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By Jeff Mullins

“It is a formidable task just to keep track of everything and even more challenging to keep everything working together smoothly,” says Joe Fraser, founder of Salmon River Wood, Inc. (SRW), based in Missoula, Mont.
 SRW harvests approximately 25 MMBF a year, and nearly 60 men count on Joe for employment. Joe’s reputation for honesty, fairness, and the ability to do the job right, keeps crews working almost year-round to the mutual benefit of land owners, employees, and the area mills.

Getting a Foothold Joe founded SRW in 1982, when he converted a Bucyrus Erie 25B crane into a yarder, and put it into service harvesting timber near Salmon, Idaho, where 92 percent of operations were on federal lands. As Joe’s company grew a solid reputation, he began to attract and retain reliable employees, while adding equipment to accomplish the work that came his way.

When federal land harvesting all but ceased in the late 1980’s, Joe Fraser relocated to Missoula, where logging opportunities continue to exist on tribal, private, and state lands. The company name followed Joe to Missoula, but even more significantly, several loyal employees also relocated. Before long, SRW’s reputation for integrity took root in the new location, and the business continued to grow.

Line Operations Keep SRW Working Today SRW provides employment for about 60 men who harvest and transport 25-30 loads a day, mostly in thinning operations. Joe says, “I prefer line operations because they suit the topography in this region and keep my men gainfully employed through all seasons. If the ground is soft, we can still yard and deck logs with little soil disruption. When things firm up, we can process and move logs to the mills.”
Joe values his employees and says, “If I don’t keep them working, I may lose them along with the expertise they bring to this operation. Lack of work is hard on employees. Losing good men is bad for business and places needless strain on other crewmembers. I would rather keep them busy, even if it temporarily bites into the profit margins.”

Machines & Men SRW anchors its operations with seven Link-Belt 98/108 track and rubber-mounted cranes with 50 – 60- foot booms converted to log yarders. These machines are fast, economical to run, and sized for efficient harvest of the majority of western Montana’s relatively small timber. According to Joe, the machines are very reliable, built tough, and can reach up to 1,500 feet out.

Typically, turns are yarded from 1,200 feet out. To enhance the machines’ reliability, SRW uses heavy-duty bearings and stretch-less “predator” belts. 14,000 pound counter weights on the 105,000 pound carriages increase stability and minimize “guy-back” requirements, a function often served by one of SRW’s seven Caterpillar dozers.

Each line side consists of an operator and two chaser/hook tenders who form a cohesive crew working together to optimize production. Chasers and hook tenders alternate locations after half days to equalize the workload and optimize output. To ensure continuity of operations, the same tender finishing out one day begins the following morning hooking. The chaser on the landing trims the ends of full-length logs between turns to reduce the time required for processing stems felled by hand. The crane operator serves as lead man under the direction of a single company superintendent.

In addition to the Link-Belt cranes, SRW uses two specialized line machines, as needed and when cost effective. A Thunder Bird TSY50 swing yarder and Eagle sky car are used to fly turns across creeks for moving large volumes of wood, or whenever there is a downhill show.

Joe Fraser, SRW owner, says he prefers line operations because they suit the topography of the region and keep his men gainfully employed throughout the seasons.  Custom-built Excaliner

Each year, Salmon River constructs and maintains miles of roads following BMP standards. An in-house, custombuilt “excaliner” provides a cost-effective alternative for harvesting inaccessible tracts, without building access roads or using helicopters. SRW’s “excaliner” is a hybrid machine utilizing a Link-Belt draw works mounted on a 300 series Hyundai carriage. The stick is modified with a 35- foot extension and two sheaves providing about 50 feet of lift. With the mobility approximating an excavator, the “excaliner” traverses steep grades and travels ridgelines, quickly pulling turns while perched on primitive trails without needing guy backs.

SRW typically sends 25 to 30 loads to mills daily using 10 hired trucks.

With the excavator bucket pressed to the ground and draw works located behind the excavator’s center of gravity, 8,000 pound turns can be yarded at speeds up to 1,500 feet per minute and decked without lifting the back of the tracks from the ground. When turns, optimally arriving from about 800 feet out, reach the “excaliner,” the carriage swings the trees along side where they are disconnected and subsequently pulled to the landing by one of SRW’s 525 Caterpillar swing grapple skidders.

When harvesting is complete, the trail created is “reclaimed” by restoring the original slope and re-seeding. Joe says, “Although the “excaliner” is more expensive to run than a single engine line machine, it is cheaper than helicopter logging and allows utilization of wood that may otherwise be lost to insects, diseases, or fires.”

While emphasizing safety, Joe sets goals for each line crew to pull one turn every five minutes. Each line side lands 200-300 stems a day, equating to 3-4 loads of logs. SRW typically sends 25-30 loads to mills daily on ten hired trucks.

Fraser’s business practices reflect the value he places on the relationship between forest landowners and mills. “Many of these family-owned mills are scraping to make ends meet . . . If we can help them, it helps everyone.”

Felling & Processing Hand fallers are used on steep ground, and SRW operates a single mechanized side, where possible and “out of necessity,” to keep productivity up. Typically a subcontractor is hired to fell and bunch stems with a Timbco 435 equipped with a hot saw. If needed, a second feller buncher is rented and operated by one of Joe’s experienced men.
Cat 525 grapple skidders advance bunches produced by the “clipper” and the line machines to landings where they are processed by one of SRW’s stroke boom processors. SRW operates two Daewoos, one with a mono boom, and one with a Denharco telescoping boom, a 322 Cat with a Pierce telescoping boom and a 220 Kobelco with a Denharco telescoping boom. At times, a contractor with a monoboom on a Link-Belt 3400 is hired to help process. Logs are moved and loaded onto trucks with Kobelco, Case, Prentice, and Daewoo log loaders.

Keeping Up Machines & Relationships Fraser credits his maintenance crew with keeping his aging equipment on the job. New machinery for SRW typically equates to used equipment with low hours. Joe admits that much of his machinery is, “well — pretty old. But they are solid machines, and the shop does a superb job of keeping them running strong and reliable.”
In addition to valuing his relationship with his employees, Joe maintains a symbiotic relationship with forest landowners and the mills. Rather than bidding for stumpage in competition with the mills, he prefers the mills compete, and then he seeks to harvest for the successful bidder. “Many of these family-owned mills are scraping to make ends meet and are willing to go in the red to keep their employees working. If we can help them, in the long run, it helps everyone.”
“Salmon River Wood is not about me. It is not about money, and it is not about machinery. SRW is about the people — the men and their families who make a living harvesting and processing timber. Nobody is getting rich. We are all just trying to make an honest living and do so safely.”