CLICK to download a pdf of this article
Fix Up Or Trade Up
Three Idaho operations share their advice on when it’s time to fix up or trade up
By Leslie Danielson
Every year manufacturers provide new technology that exceeds expectations and helps logging contractors stay in the game. While many contractors have increased the longevity of their machines, they still haven’t discovered the fountain of youth.
Deciding when it’s time to buy is a concern contractors are faced with regularly, but many have configured a system that works for them. With diligent crews and financial systems in place, they draw the line between fixing and trading up.
Smaller companies such as Kuhlman Logging of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, may be finely tuned when it comes to the mastery of trading up. Ron Kuhlman has been in the business long enough to know what works for him and his crew. Having been in business for over 30 years, Kuhlman has found it is not always cost-beneficial for his operation to buy brand new equipment.
“In the early years, we couldn’t afford new, not all at once,” says Ron, “so we tried to find good used equipment from a reputable contractor we knew.”
This allowed him to gain steady work and an upstanding crew that has been with him 25-plus years simply by running one side of his mechanical logging crew with five employees, using only equipment that is necessary for the job. By doing this, Ron is now able to stay ahead of the game and buy new every year.
“By keeping debt down and not having payments all at once, I have been able to update one at a time.” Ron attributes this to the non-stop efforts of his logging crew, emphasizing, “I couldn’t do it without them.”
Erik Machado, an operator for Kuhlman Logging, manages a 2010 320 D Caterpillar processor with 7000 Log Max XT head and credits his high production to the like-new equipment that Ron keeps in supply.
“Generally new equipment keeps morale and production high; there is less time out of the machine fixing problems and increased time in the cab,” say Erik, who keeps production running smoothly. When small issues arise for Kuhlman’s crew, some mechanical knowledge is beneficial. “We know how to work on our machines,” notes Erik. This keeps the daily grind moving, with minor issues obsolete and the crew high in output.
Kuhlman says it is a matter of how serious the issue is and adds, “I am too small to have my own mechanics.” He often uses his go-to mechanic out of Plummer, Idaho, to fix any major issues, explaining that the guy has been with him since day one.
Steve Henderson, owner and operator of Pinecreek Logging of Deary, Idaho, is an expert when it comes to keeping his machines in line and ready to go for the work that lies ahead. The effort of four full- time mechanics keeps the outfit running at optimum efficiency for the company’s 48 employees.
With the perpetual operation of six sides, consisting of two line machines, three cutto-length, a feller buncher side, and their support equipment, such overhead can create heavy demands for keeping things fixed.
“We generally choose fixing equipment,” says Steve, “Keeping equipment in good shape to reduce breakdowns is less costly than replacing with new.” Which he credits to his mechanics who are on hand regularly to handle issues so the company can avoid any possible downtime. By keeping the equipment updated and maintained, the company is able to stay efficient and continue to get the job done without being obligated to buy new.
Even with steady servicing, most machinery will not last forever, so Pinecreek Logging’s approach to updating is about balance. “We don’t initially buy new; we try to buy better used equipment,” explains Steve. The company did, however, recently purchase a new Timber Pro PL 735B feller buncher with 2014 Quadco hot saw, which requires little effort to sustain its brand new condition, providing a break in their daily upkeep requirements.
As for the heavier utilized equipment, Steve points out that they don’t necessarily replace certain pieces more than others; however, he does note, “High hours on any piece of equipment warrants consideration for replacement.” The results of Pinecreek Logging’s maintenance prove that new is not always better — it’s all in how you treat and service your equipment for what lies ahead.
When it comes to integrating, buying new, and fabricating repairs as necessary, Danielson Logging of St. Maries, Idaho, works with both to stay ahead of minor complications throughout the year. Bob Danielson’s tight knit crew of 40 (including three full-time mechanics) stand ready to fix issues as they arise to support the company’s 40-plus pieces of equipment. Bob explains, “It is necessary for me to have mechanics to fix issues as soon as possible to keep production running.” To ensure a smooth year of reliable equipment, Bob says, “Each machine gets a run through every year in the spring to prevent future issues.”
When equipment starts to show that it is only worth so much to further maintain, the line has to be drawn. “If a machine with higher hours is having major component issues such as the undercarriage needing replaced, or an engine overhaul is needed, I know it’s time to update,” explains Bob. When cost benefits do not add up, the company is faced with making the difficult decision to purchase. Buying new also poses its challenges, and when finances are tied up, Danielson Logging uses alternative ways to buy its machines. “It’s hard to put that much money down,” says Bob. “Often we use rent-to-own programs to get into a machine right away.” This allows the company to continue production without providing a major chunk of change to keep things operating.
This year Danielson Logging did purchase a 2014 2454 John Deere log loader with 7000 Log Max XT Extreme head, which came with essential factory options that Bob says are great to have in this particular machine. “These new pieces of equipment are what saves us when times are tough,” he says. For Danielson Logging it is crucial to have key pieces that are reliable for the operation to keep in motion.
It takes a special blend of industrious crews, on-hand mechanics, quality equipment, and profitable job opportunities for contractors to endure in the business. Staying competitive takes all of these key aspects to keep the industry alive and running. Whether choosing to fix issues or avoid them all by buying new, it is up to the proprietor to look from all sides of the table and decide what will ultimately work best to keep the industrial machine running.
This page and all contents ©1996-2015 Logging and Sawmilling Journal (L&S J) and TimberWest Journal.