By Lindsay Mohlere
Since it was founded over 48 years ago, C & C Logging Inc. of Kelso, Washington, has always been on the cutting edge when it comes to having the right equipment for the right job. As one of the largest logging operations in the Northwest, C & C usually runs 14 sides, including five CTL, four tower high lead, four ground based sides, and various cutting contracts.
The company employs more than one hundred people and takes pride in their efficiency, safety record, and profitability. And now, with the introduction of winch-assisted steep slope logging to North America, the family-owned C & C Logging is again on the front lines of a new movement that promises to provide safer working conditions, increase production and reduce manpower.
Historically, harvesting trees on steep terrain has been a major challenge facing logging operators worldwide. Steep slopes have always presented a problem for worker safety and production. In the last decade, new technology has made giant steps in steep slope technology, improving logging safety and efficiency. Advances like tilting cab machines capable of working on steeper slopes, cutting and bunching stems has improved the bottom line and is viewed as one solution to increased harvest production. The innovation of winch assist promises to be another.
Winch-assisted steep slope logging was originally pioneered in New Zealand by Ross Wood when he began considering the concept of a winched excavator in 2000. With more detailed plans at hand, Wood began experimenting with excavators and a feller buncher attached to a yarder. In the last five years, a few North American timber operations have begun to show an interest in winch-assisted practices, recognizing the opportunity to boost production and profitability by increasing the efficiency of harvest.
Winch Assist Comes to the U.S.
C & C founder, Frank Chandler Sr., explained that he and his son, Frank Jr., became intrigued with the winch assist idea after first hearing of it in 2013. “We went over to New Zealand to see how they were doing it. Everybody was doing something different,” he says.
At the time, the Chandlers felt they could build their own winch system but were impressed by the Tractionline brand, manufactured by Electric Machinery Services, Ltd. (E.M.S.), of Rotorua, New Zealand. “They’ve been working at this for five years, and they’ve come a long way. Makes no sense to reinvent what they have already accomplished. They’ve got a really good system,” Frank Sr. says.
After seeing the Tractionline winch in action, the Chandlers’ first question was, “How do we get one of the units to the states?” Frank Jr. says. The company went about the business of jumping the legal hurdles and solidifying their relationship with E.M.S.
“Trying to get a Kiwi to send something to North America is difficult,” Frank Jr. adds, saying there are long-standing trust issues with New Zealand and U.S. businesses. After several meetings and discussions, the Chandlers were able to purchase the fourth machine produced by E.M.S.
Frank Jr. says that once the machine was shipped, they had conversations concerning sales and support, as well as the time to investigate future opportunities. “Once we got our machine, we settled back and decided we wanted to work together. That’s when we created Technical Forest Solutions LLC, the North American Distributor of the Tractionline product.”
Built to Be Safe and Sound
The E.M.S. Tractionline winch is a dual-drum twin-line traction winch assist system designed and manufactured to meet stringent AS1418-1 (Australian Standard) safety standards that demand a safety factor of 5:1 on all components.
Frank Jr. explains that they follow the Best Practices Handbook by Hancock Forest Management regarding steep slope and the E.M.S. operators manual-training guide, which is delivered to the customer before the machine is received, rather than after the fact. Because the U.S. market does not yet have an official safety book for winch assist, C & C is working with the New Zealand rules but also creating their own.
“The head of E.M.S. used to build elevators. Most elevators have two lines in case one breaks. They’re rated 5:1, so he patterned his winches the same way. All of the components like the shackles are rated 5:1. If they weren’t rated, they didn’t use them in manufacturing the units,” Frank Sr. says.
The Tractionline winch two-line configuration is rated at 100 tons. If one of the cables should fail, the other line will keep the machine from moving. “The reason we have a two-line system is because we think it’s safer,” Frank Sr. says. “Lots of people are building those machines with just one line because they don’t want the expense of two lines.”
Each winch unit has two safety devices. “Each drum has four different disc brakes on it in case the hydraulics go to hell. They’re spring loaded and come on automatically if you lose your hydraulics. The second drum is also a safety device,” Frank Sr. continues.
Another safety feature of the winch is that the drums have lagging so the wire rope will always spool evenly. “The line is always kept snug. You never see any slack in the line,” Frank Sr. says.
Currently, C & C has mounted the Tractionline winch on a 2013 Komatsu PC350LL backhoe with the bucket on backward and deployed a 2016 Tigercat LS855C equipped with a grapple saw as the tethered downhill forest machine. “We use the grapple saw because it opens about four feet wide and can move big logs, but we can also yard with it,” Frank Sr. explains. “Once in a while, we’ll yard corners off down the hill. Actually did a job where we didn’t bring a yarder in; we did it all with this machine… about 800 feet. We did it all with one machine and one man. And we did it safer.”
With the Komatsu on the top of the hill controlled wirelessly by the operator in the Tigercat at the end of the line, the steep slope operation is smooth and steady, efficiently felling logs and stacking the stems in manageable bundles for future yarder work. The system runs constant tension with large backup and emergency brakes all controlled via wireless communication between the two machines.
The Challenges of the Future
C & C’s vision of the future of winch-assisted steep slope logging is based on the practical matters at hand. It takes two machines, a powerful winch, and one experienced operator, along with a sizable capital investment to facilitate a winch-assisted operation. However, the possibilities for success appear to outweigh the risk.
“The more we use the winch assist, the more uses we find for it. We can put a forwarder on it. I could put a harvester on it. I could put a shovel machine on it. There’s all kinds of cool things we can do,” Frank Jr. says.
Frank Sr. adds that there will be a huge potential for going up slopes steeper than currently available and being able to move logs up hills that couldn’t previously been done without cable.
“Steep slope opens up more ground on tower sites,” he says. “It’s more efficient. It’s safer. We believe the cost of the winch-assist system is significant, the benefit of having less boots on the ground, safety factors and its efficiency make the advantages far outweigh the cost.”
On the Cover
Photo taken by Lindsay Mohlere.
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