FAE Or Nothing

Pictured left to right: Calvin Gilbert (Tennessee Valley Equipment Parts Manager), James Sokalski (JPS USA CEO), Jeremy Montney (Willson Excavation-  Lead Operator), Chad Florian (FAE USA Territory Manager East PT) .
How James Sokalski followed his passion and built his own business with FAE equipment.

James Sokalski always knew that he would go into the forestry business.

As a kid, I was always fascinated with excavators and forestry machines. I would ride my mountain bike 10 miles up the road to where they were logging just to see how they were doing it… I was the kid that used to stand at the fence at construction sites and watch and wonder what they’re doing…

Despite his early interest, there was no clear path for him to enter the industry.

No one in my family actually ever did it, which was kind of strange. That none of my parents have owned machinery. So I had to kind of find my own way of getting into it.

And find a way he did. Through a high school engineering course, James started a work experience program with Treescape Ltd, an arboriculture and land management company in New Zealand. That experience would evolve into an apprenticeship position as a diesel mechanic.

It was at Treescape that James was first introduced to FAE mulchers.

Of his first interactions with FAE equipment, he said, “Although I never seemed to be working on them as they never seemed to cause any issues, I was always amazed by what they could mulch and the power and performance of them.”

At Treescape, he would work three to four days in the workshop and spend another couple of days in the field. Although he usually handled smaller tasks, he occasionally had the opportunity to operate heavy machinery.
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The guys were pretty good.
They let me jump in the machine… and muck around and waste diesel for a half an hour during lunch…
I think those were some of the happiest times of my life

In this way, James started to develop his skills as an operator.

After some time, the Aukland crew came down to Wellington with new equipment.

“Treescape had purchased a brand-new FAE fixed tooth mulcher for the 8-ton digger, and I was lucky enough to assist with plumbing it up and getting it ready to go out to the site.

Even luckier, I got to spend a day operating it a few weeks later.

I had operated a few other brands before, but I was blown away by what the fixed tooth mulcher could handle and the speed and performance of the head.


After three years with Treescape, he purchased an excavator at just 18 years old. People said he was crazy to set out on his own, but James isn’t one to turn down a challenge. He founded JPS Earthmoving in 2018.

It was an exciting time, but there were difficulties. He was inexperienced, and people were skeptical when he approached them for work.

I had never worked officially as an operator, so I was basically a diesel mechanic pretending I could drive a machine for the first year… People would second guess when someone young shows up, and they’re like, ‘Oh, are you the one doing the job?’… You sort of had to really know what you knew and sell yourself.

James persevered.

“I did that for about a year. I started to get more and more work and started to get a bit of a name for myself.”

Around Christmas of 2018, his company picked up a large job clearing a pine block that warranted some new attachments.

“At that point, I knew I was going to buy only FAE. I purchased a brand-new UML/EX 150 VT fixed tooth mulcher and SCM/EX/VT stump grinder and proceeded to work over the Christmas break clearing the area…The clients were amazed at what we could get done and the finish of the job at the end.”

The word spread, and, over time, JPS Earthmoving came to be known for its mulching and vegetation management capabilities.

“We always ran FAE on all our machines, and at our peak, we owned two 20-ton fixed tooth mulchers, a 20-ton stump grinder, a 180 hp tractor mulcher, and a 5-ton mulcher. Having the support and quality behind FAE made us able to get the jobs done right the first time and minimize downtime.”

Things were going well with JPS Earthmoving, but James had bigger plans.

“In late 2022, I decided I wanted to move to the USA as I could see the opportunities there for me. I just had to decide how to get there and what I was going to do. I ended up deciding to move to Tennessee and start a land clearing company.”

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James explained his reasoning behind making the move.

“In New Zealand there’s not… full time work for a mulcher because of the competition there and the limited land mass and all that. You probably get a few days a month or you might get one big job and then nothing for two months. Over here, you’ll have work for a mulcher every day of the year.
In New Zealand it’s a bit intermittent… [in the US] there’s a lot more work for those dedicated machines that can keep doing the same things day in and day out… Huge landmass, bigger population, more money to spend.”

At 26 years old, he arrived in the USA with three suitcases and nothing else. He would have to build from the ground up. However, he knew what he needed to get started. 

“There was no question about the brand of equipment I was going to run, FAE or nothing.”

He got in touch with a local dealership called Tennessee Valley Equipment and purchased his first piece of FAE equipment in the US: a brand-new FAE PT-300 forestry mulcher.

“It was a machine I could only dream of operating in New Zealand… I knew that being FAE, it was going to be a well-built machine, but once I started operating it, I never knew how good it actually could be.”

While James was effusive about the quality of equipment, he was almost more enthusiastic about the support he received.

“The backup support is second to none, and having the support of local dealerships like Tennessee Valley Equipment with the knowledge of the product and the support people like Chris Willson and his team offer is something very hard to come across these days with any machinery brand. They are always there to help when you need it and happy to share their passion for the product… you ring them up any time of the day and 99% of the time they’ll have the part sitting on the shelf. If they don’t have the part on the shelf Chris will go take the part off another machine to get you up and running…”

I asked James to elaborate on the differences between mulching in the United States and New Zealand.

“[The] terrain is very different. [More] flat land, hardwood trees [in the US]. New Zealand is steep, rocky, [with] softwood trees. In the US, clearing one hundred acres is not unusual, whereas in New Zealand you’d never really do a 100-acre clearing job… There’s a lot more vegetation and usable land where I am in Tennessee versus in New Zealand. They developed a lot of the flat land back in the day and it’s now sort of steep and unusable. In my hometown of Wellington, they have houses on these cliff faces that can only be accessed by an elevator, pretty much like a little cable car, but they’ll spend the money to do that because that’s the land that’s available.”

More work and hardwood trees mean more wear on the machinery. When asked about the effect of the change in vegetation on his equipment he said, “…in New Zealand we never really went through teeth. We’d have the odd one break, I wouldn’t even really say break, knock the carbides off and stuff like that…  You notice that [in the US] you actually do a lot more mulching. [In New Zealand] our mulcher was probably four or five years old, and realistically we probably did like 500 hours of actual mulching."

Regulation is also very different. “New Zealand is very strict on the health and safety and compliance. You do an hour’s worth of paperwork before you start a job. Some of the jobs here [in the USA] I could probably show up in sneakers and a t-shirt and no one would bat an eye. Whereas in New Zealand you have long sleeves, a hard hat, safety glasses all the time no matter what… But then I find that in America you actually get through stuff quicker. New Zealand, wasting four hours mucking around with paperwork and you end up only doing two hours’ worth of work, whereas in America you just have eight hours’ worth of work. So the jobs tend to get done faster.

James founded JPS USA LLC in May 2023. He has already seen success in his short time in the US, but he has plans for major growth. He is currently looking to buy a stump grinder for his PT-300 or a BL4/EX for his excavator, and he hopes to find some long-term maintenance contracts with his new equipment.

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“I’d love to expand.

My biggest thing over here at the moment is just getting known.

In New Zealand, you know, we had a good name for ourselves… Because I’m so new over here, you can try to advertise with Google and stuff like that… but people just don’t know you.”

Reflecting on his career so far, James said, “It's amazing that throughout my journey to where I am now, FAE has always been a part of my story, and I wouldn't be where I am today without them.”

James made one thing clear: when you want to get the job done right, whether you’re in Wellington, New Zealand or Columbia, Tennessee, it’s FAE or nothing.

Author Kevin Warstadt – FAE USA