December 2005 & January 2006 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal
Tackling Tough Terrain
Two John Deere 648 G III skidders are the latest additions to the equipment line-up at British Columbia’s Sunshine Logging, and the latest equipment weapons in the battle against tough terrain.
By Paul MacDonald
recent tour of the logging operations of Sunshine Logging in southeastern British Columbia turned up less than sunny weather, but it was a practical illustration of the extremes in weather and topography that loggers deal with in this rugged part of the province.
Sunshine Logging does work in a relatively large region, from Cranbrook to the east, the Arrrow Lakes to the west and Revelstoke to the north, all of which has its share of challenging ground. “We’ve got lots of tough terrain here,” says Clint Carlson, who is co-owner of Sunshine Logging with Jeff Mattes. Sunshine Logging has been operating for almost 30 years, and it has gone through its share of tough ground in this region in that time. “We get the odd block that might be easy, if you can call if that, but basically we have a lot of tough logging,” says Carlson.
The steep, rocky ground takes its toll on equipment, and Sunshine has to regularly replenish the equipment line-up. The most recent additions are two John Deere 648 G III skidders, decked out in Deere’s new green and yellow dress colours, from dealer Brandt Equipment. The skidders are on lease with a maintenance contract which, Carlson points out, is something new for the company. “It’s a first for us. We have a plan on how long we are going to run the skidders and how much it is going to cost a month.” The package includes an extended warranty, to 6,000 hours. The main advantage, Carlson notes, is that they know exactly what their costs are going to be over the time they have the skidders and they can budget for that accordingly.
“Skidders seem to be our biggest problem,” he notes. That has more to do with the terrain in which they are working, rather than any particular brand of skidder, says Carlson. “We’ve been through multiple brands of skidders and we pretty much end up at the same place each time. Getting skidders to go the distance is a challenge in the kind of terrain we are working in. It seems like with the excavators and log loaders, you can finance them, pay them off, and they still have some life left. But operating skidders in this kind of ground, by the time your payment cycle is getting to an end, we’re pretty much looking at getting some new machines.”
The Deere skidders have proven themselves capable so far. The machines feature 6.8-litre, John Deere turbocharged engines with 160 SAE net horsepower. The PowerTech engines feature high torque rise, heavy-duty engine blocks with a focus on fuel efficiency. The engines use an advanced, electronically controlled fuel injection system that produces more torque for quick turnaround and faster cycles. Powershift transmissions, with seven forward and six reverse gears, are controlled with a bump shifter for ease of operation. A torque converter transmission, with six forward and three reverse gears, is available on the 648G III grapple skidder and 640G III cable skidder.
Carlson notes that the 648 G III machines, like pretty much all skidders these days, feature some good operator comforts. The cab design utilizes isolation mounts for reduced noise, vibration and driver fatigue. Other operator comforts include a seat that swivels up to 30 degrees, ergonomically located controls, a tilt/telescopic steering wheel and A/C for use in all weather.
Soft-touch levers are positioned to give easy control with the least amount of effort. “It’s pretty hard to complain about any of the equipment now,” says Carlson, who knows of what he speaks. Through the winter, he takes a night shift on their feller buncher.
The general advancements in equipment over the last decade have been significant, he adds. They have a 15-yearold skidder in the fleet, which is used from time to time. “But it’s like a Model A when you compare it to what we have now.”
While the Deere skidders are the most recent additions, Sunshine Logging has a good variety of equipment, including some recently acquired Volvo equipment and a good number of Hyundai carriers, from local dealer, Woodland Equipment. “We seem to have a little bit of everything,” notes Carlson. “As different and new equipment has become available, we have demo’ed it, and have ended up trying a lot of different equipment.”
Carlson oversees the logging side and partner Jeff Mattes takes care of roadbuilding, an average of 30 kilometres a year. The drilling and blasting for road construction is contracted out to KC Drilling and Blasting Ltd of Crescent Valley, BC. Sunshine Logging also subcontracts some roadbuilding and logging work to Woodchuck Contracting.
On the roadbuilding side, the equipment line-up includes three Hyundai 250 excavators, a Volvo 290 excavator, a Dresser TD 20G crawler with ripper from Coastal Pacific Equipment in Williams Lake, a Champion 750 A grader and a Terex TA 30 rock truck.
