By Tony Kryzanowski
The amount of accessible wood located on flat or rolling terrain in some of Canada’s most active commercial logging environments is becoming scarce. So forest companies are now looking for ways to harvest good quality logs on steep slopes that, up until now, have been difficult to access safely and economically.
The question now becomes how loggers can equip themselves to fulfill their clients’ needs, work safely, and still make money.
One veteran B.C. Interior logging company, Wadlegger Logging and Construction Ltd., owned by Hans and Sepp Wadlegger and based in Clearwater, have deployed their leveling feller bunchers and winch-assist technology developed in New Zealand called Tractionline to help their logging equipment work efficiently and safely up and down steep slopes. Winch-assist systems are most often applied for feller bunching, hoe chucking and skidding on steep slope.
The Wadlegger logging operation recently put their Tractionline twin-line traction winch-assist system to work
developing ski trails on ungroomed powder snow away from the resort crowds for Blue River, B.C.-based, Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing. What was unusual about this contract is that they were purposely seeking fall lines, or the steepest way down the mountain for the purpose of skiing, rather than taking the conventional logging approach of choosing a path that is the most operationally efficient.
Both Hans and Sepp are experienced skiers, which helped on this project because they could think like skiers with their plan of attack.
Hans says that skiing in this type of environment is an amazing experience.
“It wrecks the concept of going to a regular ski hill once you ski in this type of country,” he says.
The Tractionline winch-assist system was developed by a company in Rotorua, New Zealand called Electrical & Machinery Services Ltd (EMS). The EMS product line is distributed in North America by Technical Forest Solutions (TFS) of Kelso, Washington. TFS is a dealer in the U.S. and it provides sales and service and distributes the EMS products into Canada through a network of dealers. TFS provides full factory support to the dealers. Woodland Equipment is one of that network of dealers, and sold the equipment to Wadlegger. Woodland is not the only dealer in B.C., as TFS distributes the equipment on a non-exclusive basis in the province.
This winch-assist technology is a system that can be installed on existing 25 tonne or larger excavators, allowing contractors to potentially extend the life of older excavators or purchase cheaper second hand units, re-purposing them as winch-assist units without a huge capital outlay. According to EMS, the company designed considerable safety features into its winch-assist system, stating that to its knowledge, it is the only system designed and manufactured to meet the stringent AS1418-1 safety standard, “which demands a safety factor of five-to-one on all components”.
What this five-to-one ratio means is that the winch-assist system is designed to safely handle a much bigger load than other systems on the market, which have a 3:1 safety factor, whether they are single or dual lines. They chose the twin-line traction system for added safety. Hans says that it’s fine to have a winch-assist system, but owners and operators must have confidence that the system is designed in such a way that should a malfunction occur, there are safety measures in place for the forestry machine operator working at the end of the cable. And that is what this twin-line system provides.
The Tractionline winch-assist system not only allows them to tackle logging on steep slopes, but also on terrain with less severe grade but with challenging ground conditions. Where the Wadleggers logged these ski trails, there was only about 50 per cent slope in some areas, but not the best ground conditions
“It’s not always that the ground is too steep,” Hans says. “It’s often because it is too rocky, too difficult to maneuver, because of high stumps, or it is too wet. The Tractionline helps mitigate all that. The feller buncher operator can basically drive up and down as needed and relatively quickly. With what we are doing here, the only other way is traditional cable yarding.”
The Wadleggers used their Tractionline unit to assist both the feller buncher to harvest the wood and the hoe chucker to move logs down the hill. This particular project presented an interesting challenge for the logging and winch-assist system; typically, there would be just over 150 metres between both units. In this case, though, at times there was as much as 350 metres between each unit.
The Tractionline winch-assist system consists of three main components: a winch cable retrieval system mounted on the back of the excavator which also functions as the counterweight, a pulley tower that connects to the excavator boom, and a pulley system mounted to the end of the boom near the excavator bucket which helps to maintain tension and cable control to the forestry machine that the winch-assist unit is connected to. The excavator bucket is planted into the ground, which stops the winch-assist unit from tipping forward.
EMS says that the system provides constant cable tension with large back up and emergency brakes all controlled through wireless communication between the winch-assist excavator and forestry machine. Wadlegger says with this system, it does not require an adjustment in how the forest machine operator does his job as the cable tension adjusts to the movements of the forest machine and maintains constant tension. The operator is able to adjust the amount of tension, because as Hans explains, the operator may not require a great deal of tension where the ground is less steep, resulting in smoother operation.
“He can reduce that tension in the machine, or if he finds himself in some challenging terrain, then he will increase the tension to ensure the machine maintains proper traction,” he says. “When they are hooked up to the cable, they just go, because there is so much confidence in the system and it works so well.”
