Back on WHEELS
New Brunswick logger Sean Storey has opted to get back on wheels with his purchase of a Timberjack 1270 harvester.
By George Fullerton
New Brunswick logger Sean Storey figures his purchase of a Timberjack 1270 harvester has been a good business decision, helping to position his contracting operation, S and S Logging, for the challenges that lie ahead. Underlying that decision is Storey’s belief that the future for mechanical cut-to-length harvesters in New Brunswick will favour wheeled harvesters.
The move has paid off so far. Storey says that he is very satisfied with the performance and reliability the Timberjack 1270 has provided in its first year of operation. He is convinced that getting back on wheels was the right move. Storey has a history with harvesters, starting out with a Valmet 546 in 1995 and then moving to a tracked Timbco 425 in 1998 and most recently, the Timberjack 1270B. Although the Timbco is still performing fine—sub-contracting to D & A Logging on UPM operations north of Doaktown—Storey felt he could handle some more challenge.
After trying out the Timberjack 1270B with a 762C head, he went ahead with the purchase from dealer Wajax in Fredericton and put the machine to work for J D Irving’s Doaktown District operations. “Contracting today is about making good business decisions,” Storey says. “As the margins get slimmer, you have to be sure that your business decisions keep you profitable. The 1270 gives me a 25 to 30 per cent fuel consumption advantage over the Timbco. That’s a substantial saving and that makes my business more profitable.”
Although Storey contends that contracting success requires sound business decisions, he does not hesitate to also point out that the key element for every successful cut-to-length harvester is the operator. “Your operators are what make or break an operation. I aim to have good operators, and keep them. With two machines, I don’t have the time to watch over things too closely. All my operators know how to take care of the machines, they handle a lot of the block layouts and help each other out so that they achieve good production numbers and get the quality that is required.”
In addition to an hourly pay scale, Storey also provides a bonus system. “I give discretionary bonuses to reward good work. Sometimes it’s cash, sometimes it might be a weekend away for operators and their families. Or it may be a weekend close to home. For example, I may decide we will shut down Friday and the whole crew, including their wives, head to my dad’s hunting lodge for the weekend. “I supply the food and refreshments and my wife, Sandra, and I do the cooking. I like to give a reward above and beyond the paycheque, to show that good work is appreciated, and my operators know they are appreciated.”
The operators, Scott Colford and Dennis Robichaud, point out operating and comfort features of the 1270 unit. Colford’s first comments are on the operator comforts. He points to the arched window as one of the most appreciated features, especially for thinning operations. “You can see the whole tree right to the top, so you can make the right cut decisions.” Colford and Robichaud both agree that the machine provides a smoother ride and operating platform. They also give a thumbs-up for both the heaters and the air conditioning, as well as sound deadening in the cab. Robichaud notes that the pre-heater is an especially comforting feature.
When the 1270 is shut down for the weekend, the computer is instructed to engage the diesel burning pre-heater a couple of hours before the start of the next week’s first shift. “You just jump in the machine and start it up and everything is at operating temperature,” says Robichaud. “You just take your coat off and you’re ready to work.” Both operators praise the computer systems on the Timberjack 1270. There are, in fact, two computers: one for the head and another that controls other machine functions. They agree that the computers interface extremely well and are very user-friendly. Colford admitted that climbing in to the Timberjack cab after a couple of years’ experience on the Timbco was “like learning how to run a harvester all over again. It’s very different to operate and it took some time to get comfortable with the machine.”
Fortunately, the computer features adjustable operator controls and speeds. “When I first started out on the 1270, I turned the speeds way down. That gave me a chance to learn the functions. As they became familiar, I just increased the speed to what I could handle.” Again, both operators praise the computer for a feature that allows each to program and save their individual operating functions and speeds. That means that when the other operator starts their shift, it is only a matter of pushing a few buttons to retrieve their function preferences. Storey himself also has good things to say about the computer systems. “The computer controls virtually all machine functions and records all kinds of information, including about 30 different alarms. The operator can tell you that an alarm came on during their shift and the computer lets you go back and see exactly what it was and when.
