May June 2005
 

 

 

 

TimberWest Turns 30!

As TimberWest celebrates its 30th year, we reflect on the loyal advertisers, the innovative equipment manufacturers, the loggers, mills and support services that have made our stories possible.We salute John Nederlee, the bold publisher who launched TimberWest, and thank our many supporters.

In the Rearview Mirror
Back in 1975, things seemed more black and white, including the premier issue of TimberWest, which was largely a black and white magazine except for the cover. Things of course have changed since then, both with TimberWest and the industry. Who would’ve dreamed that some loggers would spend their days processing logs in air-conditioned cabs with computers that tally the day’s cut in five different languages? And who would’ve envisioned mills processing lumber out of three-inch tops that were previously burned in slash piles?

When National Forests Were Open for Business
Interestingly, the Endangered Species Act (ESA, 1973) and the National Forest Management Act (NFMA, 1976) both hatched about the same time as TimberWest. As the magazine published its June 1976 issue, the “In the News” section warned: “Lumber men should contact Senators now to oppose that National Forest Management Act (S.3091) which has been drastically changed by the Senate agriculture and interior committees…the amendments would cause considerable reduction in the productive capabilities of the national forests…the forest products industry estimates that timber supplies from the national forests will decrease by over 20% over the next decade if the bill is enacted.” So, how did that forecast turn out 30 years later?

Work Harder, Work Smarter
When government sources for timber slowed to a trickle, the creative juices of equipment inventors, sales people and the logging and mill professionals increased. “Work harder, TimberWest Turns 30! work smarter” remains the rallying cry for new and improved methods of harvesting, processing and utilization, ranking the nation’s timber industry as one of the most efficient industries worldwide. The people in the trade, too, have morphed. Gone is the 17-year-old kid stuck in a remote logging camp, wielding a clumsy crosscut saw all day to earn a few bucks. In his place is a true professional who can now recite riparian management criteria, world lumber statistics and cutting edge science while still tending to business. Today, mill owners and loggers alike take trips to Europe and Canada to study new equipment and techniques, and everyone stays connected by e-mail and cell phone. Equipment too, has evolved over the years.

Yarder Logging
Out on the ground, Eugene equipment dealer Dick Van De Hey knows the score when it comes to yarder logging. After all, he cut his teeth on heavy equipment manufacturing, representing Thunderbird yarding equipment internationally for years. These days, he travels to such places as Malaysia, Indonesia, New Zealand and Australia to market a variety of yarders worldwide, and he singles out skyline logging as a steady player in an unsteady industry. Van De Hey definitely believes that the deliberate withdrawal of national forest timber from the nation’s wood basket has impacted how yarders are built and used. He notes that through the 1980s, 90- to 110-foot towers were commonplace, but some 70-footers were starting to catch on as the Forest Service withdrew bigger trees and bigger blocks of timber. As timber decreased in size, so did machines, and after 1992, 50- and 70-foot machines were the rule, not the exception. With fewer large stumps to lash onto and less oldtime loggers to do the rigging, the big towers faded into history in many locations. Van De Hey saw it all as he marketed the more agile Thunderbird line of mobile yarders. “The mobile yarders were smaller, easier to handle and with the skyline and full suspension capabilities, logs weren’t being dragged,” he says of the improved machinery that increased utilization. “The full suspension is used effectively over creeks, riparian areas and sensitive ground.” With the advent of the swing yarder, flexibility and safety both improved on-site, according to Van De Hey.

Taking heat from OSHAto improve logging safety, contractors using mo-bile yarders today can couple that machine with a stroke delimber and log loader on the landing, thus minimizing human involvement. A chaser can easily monitor activities, yet stay out of danger’s way, thanks to the more flexible and smaller yarder. “The swing yarder is dominant,” says Van De Hey. “And the full mechanical landing is the big news over the last 10 to 12 years for safety.” With Workman’s Comp taking a huge bite out of operating budgets, safety issues remain vitally important to the industry. Of course Van De Hey says teaching loggers to be aware at all times is still the biggest lesson, no matter what the era of equipment. Carriages, too, have changed, according to Van De Hey. The mid-80s centered on mechanical drop line carriages, but then companies moved into motorized slack pulling carriages like the Eaglet. The motorized drum carriage, or the sky car, is the newest innovation. “The new sky cars are lighter and smaller with their own engine and drum. They’re used mostly for clearcuts and you can lateral logs and work faster. They’re about 20 percent more productive.”

    

Enter Bunchers, Processors and Forwarders
Yarders, grapple machines and log loaders took up the bulk of advertising space in early issues of TimberWest, but the July 1976 issue also featured an article on a fellerbuncher, grapple skidder combo used by San Poil Lumber Company of Republic, Wash. As the article reports: “The main cutting tool in the woods is the Komatsu D55 track dozer with a Drott 18-inch feller-buncher head…San Poil tries to keep the skid runs to 1/4 mile or less, but now…they are working out to 1/2 mile. Even so, using the two Caterpillar rubber tire skidders, they are bringing a turn to the landing every 20 minutes and are averaging 8 truckloads per day…On a typical operation, the fellerbunchers go in first. These machines are capable of handling a 20-inch tree, but most of the timber on this side is 12 inches and down to eight DBH. These ‘clippers’ are getting 3-400 trees per day per machine, but on the other sides, they have felled 500-550 per day.”

