Swiss logger Beni Brunner

Logging in B.C., Swiss style

Swiss logger Beni Brunner has set up a remote control tower yarder operation in the B.C. Interior, and the equipment is working well in some very challenging conditions.

By Paul MacDonald

It can take loggers time to get used to a new location when they move their equipment—new terrain, different timber, and perhaps different weather conditions.

But Swiss logger Beni Brunner had to get used to a whole new country and continent when he set up logging operations in the B.C. Interior—and he is the first to say that it has been a pretty big adjustment. And there may be some further adjustments to come, in terms of the ownership of his Valentini remote control tower yarder, and whether he will continue logging in B.C., long term.

Swiss logger Beni BrunnerSwiss logger Beni Brunner (right) had to get used to a whole new country and continent when he set up logging operations in the B.C. Interior—and he is the first to say that it has been a pretty big adjustment.

That said, clearly Brunner and his Brunner Tower Logging Ltd. crew enjoy working in B.C. and Canada, though they are subject to bouts of homesickness from time to time. “B.C. is beautiful—and there are not so many people here,” says Brunner. “For me, as a logger, this country is a dream.”

With its size, Canada has wide open spaces and tremendous timber resources compared to Europe, which is generally very densely populated, and as a result has a smaller forest land base. In Switzerland, the annual cut is 4 million cubic metres vs. the 65 million cubic metres in B.C. alone. You could pretty much fit all of Switzerland in a corner of B.C.

Brunner’s interest in setting up logging operations in B.C. was twigged three years ago, when he visited his friend and colleague, Christian Volk, who had already established a logging operation in Clearwater, B.C., Volktrans-Canada Ltd.

Both Volk and Brunner have logging operations in Switzerland, and had helped each other out, Brunner helping Volk with tower work, and Volk helping Brunner with conventional ground-based logging.

About 80 per cent of the work Brunner does in Switzerland is tower-related, with the balance being conventional, and some heli-logging. At times, they will do long cable logging, up to 1.8 kilometres, with intermediate towers set up. And all of the logging they do is selective logging vs. the clearcut logging that is practiced in B.C. They are very experienced in steep slope work, having done logging in a region that includes the Swiss Alps.

About two years later, Volk let Brunner know that there were opportunities for tower loggers in B.C. Gilbert Smith Forest Products, an independent forest company based in Barriere, B.C., north of Kamloops, was looking for tower operators (see sidebar story on page 16).

“Things happened pretty quickly from there,” explains Brunner, from the cab of his pick-up truck, at a logging site near Blue River. B.C. “I came over and toured the areas, and the blocks, with the Gilbert Smith people.”

Brunner set up logging operations in the summer of 2017, with a brand new Italian-manufactured Valentini tower, so he now has a year-plus of B.C. logging under his belt.

Some of the differences he’s found between B.C. logging and Swiss logging have been small and subtle, others quite dramatic.

Swiss logger Beni BrunnerOne of the changes that Brunner has made is to his logging approach and to his equipment line-up—they’ve had to add some additional equipment. They are now working with a processor, a Volvo 2924C equipped with a Waratah 623 head, a John Deere 2054 loader and a Hyundai 3029 for hoe chucking. The hoe chucking is new to Brunner—that is something they did not include in their logging plan.

He now understands why some B.C. logging contractors have a mix of tower logging and ground-based logging equipment, to get their production numbers, and make their operations economically feasible. “That seems to work better than just doing tower work,” he says. Production can be challenging, especially in the winter months, working in snow. They were working in up to six feet of snow last winter, before they were able to move to logging in lower elevation ground.

Given the nature of tower work, they have small landings, with limited space for log sorting. And it can take time to build enough sorts for a load, which can make trucking, to say the least, a challenge. And not all truckers want to drive steep roads. At times, they have managed this by forwarding logs down the road, to a larger landing area.

Added to this, Brunner purchased brand new tower equipment, with the Valentini. Other tower loggers in B.C. are working with older equipment that was usually long ago paid for.

That said, Brunner and his crew were looking forward to getting into better blocks this fall that are designed for the tower—where he’s had input into the layout of the blocks. “It should work better there—that’s what I’m hoping. I’m looking forward to that because the tower is running awesome, and we are getting good production from it.”

It will be a nice block for the tower, he says. It’s a bit longer yarding, about 500 metres, and it’s a chance for the tower to really prove its stuff. The longer yarding will work well for licencee Gilbert Smith, too, as they can also build less road.

