By George Fullerton
Billy and Ronnie Gillespie are no strangers to harvest contracting—chipping and trucking operations in particular. The two brothers began their careers as weekend harvesters in the late-1970s, while they were still in high school.
Out of high school, they worked with cable skidders, then expanded their operations to mechanized harvesting, adding trucking and then full tree and flail chippers.
Currently, W&R Gillespie Ltd. operates with five Morbark chippers, mostly 2755 machines. The chippers supply the Flakeboard MDF mill in St. Stephen, AV Nackawic in central New Brunswick, there is one on a JD Irving operation and one chipper works on privately owned woodland operations. The fifth, a Morbark 2455, is the current spare that goes to work when one of the other chippers goes down for major repairs or overhauls.
Most of their chipping operations are in the woods, but they also do contract work in yards where wood has been piled down.
The chipper operations generally run on a single day shift, but they will switch to double shift if contracted as such, or if weather or delivery situations require more production.
W&R Gillespie operates 15 tractor trailers on their chipper operations and hires additional trucking capacity to take the fleet up to around fifty tractor trailer units. They own 30 to 35 chip trailers and hire the balance of the contingent as owner operator truckers. W&R Gillespie typically have between seven and nine trucks working on round wood hauling.
On the harvesting side, they own three bunchers, and contract one additional buncher, in addition to four to six owned skidders and contracting additional skidder power as required. They have their own dedicated float service using a triaxle tractor, which also moves chippers. They also operate a TimberPro harvester with a Keto head.
The Gillespies also operate a Bandit grinder/chipper, which works throughout the Maritime Provinces, primarily on millyard and woodyard cleanups, generating biomass feeds, ranging from chips to different consistencies of ground materials.
For road and chipper pad construction, they have a couple of excavators and several bulldozers. Their headquarters near Harvey in southwest New Brunswick includes offices and a substantial shop, with three truck-trailer service bays and additional room to slide in a flail chipper, not to mention a large parts inventory.
A good deal of W&R Gillespie’s round wood harvest is subcontracted to Ronnie’s son Joel; the name of Joel’s business is Greenridge Skog. The operation has run a buncher, an in woods processor and a forwarder bringing wood to roadside. Very recently, Joel sold his buncher and installed a new head on the processor, aiming to use it as a harvester.
Billy’s son, Daniel, operates his own company with nine tractor trailers hauling round wood and sometimes filling in hauling chips. Both of the younger Gillespies contract with W&R Gillespie Ltd., as well as other private and industry forestry operations.
The Gillespie brothers began chipping in 1991. More than two decades of experience have seen them surmount innumerable challenges with equipment, political issues, logistics and environment.
Their success has come about through focused investment in equipment and operators—and astute business management skills in an extremely competitive and challenging business environment.
Billy Gillespie focuses on the harvest and chipping side of the business, while Ronnie manages the trucking department.
Billy’s knowledge of chipper technology and operations is extensive, and his observation skills on a chipping operation are encyclopedic.
Experience and problem solving around chipper operations has naturally led to ideas to make chipping more productive and efficient, and to experimenting with innovative concepts. Take for example the requirement of four flail chips to meet certain mill requirements for clean (no bark/debris) chips. The Gillespies grafted a twin flail onto a tandem axle-tag along, which they position on the infeed end of one of their twin flail chippers, allowing them to generate four flail chips.
Other modifications include installing remote controls of chipper functions on older models and installing automatic greasing systems, which Billy says gives better lubrication and greater reliability to chipper components.
“One of the major challenges we have struggled with over the years with our chipper operations is with conventional loading from the back of the trailer—and the difficulty in getting the load to scale properly and meet the allowable axle weight limits,” says Billy. “Generally, loading from the rear we can get the gross weight correct, but there is almost always too much weight on the drive axles and not enough weight on the trailer axle cluster. In order to get the truck to scale for legal road weight limits, we generally lowered the gross weight, and that has been highly inefficient for the overall operation.”
For years, he has been trying to imagine a system that would allow them to make their maximum gross weight and have chips in the right place, so they are operating in compliance with axle weight limits.
“I became aware that Bandit had developed a chute discharge on some of their chipper and grinder products, and I imagined that concept along with a deflector on the end of the chute for our Morbark chippers. I figured if we could load our chip trailers from the top, the drivers could monitor their air suspension gauges as a guide to hit the optimum weight on the axles.
“Our first shot at building a discharge chute came when we had a chipper in the shop for repairs. We fabricated the chute using the same exit that Mobark used for their rear of the trailer loading system. We tried that out, but found there was not enough velocity to move the chips up and along the chute.”
Essentially, using the original discharge opening, the chips had to make a sharp angle toward the chute, before following the (opposite) curve of the chute which was intended to funnel the chips up over the front of the chipper and into the top of the trailer. Too many turns simply pulled the velocity out of the chip flow and the experiment was a failure.
Billy was not entirely deterred by the initial failure, and kept thinking about the top loading concept. His solution came through observation of chip movement systems from chippers and blowers in sawmills. His next attempt at the top loading chute was to cover the Morbark discharge hole and make a new one higher on the chipper cover, eliminating that ‘first turn’, before the chute.
“With the exit hole higher, the chips exit with enough energy to follow the arch of the chute and deflect into the top of the trailers,” said Billy.
