Gwin & Sons Logging Inc.FIELD TEST

Gwin & Sons Logging Inc. has had a longstanding relationship with Caterpillar, so it made sense when the equipment manufacturer turned to Rick Gwin to field test a new machine—the Cat 538 Forest Machine.

The Company

Rick Gwin began working in logging right out of high school. His father, who goes by the same name, worked in logging and started the business in 1958, when he was in his 20s. The younger Gwin took over the business in 2000, and his father now is retired.

Rick Gwin of Gwin & Sons Logging Inc.

Gwin & Sons is based in Veronia, Oregon, just east of the Clatsop and Tillamook state forests and the mountains of the Coast Range. Gwin described the terrain as a mix of flat ground, hills, and steep slopes.

The company usually works under contract for larger timber companies, normally paid by the ton or board foot. It contracts for such companies as Stimson Lumber, Bell Lumber & Pole, Stella-Jones, and the timber management affiliate of John Hancock, the financial services company. Stimson operates stud mills in the region, and Stimson also produces dimension lumber. Bell Lumber & Pole and Stella-Jones produce utility poles, among other things.

“We’re running four jobs right now,” says Gwin.

Gwin & Sons currently employs 13 workers and averages about 25 loads of wood per day, predominantly Douglas fir and hemlock.

Gwin & Sons Logging Inc.Two Cat 320D FM’s working at roadside. One is loading logs manufactured for use as transmission poles onto a truck while the other, equipped with a Waratah head, is processing.

All Cat

Gwin & Sons purchased its first Cat machine in the 1980s and has relied almost exclusively on the Cat brand since the early 1990s. Today the company operates a fleet of all Cat equipment with the exception of Waratah processing attachments.

A Cat 521B track feller buncher is used for felling and works ahead of the other crews. (Gwin also subcontracts with North Coast Cutting for some hand felling and relies on trucking companies to haul the wood.)

Gwin & Sons has eight Cat 320D FM forest machines; it is also equipped with one each of the Cat 330C, Cat 322B, Cat 324D FM, Cat 325D FM, and Cat 568 forest machines. Four of the Cat forest machines are equipped with Waratah processor attachments to process wood at a landing, and the company also has a spare Waratah head. The other Cat forest machines are operated as shovels to move and handle wood or move and stack wood at a landing. The Cat 330C is an exception; it is equipped with winches to function as a yarder with an Acme slack puller carriage. Rounding out the fleet are a pair of Cat 517 track skidders, a Cat D7 bulldozer, and a Cat 312 excavator.

Gwin says Cat machines are easy to get parts for, and the equipment is rebuildable. “Cat people are great to work with.”

Gwin & Sons Logging Inc.A Cat 330C with Pullmaster winches and Acme carriage and a Cat 320D FM keeping the landing clear.

Field Test

Gwin & Sons has been field testing the new Cat 538 Forest Machine in the log loader configuration since early this year.

“We’re supposed to put about 1,200 hours on it,” he says. The machine had 1,100 hours on it at the time of this interview in mid-August.

In the log loader configuration, the 538 can be used for log loading, shovel logging, power clamp applications, and mill yard activities. It is also available in a general forestry configuration for road building, stroke delimber applications, grapple applications, site preparation, and processing.

The Cat 538 Forest Machine features improved fuel efficiency and optimized work tools. Horsepower and swing torque have increased, and wider track frames enhance stability.

The 538 is equipped with a 164 hp Cat C7.1 ACERT Tier 4 Final engine. The larger engine generates an 11 percent increase in horsepower, providing the power for strong multi-functioning and improved implement performance. It features uniform speed control to maintain a constant engine speed of 1,500 rpm—regardless of load. The result is unprecedented fuel economy, according to Caterpillar.

The hydraulic system delivers a higher level of efficiency and power that translates to a boost in performance: an increase in hydraulic flow, an 18 percent increase in swing torque, and a 26 percent increase in lift capacity.

Gwin & Sons employee Russ Lende operated the new Cat 538, performing shovel logging tasks and loading wood. Lende works with a timber faller who selectively picks and cuts trees for use as utility poles. “Just a two-man operation,” said Gwin.

“It’s a little heavier,” says Gwin. “Huskier undercarriage. Maybe a bit smoother.”

The Cat 538 also offers new grouser options. “So it gets around better,” he adds.

“It runs different,” says Gwin. “You can hardly ever hear the rpm go up or down, so it’s a different feel from the 320 . . . When it’s running . . . the motor never changes pitch. The other ones would rev down and rev up. This one is different. It runs constant. It’s a different feel inside the cab, which probably makes it more comfortable.”

After 1,100 hours, Gwin says they only ran into one minor issue. “It’s really been pretty bulletproof—pretty bug-free,” he says. New machine models sometimes still have some kinks that need to be worked out, he notes

Would he buy one?

“Yes,” replied Gwin.

Gwin & Sons has been using Cat forest machine models since the company first purchased a 330-A model in 1992. “We just sold it two years ago with about 40,000 hours on it,” says Gwin, whose 27-year-old son, Cody, works in the business and operates a Cat 320D FM Forest Machine.

Gwin & Sons Logging Inc.Gwin has relied on Peterson Cat since it acquired a predecessor dealership about five or six years ago. “A lot of the same guys are still there,” Gwin says. And if he needs support or assistance, “They’re right there,” he adds.

Still Overcoming the Recession

The company was hit “real hard” by the recession that was triggered by the economic decline of 2008-09, acknowledged Gwin, and he had to lay off employees. “We were down, not doing much for six to eight months ... It’s tough.” Most employees returned as business picked up, and Gwin was able to re-hire them.

Actually, business began to decline in the latter part of 2006 when one of his timber company customers cut back on volume. When the economy nosedived a few years later, “It was kind of a double whammy.”

Taking Care of Business

Business still has not returned to pre-recession levels, he indicated. In fact, the 13 employees are down from about 20 a year ago, and down from about 35 when Gwin assumed ownership of the company.

The employee running the yarder works with two men in the brush who set the chokers. Two mechanics and a part-time mechanic work in the shop, with one doubling as the feller buncher operator. One employee staffs the office. The rest operate equipment.

Gwin’s day-to-day role in the business is managing it and lining up more work. “I’m mainly looking for new jobs and getting them ready to go, and visiting jobs and answering questions and helping the guys out as much as I can,” he said.

Gwin’s company offers 11 days of vacation, profit sharing, and a 401(k) retirement plan with a matching contribution by the business.

Merit Award

Gwin & Sons was honored by the Oregon Department of Forestry with the 2013 Astoria District Merit Award. The award recognized the company for adjusting its operations to balance the needs and concerns of both the landowner—in this case, Stimson Lumber—and the community.

He has few other interests, indicated Gwin, who is a member of Associated Oregon Loggers. “My hobby is my job, I guess.”

TimberWest November/December 2013
September-October 2016

On the Cover
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Collision of Champions
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Field Test
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