The Wadleggers are well-acquainted with the environment in which they log, as their father, Joe Wadlegger, immigrated to Clearwater in 1965 from Austria. There he met their mother, Hazel Ludtke. They established a small sawmilling operation focused on railway ties, but also evolved through the entire development of mechanical logging in Canada, taking on contract work for the sawmill located in Clearwater.
At present, their Tigercat logging fleet consists of a Tigercat 870C feller buncher, a Tigercat L870C feller buncher, a Tigercat LS855D shovel logger for hoe chucking, two Tigercat H855D carriers with Waratah 623C processors, two Tigercat 630E skidders and a Tigercat 875 loader. They also complement their operations with a Cat 558 hoe chucker, Cat 325DFM hoe chucker, Cat 325C log loader, and a Cat 535B grapple skidder. The company also operates a construction side that uses all the equipment needed to construct forestry roads, install bridges, drill and blast, and whatever else the industry can throw their way.
Hans says the decision to make a significant investment into a complete line of Tigercat equipment was fairly recent and tied in with their plans to integrate the Tractionline winch-assist system into their operation. The exceptional uptime on the Tigercat units, their ability to integrate well with the Waratah brand processing head, their leveling capabilities, and general operator satisfaction working with this equipment gave Wadlegger Logging and Construction confidence to deploy the brand within all of their logging functions.
“The core structures of these machines are so good, the fuel economy is excellent, they hold their value and the service support from the dealer, the Inland Group, has been great,” Hans says. Also, there is a lot of similarity among the machine components for easier maintenance.
The Wadlegger operation has over 500 hours of experience with their Tractionline winch-assist unit. It is their first winch-assist system. Hans says that it has been “glitch-free”. What he also likes about the system is its simplicity and ease of operation. It was a very short learning curve to integrate this system into their general logging operations, although it is not in use all the time. His operators like the fact that it provides them with that added safety measure working in this environment, and at the same time, Hans says he ensures he has the right operator in the cab working with this system.
“You are always a little nervous about new technology,” he adds, “but they (EMS) have really done their homework and they researched and developed the product for quite a while before bringing it to market.”
From a business perspective, Wadlegger says that having this steep slope capability could open up new business opportunities for the logging business as forest companies become aware of the extra service that they can provide, and it is always good to be first in the door.
Given their location in Clearwater, the Wadleggers have also demonstrated that they can be a valuable asset to the heli skiing industry by helping to develop more heli skiing sites. Implementing this new Tractionline technology with Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing made sense since the logging company has over a decade of experience working with them on other projects. Development of these trails is expensive, so being able to capture the fibre value during development by working with a logging contractor with the capability of capturing and marketing that fibre helps to offset some of the trail development costs. Most of the wood salvaged from this trail development project was sold to Canfor, with the cedar sold to Gilbert Smith Forest Products.
Bob Sayer, Operations Manager at Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing, says that based on his observations of Wadlegger Logging and Construction’s deployment of its Tractionline winch-assist system on the recent Blue River heli-ski trail development project, he believes this logging approach is faster than cable yarding and efficient, without sacrificing quality.
“This approach gave me good fall line skiing and it happened quite quickly,” says Sayer. “We will still use some cable yarding in areas where it is too steep, but I think with this equipment, it will allow us to build the kind of runs that we are looking for.”
In addition to faster project completion, he says it will also allow the company to develop more gladed ski trails fairly easily by selective logging. Gladed ski trails are where some forest is purposely left standing for better trail visibility in poor light conditions.
“Gladed ski trails are where you are taking out two-thirds of the trees, leaving a full one-third of the forest behind, which is harder to do with high lead logging,” say Sayer.
He says that the company has been working with the Wadleggers to develop both gladed and conventional heli-ski trails since 2003. This latest project involved vertical clearcut logging of three ski runs following the fall lines, so that they get good skiing on these runs. “We are located in a very good snow belt in Blue River, so that gives us a chance to ski in very good powder all the way down the mountain.”
The major difference with this type of logging is that it is vertical versus conventional clearcut logging which tends to be more horizontal to capture certain tree species at specific elevations. The average grade is about 40 per cent, which is challenging from a conventional logging perspective because it means that logging occurs straight up or straight down a hill for quite a long distance.
Sayer was very pleased and impressed with the work that the Wadleggers were able to do, and that they were able to use the new ski trails this year once the snow was deep enough. Once the site is cleaned up this summer, they will be able to use the trails next November when there is only about a metre of snow.
On the Cover:
B.C. Interior logging company Wadlegger Logging and Construction Ltd. are deploying their leveling feller bunchers and the Tractionline winch-assist system to help their logging equipment work efficiently and safely up and down steep slopes. (Photo by Anthony Robinson)
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