

Driver, Johannes Korkeaniemi.

Johannes has been driving the family trucks for four years and though he may be only 23 years old, his calm and thoughtful demeanour gives the strong impression that he is mature well beyond his years.

Prior to taking up driving duties Johannes operated forest harvesting equipment for the family’s business.

The trucks collect the logs from stockpiles which are established by the operators of the forest harvesting equipment which is used to cut down the individual trees and strip them of the branches.

The family own and operate four of these high-tech machines and all members are skilled in their operation. The cab of Johannes’ FH16 is equipped with an elaborate sound system dominated by a number of large “woofer” speakers.

Johannes says he enjoys “all types” of music and his personalised entertainment system would be at home at a music festival instead of hundreds of kilometres north of the Arctic Circle.

The trucks and trailers are equipped with air operated winches which maintain the tension of the load restraint chains even as the loads settle on their way to their destination.

Much of the timber is delivered to milling facilities operated by Stenvalls which is a major supplier of Scandinavian timber products and seeks to maximise the useful yield from every log and maintain the sustainability of the forests to the degree of making good use of sawdust and shavings for animal bedding.

When he is operating the crane to load his truck Johannes is exposed to the elements, unlike the other trucks which have small cabins for the crane operators.

This doesn’t stop Johannes from using the jib and claw attachment as if they were extensions of his own limbs as he deftly picks up the logs and places them on the truck and trailer.

Taking notice of the on-board weighing systems the truck and trailer combinations are loaded to a gross weight of 74 tonnes with an overall length of 24 metres.

Mika and his wife Carola, now, have as their main interest the Forest Jewel traditional Scandinavian handicrafts business which they started in 1981 and supplies a wide variety of items such as reindeer skin rugs and bone and antler handled knives and kitchen utensils.

Handmade Forest Jewel is internationally renowned for being the biggest seller of traditional wooden cups with two finger handles which are made from birch wood boules.

We meet Mika and Carola in person at their stall at the annual winter craft market which has been held on the first Thursday of February in the Lapland town of Jokkmokk since 1605. A tradition, to our count, which has been happening for some 419 years.

Mika Korkeaniemi is a big Viking bear of a man who wears fox fur gauntlets and exudes happiness and friendliness, in common with Lapland’s most famous resident, the aforementioned Mr Claus.

Mika is justifiably proud of his family and the way in which they conduct themselves and the business. He has a natural passion for the forests and is enthusiastic about his sons’ and daughter’s ongoing involvement with their Volvo Trucks.

Mika Korkeaniemi.
Founder Mika Korkeaniemi at his winter craft market stall in Jokkmokk.
Send this to a friend