February, 2001

 

 

 

 

 

MOUSE among the Elephants

Oregon Logger, Mark Smith, finds big uses for small crawler dozer

By Tony Kryzanowski

An Oregon logger's use of a small crawler dozer with a variety of attachments working in careful logging environments has been compared to a mouse that scurries among the feet of a herd of elephants. The elephants in this case are the large mechanized harvesters typically used in today's logging environment in either clear cut or select cut applications. 

For the past three years, Mark Smith has been using a 7500lb. PosiTrack dozer to commercially thin both natural and plantation stands on about 7000 acres of private woodlots throughout the American Northwest, selling the wood to either Weyerhaeuser or Boise Cascade. Some of the wood is harvested from family property, and some from a growing list of customers. 

Oregon logger Mark Smith not only uses his PosiTrack carrier for harvesting and processing wood, but also skids logs using his Implemax grapple, manufactured in Bozeman, MT. LEFT: The PosiTrack carrier and DAVCO Manufactoring processor head in wet ground conditions, while doing minimal damage.

A graduate from Oregon State University in Forest Management, Smith has worked as a forester with Weyerhaeuser in Longview Wash., and as a forester for 25 years with Woodland Management Inc in Portland Ore. For 18 years he was owner/operator of Woodland Management Inc, which employed 10 people, including six foresters. "At the height of our operations, we managed approximately 150,000 acres for small woodland clients in Western Montana, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Northern California," says Smith. 

Today he provides custom logging to private landowners that want to preserve environmentally sensitive areas, yet derive an income from maturing and valuable wood inventory. He and wife Roberta own Woodland Harvest and Landscape, and are headquartered in Sherwood Ore., south of Portland. (The landscape portion of the company refers to forest landscaping, and not residential landscaping as might be implied by the name "I sold my forest management company so that I could do this sort of thing," says Smith. "Our motto is to make environmental sense into cents. I'm just amazed at what this little machine can do ." 

The versatility of Mark Smith's Positrack carrier allows him to attach a wide variety of implements, including this brush cutter.

Smith has thinned conifer stands ranging from 25 to 150 years old, and has used both a harvester/processor and fellerbuncher attachment on the carrier. The attachments were manufactured by PosiTrack dealer DAVCO Manufacturing, headquartered in Grande Prairie Alberta, Canada. He also has a grapple attachment manufactured by Implemax in Bozeman, Montana. TIMBER/WEST - February, 2001 92 DAVCO Manufacturing is co-owned by Dave Fenton. 

His name may have a familiar ring to it, as he was an owner of the company that manufactured the Ultimate line of fixed mount harvester/processor heads before it was sold to Quadco Equipment three years ago. Smith and Fenton have forged a strong working relationship based on Smith's forest management experience and Fenton's technical know-how. "I hooked up with Dave Fenton at the Prince George, BC Forestry Show a couple of years ago," says Smith. Fenton was promoting the PosiTrack line of crawler dozers, which are manufactured in Minnesota, primarily as a brush cutter. Smith, however, could see its potential as a harvester in extremely environmentally sensitive areas. "Dave is like a team coach," says Smith. "You wonder if he's gotten it right, and by golly, it works. Dave's got it figured out ."

 While the concept of using low cost smaller equipment and harvester/processors in a thinning application is not new, Smith's use of a low cost, low ground pressure dozer with a harvesting attachment is. The undercarriage on Smith's 4520 Posi Track dozer comes equipped with kevlar tracks that are propelled by 52 rubber wheels. The independent suspension on each wheel assembly results in superior flotation and remarkable ground pressure - only three pounds per square inch. 

That is less ground pressure than a human footprint. "It's the undercarriage that really makes this carrier quite unique in relation to any other type of vehicle that's out there," says Smith. "The tread doesn't dig in and grip like a normal grouser would on a metal dozer track. It really does minimal damage in terms of chewing up the ground ." According to Smith, the dozer is designed for use on dirt, not rock or gravel roads. He estimates that owners should expect at least 2000 hours of production before tracks need to be replaced. Because of its superior flotation, the PosiTrack dozer can access wet areas that larger, heavier carriers must avoid. 

Again, the concept of gaining access to wet areas with a dozer type carrier is not new. A good example is Cat's 527 tracked skidder. What's new about this equipment combination is that Smith is using a tracked dozer to both harvest and skid the wood. And Smith has found that the Posi Track dozer is extremely versatile. In addition to his harvester/processor, fellerbuncher, and grapple implements, Smith can also attach a posthole auger, bush cutter and dozer blade. And soon a backhoe attachment will also be available. Smith works in areas with plenty of slope, so the stability of a dozer carrier versus a miniexcavator made more sense. 

He says the dozer and feller/buncher combination remains economically viable up to about 25 percent slope when cable yarding and helilogging make more financial sense. However, the dozer is rated for up to a 68 percent slope. Smith warns that this PosiTrack carrier, powered by a 4045T John Deere diesel turbo engine, is not a replacement for larger mechanized harvesting equipment. It is a product suited for a niche market, specifically  commercial thinning in environmentally sensitive areas, particularly where stability is an issue. 

Although the crawler and feller/buncher combination is a lower cost alternative to larger name brand equipment, it is limited to harvesting timber up to 20 inches at the butt. While the head is rated at a maximum capacity of 14 inches, Smith says he can harvest timber up to 20 inches with a couple of cuts. He would not recommend tackling trees larger than 20 inches. In order to achieve a reasonable return on investment, Smith says he avoids thinning pulp wood, and aims to recover higher value timber that is capable of producing dimensional lumber. Smith has heard a few snickers from fellow loggers concerning the size of his equipment set up. 

However, given his 25 years experience in forest management, he knows whom he needs to impress to keep his equipment busy. "I'm seeing interest from forest management people," he says. "Those are the guys who make the decisions on who is going to be on the property, how the job is going to get done, and what type of machine they need to have in there ." Smith is in such demand from private woodlot owners that he has to turn business away. 

The only drawback he mentions concerning his PosiTrack/fellerbuncher combination is that the service and support network is still in development. He depends greatly on DAVCO Manufacturing to provide him with parts and technical support. At the present time, he says it is essential for anyone interested in mimicking his set up to have a strong mechanical background. Many of the components on DAVCO Manufacturing's fellerbuncher and processor heads are universal, therefore, quite readily available from local suppliers. Smith isn't concerned that he's a mouse in what's considered an elephant's world. After decades of experience he knows getting the job done right means having the right tool for the right job.

This page was last updated on Tuesday, July 08, 2003