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Logger-Built Grapples Find A Market Niche

By Jim Stirling
Copyright 1996. Contact publisher for permission to use.

Summary: Many loggers have ideas on how to improve their equipment. Alex Brigden went a step further — his Treetow grapples are now in use throughout Canada and the US.

Logging contractors are go-to-it types. They aim to tackle the problems, do the job and hopefully make a buck. Doing the job means having the right equipment; sometimes, not find-ing the right equipment can lead to a career change. Ask Alex Brigden. He was the owner-operator of a grapple skidder in Grande Cache, Alberta a few years ago and he couldn’t find the winch and grapple configuration he wanted. He ended up designing one himself and Brigden Manufacturing Inc. was on its way.

It was a modest beginning, for sure. But now the Quesnel, BC-based company has earned a market share for its Treetow line of grapple skidder attachments for customers and dealers in Canada, the United States and as far away as Australia. Brigden is constantly on the look-out for new products and new market niches. The forest harvesting machinery business isn’t all built around large scale and consolidation.

Small can still spell success. Brigden manufactures a range of Treetow grapple skidding attach-ments and fits them to modified and long-track frames to suit dif-ferent machine sizes. Brigden recalls designing the arches first on a custom basis for contractors and later fitting them with other manufacturers’ grapples. Having been there himself as an owner-operator, Brigden had a shrewd idea of how to make the whole grapple skidding procedure easier for the operator without sacrificing any efficiencies.

A feature of the Treetow models is a full see-through main boom frame. Being able to see the load at all times pays dividends, especially through a long shift. “The secret is to keep the boom and its load as close to the back of the machine as possible to distribute the load over more of the frame,” explains Brigden, who is president of the company. “We designed a jib boom that pivots something like a parallel-ogram skidder that allows the load to be held lower and come closer to the machine.”

Brigden says the value of the jib was really driven home to him when the attachment was being tested for a customer in Quebec. “It was a very wet and steep site but with the machine you could settle the load and crawl right up.” The ground pressure exerted by harvesting equipment of all types is a major consideration with today’s more stringent forest practices standards. The Treetow’s modified and long-track attachments don’t affect ground clearance. And the ground pressure exerted by a Cat D5H with a modified eight-roller track frame and 26" pads is only 6.19 lbs. per square inch.

Grapple The first Brigden-designed grapple head was a tong-styled model with a 101" opening. “It’s now a 106" opening grapple head. It’s been adapted and different shaped tines has made it grow,” points out Brigden. Basket-bunching grapple heads with up to 120" openings have since been developed in response to customer requests, he adds.

Marlo Logging Ltd. of Quesnel first wanted one for a D7 machine. Brigden says the Treetow allowed better machine utilization because it could be used for skidding to landing and, when not required for that, freed the machine for road building. He notes the grapple is also handy for moving culverts around. “When we first went into designing and manufacturing grapple heads we knew we had to have a good one. We developed a properly sized cylinder and pin arrangement on the tines.” This helps deliver a constant hydraulic pressure without the complica-tions of grapple accumulators.

“We can squeeze the bundle until it’s solid and we don’t lose any of the load,” he adds. “We’ve taken that design and kept it all the way through. You have to ke ep equipment going, and besides, it’s developed into a good system.” A Treetow basket head grapple has been working well for another Quesnel-based company, Smith Bros. Contracting Ltd.

The firm opted for the grapple on the first production Cat 525 skidder in the BC woods. The Treetow grapple heads have capacities ranging from 9.25 square feet to 14 square feet. Two years of developing, testing and revi-sions have contributed to the success of another associated grapple head skidding attachment.

“Our idea for a brake snubber link is a unit that can be serviced in the woods without pulling the pin on the grap-ple head,” says Brigden. “We’ve had a very good response with it.” Through the design phase, the company kept closely in mind the KISS principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid. The brake shells are easy to re m ove, service or replace by removing a spacer and sliding a one-piece housing. Brake tension is adjusted by bolt tightening, and the shell material is unaffect-ed by contaminants like grease, oil and water. What was typically an arduous job can now be done more safely in less than 20 minutes. And the machine is back in pro-duction that much faster. The brake snubber can also be used on log processing heads.

Alex Brigden is a graduate of the school of hard knocks. He says he’s had little formal education, apart from acquiring a weld-ing ticket. But along the way he’s mastered computerized-assisted design techniques and has coordinated them to a customized accounting system.

The company maintains a Brigden family presence in Quesnel that dates back to 1957. Brigden keeps four full-time staff at the shop, although that increas-es with business; his Dad, Allen, is often around to help. “I see myself as bringing out innovative ideas and new products. And quality is essential,” states Brigden. The flow of ideas is far from drying up. “Right now, we’re developing a hydraulic cylinder-building facility, building components or the complete cylinder.” Brigden has plans for a swing-boom configuration, although he readily admits he is not a fan. He feels Treetow grapples carry more load when used correctly and do less damage to the environment and adjacent standing trees.

“But we’re going to build one. There‘s a part of the market that wants them and we’re a Canadian company…we’d like to give them a Canadian option.”


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