“It’s a great feature. When we’re dealing with the technicians from the dealer, we can go back and see when an alarm happened, its frequency, and a whole lot more information to help find and fix the problem. It’s a great computer—and we are only using about half of its capacity.” When making the deal for the harvester, Storey opted for a 1,000-hour service program and every 1,000 hours, Wajax technicians service the 1270. This includes changing all fluids, filters, checking the torque on critical bolts and adjusting hydraulic pressures. “The service package has been very important for us,” he explains. “With any new machine, you are on a steep and expensive learning curve.
With that expertise on site, we have a good chance to pick their brains about how the machine operates or problems we have.” Keeping a comprehensive parts inventory is another key to business success, says Storey, who estimates that he maintains about $100,000 worth of parts. He keeps major components at his home in Doaktown and a general supply in service trucks on each site. Each service truck is equipped with a generator/welder and a hose assembly kit. Storey says that the vacuum system built into the 1270’s hydraulic system is a great benefit, minimizing oil spillage during hose changes.
The move to tires and purpose-built thinning harvesters are partly the result of changes in forest stand types and operations planning. “Tracked harvesters have proved that they are ideal for handling our natural stands that have a mix of species and a range of diameters,” says Storey. “But we are coming to the end of our natural stands and we are going to be working more in plantations and thinned stands. They will require a different style of harvester. “For example, in the current five-year management plan, three per cent of the harvested volume is generated from commercial thinning. But in the next five year plan, Irving foresters expect that 25 per cent of the volume will be from commercial thinning.”
That evolution will require harvesters that are smaller, that can handle smaller tree sizes with faster cycle times and that have a very gentle footprint to minimize root and stem damage in thinned stands. Wheeled harvesters, Storey contends, fit those requirements better than tracked machines. Another trend favouring wheels is smaller cutblocks, targeted with specific silviculture requirements, at the precise time when it will make the most impact. Storey says that meeting green-up restrictions between cutblocks is another factor that is leading to smaller cutblocks.
And having wheels—rather than tracks—allows the 1270 to travel between harvest blocks on operations roads. The travel advantage was illustrated this past November, as roads were freezing and thawing and abundant rain and snow combinations eventually shut down trucking on many harvest blocks. “They simply couldn’t truck any more on most of the roads,” explains Storey. “The mill was running low on wood, so the operations people were anxious to move harvesters to blocks that they could truck from. It was impossible to get floats to most of the tracked harvesters. “But we were able to travel to the pavement and get a float and get cutting in just a couple of hours. The ability to make that kind of move is quite an advantage in today’s world of minimum mill inventory. Having wheels means an advantage for the contractor and the mill.”
Operators use the travel advantage to optimize harvester utilization. “If we have good wood and bad wood on the same harvest block, operators will work in the poor stands during the day. Then, they’ll move to the good wood and the easier working conditions for the night shift. When you are running a tracked machine, you don’t have that choice. All you can do is work through the bad wood.” Despite the long hours and plenty of worries, Storey is positive about his future as a cut-to-length contractor. He points to the support from his wife Sandra, an equal partner in the business.
She handles payroll and the books, and is a “parts getter” on request, in addition to teaching school and having a three-year-old and five-year-old at home. Storey’s mother, Mary, also helps out with quarterly reports and preparing for year-end. Storey says his father, Vin, is a sounding board for significant business decisions. “We talk things over. I don’t know that he necessarily steered me toward good business decisions, but I do know he steered me away from a few bad ones. “He can look objectively at the situation and see things that I am too close to see.
Dad will say, ‘I don’t care what you do, but I’ll tell you what I think.” With a long road of experience behind him—and now a solid business footing in wheeled cut-to-length—Storey looks forward to a positive future in what has increasingly become a demanding business that requires solid management skills. “You have to think of it as a business and manage it as a business to be successful.”
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