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Moving Target

Tristan Allen, CLT Logging, constantly evolves to stay ahead of the game

Linkbelt 240 X2

By Bob Bruce

CLT Logging of Montague, California -- just outside of Yreka -- has survived in recent years because owner Tristan Allen has been willing to think outside the box and organize his company in a way that both satisfies the needs of his primary customers while remaining an attractive choice for qualified workers.

Moving with the Market

The basic issue affecting everything, according to Tristan, is the reality of constantly evolving market conditions, environmental regulations, and natural conditions. Even if there appears to be a lot of timber in a certain area, it isn't necessarily open to harvesting.

That means that even though Tristan's company is based in Montague, and even though most of his workers come from the same area, neither he nor they are able to spend much time near home base these days. Rather than view that as a liability, Tristan has specifically set up his field crews to be able to take maximum advantage of the more distant and complex jobs that, more and more, are becoming the only work available. Rather than scale back, he has decided to take advantage of job opportunities that other loggers might not be as well-equipped to handle.

For example, a recent, severe weather storm left vast stretches of scattered wind-fall timber that needed to be salvaged. At the same time, a lot of the timber farm tracts in the area were coming to an age where they needed to be thinned. The primary challenge to both types of work is that they involved selective harvesting on some very steep terrain – a difficult, time-consuming, and ultimately expensive combination.

"The problem," he explains, "is that, unlike a few years ago, where we were able to negotiate each job with the mills, now everything has gone to a bid process." With a tight market and slow economy, the mills can't exactly be faulted for wanting to get the most bang for their buck, but for the loggers it means having to always find ways to work smarter, not just harder.

Because the crews are working in remote locations, Tristan says, "We probably have more spare part inventory on hand than most of the manufacturer's supply reps."

Three Sides, Big Commutes

In the Yreka region over the past five or six years, the available commercial timber cutting contracts have migrated away from the Oregon/California border and moved down into the Northern California watershed. For Tristan and his men, that translates into travel times averaging around two to 2.5 hours just to get out to the job site -- and that's for those closer in.

Despite the challenges involved, Tristan runs three logging sides and one chipping side during the peak cutting season. He also maintains a small support fleet that includes three log trucks and three low-boys.

The various job sites are typically remote and far enough apart from each other that each crew operates on an essentially autonomous and self-reliant basis.

"They become like their own little families," says Tristan. "It's not unusual for the guys on the different crews to not even see each other in person for almost the entire season. They stay out in the brush, and the only contact they have with the other crews is over the radio."

New Systems

Because the men and equipment stay out in the field and do not return to home base every night, it has been necessary for Tristan to come up with systems and procedures to ensure that the crews can maintain both safety and productivity without taking a big bite out of his profitability. One of the solutions he has developed is to equip each crew with their own fully-stocked mobile repair shop and parts depot.

With a job site hours away from the closest manufacturer-certified repair and service shop, Tristan has made a point of hiring and training side rods that can act as both crew chiefs and field service mechanics.

"The sales reps have been great about letting our guys ask a lot of questions and working with them so they can accomplish their own problem diagnosis and then go ahead and do their own repairs right there in the brush," says Tristan.

In fact, Tristan does not have a dedicated full-time mechanic or repair crew. During the winter season when most of the high-volume cutting has stopped, he does hire on some seasonal mechanical help, and he brings the equipment back to Montague for repair and overhaul. Even then, Tristan says he works as head mechanic.

"We try to bring everything in and do whatever we need to it during the off-season, because once the logging season begins, I need to have all the iron out in the field producing, not sitting in the shop."

Lots of Inventory

The key ingredient that makes Tristan's remote maintenance concept work is the quality of his people. "My job is to put the right people in the right job and then make sure they have everything they need to perform to the best of their ability." In this instance, that means stocking a quartet of supply trucks with enough of whatever hoses, connectors, belts, supplies, etc. that each side is likely to need while out in the field.

The supply trucks are the only vehicles that regularly return to home base each and every Friday night. Saturday is re-stock day, and it's that weekly inventory check that really helps Tristan stay on top of the health of his various pieces of iron.

"We probably have more spare parts inventory on-hand than most of the manufacturer's sales reps," he says. "With our need to get repairs turned around quickly, we can't afford to wait the days it might take to get something shipped out from a central supply depot – and that's if the part is even in stock." In not in stock, he says it can take even longer.

Buying in Bulk

He also tries to buy in bulk whenever practical. For example, when restocking a truck with hydraulic hose, he will generally provide a 100-foot roll and a box of fittings. "It may be more expensive up front than going down to NAPA and buying just the one hose that needs to be replaced, but in the long run it is much more economical -- it saves time in the long run, and I know we'll use the whole 100 feet sooner or later anyway."

Since the side rods are also the head mechanics for each side, Tristan can get a pretty good picture of how his equipment is holding up just by talking to his guys when they bring the supply trucks in and by keeping an eye on what parts and materials are being used the most.

Because reliable equipment in the field is vital, Tristan doesn't shy away from purchasing new iron when the need arises. At the same time, however, he makes a point of closely monitoring and servicing all his equipment. If the machine is basically sound, he'll keep it in service as long as possible.

"We have eight Cats in all," he says. "The newest is about four years old. But I also have a 25-year old D7G that I just keep rebuilding and rejuvenating, and we use it all the time."

New Machines

His newest piece of equipment is a Link-Belt 240X2 with a LogMax 7000 XT processor head. He bought the rig primarily because of its performance and reliability, particularly on the steep terrain his crews have to deal with these days.

Although job performance was Tristan's top criteria when evaluating processors, he was also very concerned about parts availability and customer support. With his system of having as many repairs as possible done in the brush, being able to deal with a manufacturer who can deliver repair items in a timely manner is critical.

"I had looked at some other manufacturers, mostly because I know a lot of other guys use those brands and it's kind of like well, if everybody else is using it there might be something to it. In the end though I went with LinkBelt because I've dealt with them before and they've always been very prompt with getting us any parts we need."

He also has high praise for his local LinkBelt rep, Jim Pendergraft, out of the Bejac dealership in Anderson, Calif. Jim has been great about working with our guys to explain things and get them up to speed."

In addition, Tristan says he is especially impressed with the top knives on the LogMax head because they do such a great job of delimbing the stems. "Most other processor heads measure the diameter and then add on a default offset for the delimbers," he says. "The LogMax can adjust the knives on the fly to follow the diameter almost exactly so the stems come out very clean with just one pass."

Tristan is definitely the new breed of logger -- flexible and ready to handle that moving target.

 

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