When Sunshine Logging decided to
increase their mechanization on the logging
side several years back, they had a
roll type delimber go against a dangle
head and looked at the results. In their
situation, the dangle head emerged as
the way to go, and they now have
Waratah 22-inch and 24-inch heads,
mounted on Volvo 210 and Hyundai 290
carriers, respectively. “They’ve allowed us
to be more efficient, and mean that we
While much of the ground they are working on is rocky, they are still able to achieve a relatively light footprint, doing hoe chucking. Handling that are two Hyundai 250 excavators and two Hyundai 210 excavators, all equipped with power grapples and buckets.
Pretty much all of the skidding is done using rubber-tired equipment. “We’ve been through the tracked equipment cycle,” explains Carlson, noting the big push in the 1990s on crawler skidding. “If you run tracked equipment on rock, the inevitable is not very far around the corner.” They have a Cat high drive tracked machine that they use in particularly tough ground. Rounding out the skidder line-up are two Timberjack 560D grapple units.
Sunshine Logging has to do a fair bit of moving around to harvest the up to 140,000 cubic metres it handles on an annual basis. Cut blocks average out at around 8,000 cubic metres, through Carlson notes they could be as big as 15,000 cubic metres and as small as 4,000 cubic metres.
While they work to be as efficient as possible in moving from one location to another, the driving factor in what they harvest and where they harvest is the timing of stumpage prices. “We make more decisions on that. The delivered log cost to the sawmill is the determining factor. If we can put a cheaper log at the mill to produce the required product, then we’ll move the equipment around more.”
They are generally working with a 35 per cent fir/larch, 35 per cent spruce/pine, 30 per cent hemlock/cedar/other species mix in the woods.
Keeping upwards of 25 pieces of equipment up and running falls to the operators, Carlson and Mattes and to their suppliers. They have a shop in nearby Kaslo, but the operators carry out dayto- day maintenance. And Carlson, with a cube van shop truck and well-equipped Ford F-150, does as much of the repairs as possible. The dealerships, which carry out the big repairs, are some ways away. “We’re kind of on our own here,” says Carlson. Their Globalstar satellite phone has been a lifesaver, allowing them to hook up with the dealerships to do troubleshooting. Sunshine Logging tracks costs through a computerized machine operating cost analysis program that is available through the Central Interior Logging Association, based in Prince George, BC. It is also a good tool when they are looking at making equipment purchases, factoring data from the purchase price to fuel economy into the mix. “It drives out whether there is an advantage to one piece of equipment,” Carlson notes.
Fuel efficiency gets more attention these days, with rising prices. But manufacturers seem to be responding well. Sunshine Logging has a new Tigercat 870L feller buncher with an electronic Cummins engine, which is running at 30 litres an hour fuel consumption. An older model buncher would use about 40 to 45 litres an hour of fuel.
There is no magic bullet to increase fuel efficiency, says Carlson. At the end of the day, the equipment they have requires a set amount of fuel. “The only way to get better fuel efficiency is through upgrading your equipment and fuel economy is something that we take a close look at when we are buying equipment.”
Having now dealt with replacing their skidders, they’ll likely be looking at replacing some log loaders and excavators in the not too distant future.
While Sunshine Logging does a number of timber sales, most of their harvesting is done between Tree Farm Licence #3 and a forest licence, both owned by Springer Creek Forest Products of Slocan, BC. Springer Creek is owned by the principals of Brisco Wood Preservers, based in Brisco, BC, and Carlson and Jeff Mettes. They purchased the mill from Canfor Corporation earlier this year.
Canfor inherited the mill when it took over Slocan Forest Products in 2004.
The ownership group and mill general manager Ralph Tomlin are taking a different approach with the mill’s production.
While they produce some commodity
SPF product, they try to focus on higher
value items, to make best use of the
timber. “We’ve got some good-sized
wood, but it’s not the size that makes it
valuable, it’s the quality of the timber—
it’s straight and tight grained,” says
Carlson. With this kind of timber going
in, the mill can work on different—and
higher value—market scenarios than the
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