Equipment Innovator Paul Bell Dies at 66

Tue February 27, 2024
Timber Harvesting & Forest Operations

Logging equipment innovator Paul Bell of Bell Equipment died Dec. 27, 2023. He was 66.

Taking the southern U.S. pine plantation and natural stand conversion applications by storm in the late ‘80s with his odd-looking three wheel feller-buncher, Bell redesigned a machine originally meant for sugar cane plantation harvesting and turned it into a highly productive and flexible timber cutting system.

The machines were hugely popular, and Bell sold 2,000 units its first 10 years in the market. Rene Cuchens (van der Merwe), who headed Bell's sales and marketing when the product was introduced the United States, said Bell had three keys to success: He ran the machine himself and was good at it; he reacted to any design-quality issues immediately and not at customer expense; and he valued uptime for loggers the most.

Bell grew up in South Africa and developed into an executive for his family's business, Bell Equipment, which still operates mining equipment and forestry and ag equipment divisions around the world. In leading the company's move into the U.S. market in the 1980s, Bell chose to bypass the traditional equipment dealer system. Instead, Bell developed its own direct sales and service support staff that eventually included three planes and even pilots trained in three-wheeler troubleshooting.

Bell was notoriously hands-on, and more than a few loggers were shocked when the president of Bell Equipment USA would show up on their job to see what was up with the tri-wheeler.

Cuchens noted that Bell's vision created a machine that not only was perfectly suited for plantation thinning, but it could also handle broken terrain and mixed and larger timber stands as well. She remembers back in the ‘80s they sold six machines the first day they touched ground in Mississippi working with Bell at a demo event. She added that he chose the names Model T, Super T and Ultra T as a homage to Henry Ford, whom Bell admired.

In October 1997 he was honored in Southern Loggin' Times' 25th Anniversary issue as one of "25 Men Who've Made A Difference" in the logging industry.