Pat Crawford of Timberpro, a veteran in logging equipment development, remembers his first primitive attempts to build a feller-buncher machine, after seeing embryonic tries in the late 60s. By the late 70s, the concept of attaching cutting shears to a base machine was catching on, so Crawford waded into the action. “It was an evolutionary thing,” he recalls. “The fellerbuncher with a well-protected cab was the most important single innovation of the times.” Mike Murphy, manager for Komatsu working gear group says that there has been dramatic evolution over the past three decades. “In the early 80s we had mainly mass produced construction equipment. Today it is purpose-built forest machines.” Valmet was an early presence in the new industry of mechanized logging as well, according to Nate Burton, Marketing Manager at Komatsu. Reviewing the past 50 years, Burton notes, “Early Valmet days included an affiliation with Volvo, and machines that included forwarders and slash bundlers. Later, rubber tired harvesters joined the Valmet lineup, and then in the early 80s, Valmet’s purchase of the Gafner company in Upper Michigan brought Valmet to North America. The Gafner ‘Iron Mule’ was a unique forwarder using a modified Ford farm tractor chassis with the front wheels missing from the front end.”

Burton says that in the 90s, Valmet forwarders and “double- grip” harvesters for the North American market were manufactured in the Gafner’s former plant in Gladstone, Minn.” Mid-90s saw Valmet produce the world’s first “single- grip” harvester and about that time, machine production consolidated in Sweden. “The fledgling mechanized logging industry has grown,” says Burton. “Through it all, Valmet innovation has continued, and today it produces 4 forwarder sizes, a ‘Combi’ harvester/ forwarder, three sizes of wheeled harvesters, an economical slash bundler that mounts easily on a forwarder (for biomass and or chipping), and seven tracked machine models capable of performing felling or harvesting/processing.” As the nation watched federal forests withdraw from the wood basket almost entirely, a small band of Forest Service foresters and timber management staff toured the woods of North Idaho late in 1997, watching a new Valmet harvester and forwarder trundle through the woods, nimbly carrying small diameter logs to sort piles, as the forwarder traveled over the remaining limbs and branches. It seemed as if a Martian had landed from outer space, and the federal foresters praised the efficiency, lack of soil disturbance and the fact that a deer grazed peacefully a mere 20 yards from the cutting unit. “Politically correct forestry,” they called it, and felt it belonged in the lineup for future thinning. Trouble was, their hands were tied as radical activists called for zero cut on federal lands.

     

In the Mills
Over the last 30 years, western mills have taken the wrath of timber wars full force, and those remaining now consider every advantage in making equipment purchases. The debarker, an essential tool in any mill, has changed tremendously, according to Bob Theriault of Nicholson Manufacturing. “In the old days, the castings on these things were as big as Volkswagens,” says Theriault, who has been with the company since 1972. “Today everything is about being leaner, faster, meaner, but in the past you were dealing with bigger bark, some 18 inches thick. We see 30-inch diameters today, but then it was maybe a 96-inch diameter log with 18 inches of bark. There were some complex castings on those old machines.” Elwin Hutchins of Hutchins Lumber in Weippe, Idaho remembers 30 years ago when the head sawyer was not always in an enclosed cab, so risked the full brunt of wood and chips flying. Now his sawyer enjoys the standard enclosed cab, as do almost all millworkers.

Gone are the green chains in many mills, as well as some of the tedious work of standing out in the elements. Today’s mill worker monitors computer screens, letting optimizing equipment scan for defects and accurate cuts. Of course the big news over the last quarter century is small log milling, and Ed Mayer, General Manager at Hew- Saw, recaps his company’s part in the changes. “The first HewSaw sold in North America was delivered in 1988. One went to Vanderhoof, BC, Canada, and one to Colville, Washington, for Vaagen Brothers Lumber. Vaagens had a progressive approach to see into the future about what was needed, and had enough guts to do something new and different. They have been operating a HewSaw ever since, and have evolved as our equipment evolved, now operating with their second generation HewSaw. They tweaked their machine to operate with greater performance than we ever thought possible.”

Still an Industry of People
No matter what the changes in the woods and in the mills, it’s the people who were TimberWest’s stories 30 years ago, and it’s still the people who make it all happen now. Tom Hicks, who operated Northwest Pine Products in Bend, Ore., from 1984 to 1997, typifies the problem solver that lurks inside of most timber professionals today. He’d seen a need to thin the woods, yet knew equipment, markets and the Forest Service had to line up just right to make a business work. “In the early 90s, we were doing the same thing they’re proposing now,” says the now-retired professional forester. “We wanted to remove the thick understory and leave some of the older trees, but the Forest Service just wanted to do prescribed burns. If they’d let us do our thing first, it would’ve worked. Now it might be that the whole Northwest has to burn up first before anything gets done.” Hicks, who frequently tested equipment for Peterson Pacific and Morbark in his chipping business, had one goal in mind in the mid-80s — 100 percent utilization. Before retiring, Barbara and Tom were chosen number 151 on the 1992 annual list of Inc. Magazine’s 500 fastest growing private companies.

Barbara says, “It was always the quality of the people that impressed us in the industry. In our business, we also paid a good wage, and offered good benefits. As we’ve seen things change, they’ve traded a lot of that for minimum wage jobs.” Almost prophetically, their type of operation is today considered innovative by those not aware of the can-do attitude that’s been part of the timber industry for over three decades. As TimberWest looks forward to the next 30 years, the industry will likely cycle up and down as it has in previous years. At this point, we salute all of you in the industry, and will continue to tell YOUR stories.

TW

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This page was last updated on Thursday, August 11, 2005