May and June 2006

 

 

Ramco Mechanical Cutting, LTD

Shaded Fuel Break System Shields West Coast Forestland from Wildfire

By Jeff Mullins

When Marc Chord, owner of Ramco Mechanical Cutting, says, “My family comes first,” it is not a cliché. It hits at the heart of how he runs his modern logging operation.

Ramco runs four sides, yielding over 45 million board feet a year. To remain competitive, the company purposefully attracts and retains highly skilled employees by seating them on the most efficient equipment available and by treating them like family.

Starting Up in the 90s

At the urging of a friend, Marc entered the timber industry in 1990 as a self-employed faller. Within 18 months, he and a partner pioneered in mechanized logging, purchasing two feller bunchers — a 435 Timbco and a Timberjack 2520. “In those days many were skeptical about mechanized logging,” says Marc. “ but time has proven it the right decision.”

In 1993 Marc bought out his partner and today over 70 percent of Ramco's business comes from large timber companies such as Longview Fibre, Weyerhaeuser, Stimson and Green Crow. The balance of work is done for smaller private companies and landowners. Marc says, “I love what I do, but there is a special satisfaction that comes from completing a job for a small landowner and knowing that they are happy with the work you have done.”

Lots of Iron

Marc says, “One of our keys to being competitive and profitable is that the diversity of our equipment allows us to compete for all types of jobs. Typically, we run two cut-to-length crews and two clear-cut crews, but at times we will combine crews for efficiency or to keep everyone working.”

The cut-to-length crews handle thinning contracts for companies like Weyerhaeuser — right now it's the company's 40,000-acre plantation on Mount St. Helens in the“blast zone.” Skilled operators deftly guide the 608 and 1270B Timberjack harvesters through the 25-year-old stand on slopes up to 45 degrees, reducing stand from 350 to 170 stems per acre. In a seamless motion, the harvesters fell, delimb, cut to length and group the crowded, undersized, weak or defective trees, leaving unscathed the healthiest stems with maximum growth potential. Timberjack 1210 forwarders transport a half-log truckload to the landing each trip.

Sorting occurs in the woods, rather than at the landing. Saw logs as small as 5 inches in diameter are collected and then the forwarders return for pulp logs. Typically pulp is taken down to 3 inches in diameter but on some jobs even the very tops of the stems are retrieved.

Marc explains, “It is essential for the employees and company alike that we be able to operate year-round. With these machines, we are able to 'tread lightly,' minimizing ground disturbance, and able to harvest in most weather conditions.” On the day that TimberWest visited the job site, harvesters and forwarders were operating after a night of very heavy rain and the machines moved about easily, mostly on top of branches and debris, and seldom actually touched the sloped ground.

“We vary our equipment and approach to harvesting with the seasons,” says Marc.“We seldom operate dozers in the wet seasons and vary our skid roads and harvest patterns to minimize potential for silt generation. Today, with our mechanized techniques and equipment the biggest challenge is designing road systems and runoff patterns to keep from generating mud and silt.”

 

Cory Miller on Link Belt 210LX shovel with Pierce 300LC delimber in background.

Clear-Cut Crews

Ramco also operates two clear-cut crews, each anchored by a Timberjack feller buncher and augmented by a“hand faller” for oversized stems or trees that cannot be reached by the feller buncher. Shovels forward logs to either a Pierce 300LC Stroke boom delimber or a 22-inch Waratah dangle head delimber for processing.

“On clear-cut jobs an outfit must be able to do high lead work, so we have equipped our Komatsu 300-7 shovel with Pullmaster drums and a slack pulling carriage in order to still do the high lead work,” explains Marc. “This arrangement allows using the shovel 70 percent of the time to support shovel logging operations when it is not needed for the high lead work.”

Good Crews are Expensive

As important as it is to have the best equipment, Marc says that it is also a major challenge to logging companies today to hire and retain competent and reliable operators. He says, “I have been blessed with wonderful employees and we have very little turnover.”

For Marc, replacing employees is not only a “pain in the rear” but it is also expensive. “I may have to go through three or four people to find a good operator and it is very costly to train someone from the ground up.” Marc estimates that it takes three years and costs the company a million dollars to train a proficient harvester operator.

“Ten years ago, before the equipment became so technical and specialized, an outfit could afford to train people. Now we need to hire qualified people,” says Marc. This creates an other dilemma, as often times a potential qualified employee is already working for one of his friends. Marc honors an informal agreement with other owners in the area regarding recruiting employees. “We agreed to let them come and go but we won't seek them out.”

Learning the Hard Way

Marc also attributes Ramco's success to a work ethic and sticking to one's word — even if it is bad for the bottom line. He laments, “I have learned some things the hard way and I will never forget the number $192,018. That is the amount of money we lost on one contract and it was my fault.” He underestimated the difficulty of a particular job and it took three and a half months to complete rather than the one month he had planned for.

1210 Timberjack Forwarder loading logs being thinned in Mt. St. Helens blast zone. The stand is part of 40,000 acres of 25 year old reprod owned by Weyerhaueser.

Planning for the Years Ahead

Marc says that as Ramco has grown, the focus of his concerns has changed. In the early days he just wondered how he would make machine payments. Then it was how to make machine payments and payroll. After that it was planning five years down the road and now he looks as many as ten years ahead.

Marc's wife, Wendy, takes care of the office end of Ramco's business and Marc considers her a full-fledged partner in the business. She explains that “family first” refers to her and their two daughters. “But,” she adds, “family also includes the twenty employees and their families who depend on us for a regular paycheck. Sixty people rely on Marc and he takes that seriously. A crisis for one of our employees is a crisis for us too.”

As Marc looks to the future he anticipates staying the same size but replacing older equipment to remain effective and competitive. He also plans to include more private landowners in his business plans and to do more land development and clearing work. Marc says some things will never change though: “I will always
do the best job I can, I will always be honest and my family will always come first."

Russ Case III - loading logs onto trucks with a Kobelco SK210 shovel.

 

 

Brandon Oberg on 1270B Timberjack Harvester.

Timberjack 608 Harvest Operator - Mike Messner.

 

 

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This page was last updated on Friday, October 20, 2006