The chute is hydraulically controlled to rotate 270 degrees and extends over the engine on the front of the chipper. The rotation allows a good degree of flexibility in regards to orientation of the chipper and the trucks. The hydraulically controlled deflector is operated by the truck driver with a remote control, to get even distribution across the trailer
“The chute system brought us some additional truck loading advantages that have made our operations a lot more efficient,” said Billy. “The chute gives us more options for situating the chipper in relation to the trucks, which park on the road. The chipper can be situated perpendicular or at an angle to the road, if the terrain requires the chipper pad to be constructed that way.
“With the conventional Morbark end loading system, the trucks had to be specifically oriented to the discharge spout, and that was often difficult to accomplish—especially if conditions became wet, or when twitches were moved through ditches, or across the road to get to the infeed of the chipper.”
With the chute system, the trucks sit on the haul road headed out of the woods and the wood is at the far end of the chipper, and there is a lot less possibility of messing up the ditches and creating difficult operating and trucking conditions.
Billy says the new loading system had its challenges, but the drivers soon caught on to observing the suspension gauge, and stepping their truck ahead as their loads built.
While the chute has revolutionized chip loading on a particular chipper, there has been additional innovation applied at the chipper infeed as well.
“Our Morbark flail chippers have a loader on the infeed end to feed trees into the flail. During road transport, the cab folds down to give proper transport height to the unit. All the hydraulics for the loader, as well as some hydraulics and all the electric controls for the flail and chipping systems are routed through the loader turntable and into the cab,” described Billy.
As the chippers age, there seems to be an overabundance of problems with electrics every time a chipper is set up, he says. Often it would take half-a-day on older chippers to trace and fix problems before they began making chips.
Billy added that the loader cab necessitates a significant climb for the operator and the cab witnesses a lot of vibration; it is a very noisy working environment.
The Gillespies’ solution to the technical issues was to cut the loader off, and feed the flail chipper with a standalone, grapple-equipped excavator. Flail and chipper remote control panels were installed in the excavator cab.
“Cutting the loader off reduced the weight of the chipper by about 15,000 pounds which helps with the oversize and weight permitting when we move the chipper on roads and highways,” says Billy. “The excavator is a Case 160 with a Meductic Welding heel boom assembly and a bar saw on the grapple.”
Excavator feeding the flail chipper provides a good deal of versatility to chipper pad construction and orientation, and the excavator can change position to accommodate how skidders deliver wood.
The chute loading system is showing two significant pay-offs for the Gillespies. First, the top loaded trucks are getting their axle weights on target. And second, the trucks are delivering more payload to the mills.
“We are seeing trucks that work on the chute loading chipper delivering one tonne more per load. That doesn’t sound like much, but when you consider five trucks making two loads per day to the mill, that’s ten tonnes per day and fifty tonnes over the week. If we maintain that over forty weeks in the year, that’s an extra 2,000 tonnes chips delivered and more revenue, higher profitability.”
Like all businesses, the Gillespies look toward technology advances to make their operations more efficient. Some businesses wait for the salesman to announce the technology. The Gillespies, on the other hand, have identified a technological need for chipping and innovated their own solution, constructing their own road to success.
On the Cover:
On the B.C. Coast, it’s about getting the wood to the water, but before it hits the water, it needs to be harvested in the woods. And this September will see the full range of harvesting equipment working at the DEMO 2016 show being held in Maple Ridge, B.C. Please see the preview story on DEMO, beginning on page 28 of this issue. (Photo of B.C. dryland sort by Paul MacDonald).
Beetle attack: but this time it’s the spruce beetle
As if the B.C. Interior has not been hit hard enough by the mountain pine beetle, there have been recent increases in the spruce beetle population in the Central Interior of B.C. Details on what is being done to fight/contain the latest scourge in the forests.
EACOM Timber partnered with equipment supplier Autolog to optimize the company’s Val D’Or and Timmins sawmills, achieving value uplift at both operations, strengthening them and giving them more market resilience.
Logging partners in profit
An award-winning logging partnership between the Quatsino First Nation and Western Forest Products on the B.C. Coast is delivering efficiencies—and profits—to the two partners.
A (sawmill) offer you can’t refuse
Weyerhaeuser Canada made Alberta sawmill owner Guido Unger a (good) offer he couldn’t refuse: the purchase of a used USNR line that will allow his sawmill to ramp up production considerably.
Coming in September: DEMO 2016
Full details on the upcoming largest logging equipment show in Canada this year: DEMO 2016, being held in Maple Ridge, B.C. from Sept. 22-24, with all of the major logging equipment manufacturers represented.
Hands-on harvesting approach
Nova Scotia logger John Dorey has been recognized by the Canadian Woodlands Forum for his hands-on approach to meeting the needs of woodlands clients, and excelling at partial harvesting.
Getting more control over log hauling
Weyerhaeuser’s Grande Prairie, Alberta timberlands operation is phasing in more tire pressure-controlled equipped log haul trucks, allowing them to increase their access on steep logging roads, even in bad weather.
More chips to go...
New Brunswick’s Billy and Ronnie Gillespie are innovators when it comes to their chipping operation
Urban logging in Alberta
Alberta’s Shawn Moore has moved beyond the oil patch, and his tree removal business has now morphed into doing urban logging—and they’re diverting trees from the landfill.
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre and Alberta Innovates - Bio Solutions.
The Last Word
Winters aren’t what they used to be, and that simple fact is impacting the forest industry, says Jim Stirling.