March and April 2007
Oregon logger, Aaron Nash, enjoys full-time thinning projects utilizing specialized machinery
By Kurt Glaeseman
Aaron Nash, out of Elkton, Ore., is enjoying a unique and secure niche in the thinning industry. He understands the need and efficiency of small equipment. “The beauty of it,” says Nash, “is that I seldom have to work more than an hour, or so, away from home. There’s plenty of work that requires small, specialized machinery.”
Seeing the Need
After taking courses in timber cruising at Coos Bay, Nash started working for Weyerhaeuser, where he observed a need for a small harvester in a thinning operation. He wanted to go out on his own, and he established a working relationship with equipment dealer Ray Ulmonen of Hakmet USA, Inc. in Redding, Cal. Ulmonen understood the art of harvesting small diameter wood, from experience in his native Finland, and he could supply the precise machinery Nash sought.
The first purchase was an Arbro- Stroke 400 harvester head, designed to fell, delimb, and cut to length, where maneuvering is tight and the trees are less than 18 inches. This head is equipped with a Volvo saw motor with a choice of 14 or 16-inch cutter bar. Mounted on a Solar 55 Daewoo excavator, the Arbro-400 can process a lot of small wood in a day.
When he has corridors that are at least 9’ 3” wide, Nash uses a 546 Valmet forwarder with a Ford motor and a Clark transmission. When corridors are too narrow for the Valmet, it is used to load and unload logs, and occasionally to load and unload the smaller forwarder. “When I first saw the Valmet,” says Nash, “the price was right, and I bought it. I thought it would be versatile. It’s been good for me, and I’ve never regretted buying it.”
Little Giant - Nokka 2551
And then there is Nash’s favorite little giant, the light, but strong, Nokka 2551 grapple loader-trailer which can reach out 16 feet. He pulls it with a 662 Clark-made skidder and can load 25 tons in 40 minutes. “I moved the controls back to the skidder, and I put in a bar so I can see better and feel safer. I swear by the Nokka brand,” says Nash, “it’s a tough little machine.” Nash adds that part of his confidence comes from Ulmonen, who has never let him down when he needs service information or a replacement part. That relationship between equipment dealer and logger is indispensable for optimum production.
Nash usually harvests by himself, with occasional help on the loader from his cousin Ryan Goins, or from his oldest son Marcus, who has learned to run the forwarder. Aaron is always observing and experimenting. It was his idea to install two-inch tubing around the excavator when he was working in tight corridors. The tubing acts as a sensor to keep him from getting too close to “save” trees — what Nash calls his “Braille Method” in the woods.
Progressive Tree Improvement Program
The job that showcases Nash’s adaptation to “small” is a thinning operation on a BLM plantation near Elkton. Rod Stevens, a retired District Geneticist for the Bureau of Land Management, remembers almost every detail of the project. It was a cooperative effort among several different entities to evaluate selected seed trees growing out in the woods — specifically to monitor the adaptability, survival, growth rate, and vigor of their offspring in a controlled environment. A hypothesis, of the Progressive Tree Improvement Program in Oregon and Washington, was that randomly selected parent trees could be evaluated by testing the offspring. This particular 10-acre site, planted in 1980, contains only Douglas fir.
Several hundred parent trees were climbed and harvested for their cones in 1978, a big cone year for Douglas fir. Seedlings were then grown in 10-cubicinch cells in nurseries. Before they were transplanted to the test sites, all existing stumps were removed and burned. Other flora, including naturally occurring Douglas fir and the invasive Scotch broom, were weeded out. The site was fenced to keep out browsing deer, and voracious porcupines were controlled. The Douglas fir seedlings were planted in geometric rows with even spacing. Lanes were pruned at the end of fifteen years so it would be easier to get in and measure height and dbh.
Nash Enters 26 Years Later
Now, 26 years from its planting, the plot needs a carefully controlled thinning so that “save” trees can continue to mature and be monitored. When Nash was contacted, he presented his price and got the job — he had the precise, small machinery that would allow what was referred to as an “unbiased thin,” which meant that every other diagonal row had to be removed.
With the narrow nine-foot corridors, Nash can go in with the Arbro 400 head, cut the trees up to 18 inches, delimb anything that does not exceed 15 inches, and place them neatly for pick up. If he is working by himself, he gets a certain number of diagonals laid down, and then goes out with the little Nokka 2551 trailer and hauls the logs to the landing. There he jumps on the 546 Valmet to unload the trailer and load onto the log trucks. When Ryan Goins can help out, there is less machinery juggling, but Nash has proven that he can process a lot of wood even if he is working alone.
Of course the corridors are tight, but Nash insists on keeping a one percent, or less, damage to “save” trees. When the sap is running, a little bump or nudge mistake can cause bark to fall off. The harvesting process requires patience, alertness, and close attention, even with the smaller machinery, but unscarred trees are the proof of quality workmanship.
Nash has added another valuable parameter to this harvest. He works only in a downhill direction, creating less stress for the machinery, and less track and wheel chop to the soil, which is already cushioned to some degree by trim and slash. When the harvester and the trailer get to the bottom of the row or finish at the landing, they return empty to the top and start working again downhill. The orderly flow of traffic fits logically and compatibly with the evenly spaced master plan.
The five-inch, or bigger, saw logs are trucked to the Swanson Group in Noti, and the four-to-five-inch pieces go to South Port Forest Products in Coos Bay. If Nash has tops that won’t make it to four inches, he kicks them to the post and pole sort — three inches or bigger in eight-foot lengths that will go to Umpqua Resources in Sutherlin. The logs are hauled by Whitaker Trucking, and Nash particularly admires the friendliness and professional skill of driver Larry Copenhaver.
Inventing a Better Wheel
“When it comes to working in the woods, I spend a lot of time thinking about mechanical processes and how things can be improved,” says Nash. “I’m always trying to invent a better wheel. I think in the future we’ll be doing a lot of short logs, barking them in the woods, and leaving the bark on the trails. The logs would stay clean in the woods and be ready for the mill. That’s my futuristic thought for the day, but I’ll come up with another little thought later on!”
Thinking small has become a way of life for Nash. When he works alone, sometimes he can harvest only an acre a day. He appreciates the days when his cousin can help him and double production, but he’s content now to work alone. He knows his success has been based on small machinery and big quality…and he’s not willing to jeopardize that with an expanded crew.
“Precise machinery that fits the job, precision, and high-quality work are what I have to offer,” says Nash.
This page was last updated on Wednesday, April 25, 2007