The block they were working in this past summer had a good amount of big spruce, in addition to the western red cedar that Gilbert Smith needs for its mill in Barriere. A good deal of the cedar is decadent, though. “You look at that big cedar, and think it will work well for tower yarding, but a lot can break apart,” says Brunner.

Swiss logger Beni BrunnerGiven the nature of tower work, Brunner Tower Logging has small landings, with limited space for log sorting. At times, they have managed this by forwarding logs down the road, to a larger landing area.

“It makes the yarding pretty tough sometimes. When you have good wood, it works well. When you have a lot of rot, you’ve got all this equipment working, and you’re not getting the volume you need.”

When he first set up in B.C., Brunner faced a lot of one-off, and time consuming, but very necessary, tasks, like getting SAFE certified, and getting WorkSafeBC to sign off on the tower equipment.

When Brunner Tower Logging made the move to B.C. with the new yarder, they were well set up for any maintenance that might be required.

“I thought it might be hard to get parts here, so we brought over a lot of parts. But now I think the parts we need for the Valentini are pretty common here,” he says.

“But I brought over a complete second remote control. If you have a problem, we can use the second remote control and send the other one back for fixing.”

Hoses took some getting used to, since Brunner and the crew were used to all metric hose sizes. They’ve since made the shift to imperial sizes.

With the Valentini yarder being brand new, they really did not expect any problems with it, and that has been the case. Bruner said he is pleased with the tower. “It has been working really well every day,” he says.

Even though work visas were arranged for Brunner and his small crew, he still needs additional people. And like in pretty much all of the Canadian forest industry, those people can be hard to find—and hang on to.

In Switzerland, he explained, young people will do an apprenticeship under a government program, and learn steep slope logging. “So there is a base of knowledge there—when I am hiring people there, I know they have at least a little bit of experience, and we’re not starting from zero.”

And in Switzerland, employees can’t just leave jobs, and employers can’t just lay people off—each has to give at least three months’ notice. “You have security that people are going to stay with you,” he says. Contrast that with Canada and B.C. where people just don’t show up for work one day—and don’t even bother to give notice.

“It’s very frustrating,” says Brunner. “Especially in steep slope logging. You need really good people, and training people is expensive.” Working around the tower, he says, you want to have a solid crew.

“It’s much easier to find a skidder operator—it’s really hard to find a crew for tower work like this. Around the tower, you want to have a good crew of three to four guys.” With the limited amount of tower yarding done in B.C. these days, getting experienced tower guys is tough.

“I could find good workers to come over to Canada, but the problem is getting more work permits—it takes a long time. For younger people, it’s not as complicated, they can get a work permit for a year. But for good, experienced workers, who are sometimes older, it’s very difficult to get permits for people like that.”

All this said, as of the fall, the operation was starting into better blocks, with indications that they will be able to achieve good production numbers.

And despite all the challenges, they have managed through a year of logging in B.C., though Brunner has found it very frustrating at times—perhaps too much, so. Brunner says he is now exploring all his options—including selling his tower yarder, and returning to Switzerland.


Swiss logger Beni BrunnerLots of technology added to European yarding

Though Swiss logger Beni Brunner is now working in B.C. with a new tower yarder with state-of-the-art technology, the basics of tower logging remain the same, he says.

“In Europe, we used to have the same type of tower as B.C. 40 years ago. The basic tower has remained the same—but in the last 20 years, there has been a lot of technology added.”

This particular Valentini tower yarder was built specifically for North America, and is the first tracked carrier of its size, and it has some pretty nifty features.

This particular Valentini tower yarder was built specifically for North America, and has some pretty nifty features.

They no longer need a chaser unhooking logs at the landing or even a dedicated tower operator, as the Valentini v1000/M/3/R has remote control. So the processor/loader operator can easily operate the machine.

The system also features an auto return carriage—the carriage automatically returns to where it came from, on the slope. It comes with a Bergwald SMU shotgunning carriage.

It features a computerized electric over hydraulic control system, hydraulic drive load sensing drums, and four Ludwig electronic chokers. It has a 37.9’ to 57.7’ hydraulic telescoping tower. Power comes from a 400 hp Fiat-Iveco engine that burns about 12 litres an hour.

The tower is equipped with leveling jacks in four corners, and a large diameter jack centered under the tower that reduces frame and tower stress.

The tower yarder is equipped with 850 metres of 26 mm skyline, 900 mm of 14 mm mainland line, 1800 metres of 14 mm haulback line, and 1600 metres of 6 mm strawline. It has an operating weight of 45,000 kgs, and working capacity of 8,000 kg.

Brunner clearly made a significant equipment investment, with the intent on making the system work here. “I believe this tower is the right equipment for Canada.”

But he also says logging rates have to reflect the investment, and sometimes less than high production due to tough ground or conditions.

Brunner notes they’ve been flexible, and have made adjustments to their operations during the year they’ve been operating in B.C. “We’re learning every day, and thinking of how to do things differently to make the operation work better.”

He says that the B.C. industry could benefit significantly from doing more long cable yarding, with big savings due to less road having to be built. But the challenge remains logging rates: they have to be right to justify the equipment investment.


Though Swiss logger Beni Brunner is now working in B.C. with a new tower yarder with state-of-the-art technology, the basics of tower logging remain the same, he says.

“In Europe, we used to have the same type of tower as B.C. 40 years ago. The basic tower has remained the same—but in the last 20 years, there has been a lot of technology added.”

This particular Valentini tower yarder was built specifically for North America, and is the first tracked carrier of its size, and it has some pretty nifty features.

They no longer need a chaser unhooking logs at the landing or even a dedicated tower operator, as the Valentini v1000/M/3/R has remote control. So the processor/loader operator can easily operate the machine.

The system also features an auto return carriage—the carriage automatically returns to where it came from, on the slope. It comes with a Bergwald SMU shotgunning carriage.

It features a computerized electric over hydraulic control system, hydraulic drive load sensing drums, and four Ludwig electronic chokers. It has a 37.9’ to 57.7’ hydraulic telescoping tower. Power comes from a 400 hp Fiat-Iveco engine that burns about 12 litres an hour.

The tower is equipped with leveling jacks in four corners, and a large diameter jack centered under the tower that reduces frame and tower stress.

The tower yarder is equipped with 850 metres of 26 mm skyline, 900 mm of 14 mm mainland line, 1800 metres of 14 mm haulback line, and 1600 metres of 6 mm strawline. It has an operating weight of 45,000 kgs, and working capacity of 8,000 kg.

Brunner clearly made a significant equipment investment, with the intent on making the system work here. “I believe this tower is the right equipment for Canada.”

But he also says logging rates have to reflect the investment, and sometimes less than high production due to tough ground or conditions.

Brunner notes they’ve been flexible, and have made adjustments to their operations during the year they’ve been operating in B.C. “We’re learning every day, and thinking of how to do things differently to make the operation work better.”

He says that the B.C. industry could benefit significantly from doing more long cable yarding, with big savings due to less road having to be built. But the challenge remains logging rates: they have to be right to justify the equipment investment.

Lots of technology added to European yarding

This particular Valentini tower yarder was built specifically for North America, and has some pretty nifty features.

 

Logging and Sawmilling Journal
November 2018

On the Cover:
It can take loggers time to get used to a new location when they move their equipment—new terrain, different timber, and perhaps different weather conditions. But Swiss logger Beni Brunner had to get used to a whole new country and continent when he set up logging operations in the B.C. Interior with his Valentini remote control tower yarder. Read all about Brunner’s B.C. experiences beginning on page 10 of this issue. (Cover photo by Paul MacDonald)

The robots are coming—to home building
A forest industry advisor recently warned wood producers that the robots are coming to American home building.

Logging in B.C., Swiss style
Swiss logger Beni Brunner has set up a remote control tower yarder operation in the B.C. Interior, and the equipment is working well in some very challenging conditions.

Waste-not sawmill
B.C.’s Kyahwood Forest Products has a green waste-not approach to business: it uses trim ends for its feedstock, the plant’s residuals are used for manufacturing wood pellets, and some of the sawdust generated at Kyahwood is used to heat the mill.

Forest planning tools can generate big $ savings
Alberta’s Millar Western Forest Products says there is the potential to save millions of dollars in its woodland operations with new forest planning tools.

Hobby sawmill takes off
What started as a hobby sawmill operation for retired teachers June and Larry Scouten has grown into a successful business—and they can now point to hundreds of fences, decks and docks in Ontario that Scouten White Cedar has been part of creating.

New and Noted at Portland’s Timber Processing & Energy Expo
We take a look at what was New and Noted at the recent Timber Processing & Energy Expo (TP&EE) in Portland, Oregon.

The Edge
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.

The Last Word
The forest industry faces some tough sledding with multiple challenges ahead, says Jim Stirling.

Departments

Supplier Newsline


For all the latest industry news, subscribe to our twice monthly newsletter!