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TIMBER HANDLING

KEY  ROLE

Six new custom Cat 988G short-wood log loaders are playing a key role in moving fibre from remote Williston Lake transfer stations to a mill in Mackenzie, BC.

Six new Cat 988G units, customized with short wood booms and grapples from BC Cat dealer Finning, now handle the timber as part of the log transportation operations on Williston Lake.

Since it first went into service in late 1995, the M/V Williston Transporter has dramatically changed the way timber is moved from the bush to the mill in north-central BC. Purpose-built for northern operation, the 360-foot vessel is both an ice breaker and a log transporter, designed to carry up to 275 bundles of short logs-about 5,800 cubic metres-from remote Williston Lake forestry operations south to Mackenzie. 

Owned and operated by Finlay Navigation, a division of BC Rail, the huge vessel primarily services the Slocan Forest Products mill in Mackenzie and is essential in keeping the plant open yearround. "There isn't a road link from Mackenzie into these sites and even if there was, the haul distances would be prohibitive for anything close to an economic operation," notes Captain Ron Fortier, operations manager for Finlay in Mackenzie. 

"Depending on where we are picking up, haul distances can be up 140 nautical miles one way." There are four transfer yards on the lake-Chowika, Ospika, Clearwater, and Manson. With its ice breaking capability, the Transporter brings timber down the lake year-round, making up to 180 trips a year. That is a huge change from lake haul operations in years past. "You can have ice on Williston Lake for up to five months, which effectively shut down the old tug and barge system used for a good part of the year. 

That meant the mill either had to get all of its inventory in during the summer, or it had to shut down at some point over the winter." Slocan's timber comes out of the bush in 16-foot and 20-foot lengths. Hauled by road to the transfer stations, it is sorted, bundled, decked and later loaded onto the transporter. At the Mackenzie terminus, loaders transfer the bundles from the transporter to log trucks (three bundles per truck) for the short haul to the Slocan mill. Fortier notes that turnaround times for the longer hauls can be up to 48 hours, including loading upcountry and off-loading at Mackenzie.

The machines load up to 275 bundles of short logs about 5800  cubic meters on M/V Williston transporter.  The vessel moves the timber to the Slocan forest products Mill in MacKenzie

Looking for added efficiency, parent company BC Rail this past spring turned out all six loaders assigned to log handling on the lake-two on the Transporter and one at each of the transfer yards-and replaced the machines with Cat 988Gs, custom-ordered for the application with short-wood booms and grapples, from BC Cat dealer Finning. 

All six units were acquired via customized 30- and 48-month (or 10,000 hour) leases, a new direction for the operation. BC Rail's Mike Bowman, general manager of intermodal, says the move will ensure the use of reliable, low-hour machines in the application. The increasing downtime of the aging loaders was disrupting schedules and producing longer cycle times for the transporter, he notes. The new loaders are the first 988Gs seen in North America in a short-wood handling configuration, says Pat McGuire of Finning sales in Prince George. "All six of these machines are equipped with our cut-to-length boom The machines load up to 275 bundles of short logs-about 5,800 cubic metres-on to the M/V Williston Transporter. 

The vessel moves the timber to the Slocan Forest Products mill in Mackenzie. and grapple (100 sq ft Imac) package, which includes a different transmission that provides about 12 per cent more rim pull. That comes into play when it is wet, especially in the unpaved yards." The custom loggerboom is 3.6 metres long, which is shorter than a conventional 988G boom and provides considerably more lift (18,000 to 25,000 kg log bundles). 

The custom logger boom is 3.6 metres long, which is shorter than a conventional 988G boom and provides considerably more lift.

It is also a mono-boom design, which is utilized on bigger machines, but is a first for a 988G. Other notable features include a 37-degree turning radius; STIC control for steering and transmission (replacing the steering wheel); an engine brake; a high pressure 4,750 psi hydraulic system with larger than normal cylinders; a box section geometry frame to resist torquing and twisting; and significantly improved visibility from the cab compared to previous 988 units. Given the move to an entirely new fleet, Fortier says training for Finlay operators and mechanics was essential. 

"For safety and efficiency, we wanted all of our operators and mechanics as well grounded and comfortable with the new loaders as possible. There was definitely some apprehension given the extent of the change involved. Pat McGuire came to our rescue and did a great job organizing the training sessions, which were excellent." Post-delivery training for Finlay mechanics covered four days; operator sessions covered two days. "After the initial training sessions, the Finning people came back out every couple of weeks for a while to see how everybody was making out and to answer questions. 

All in all, Finning did an excellent job to ensure this was an easy transition for everybody." Fortier notes that the first of the 988Gs to go into service (at Mackenzie this past June) gave the company a pretty good take on what they could do in adverse conditions. Unusually low lake water levels-due to a late spring freshet and a significant drawdown at the WAC Bennett hydroelectric dam-meant the machines had to back up an 18 per cent ramp incline to move the log bundles off the transporter. 

"The lake was actually about 20 feet lower than normal, which had us wondering for a while how the new machines were going to handle the ramp grade under load, or even if they could. As it turned out, they made easy work of it and in fact it was pretty impressive to see. If they weren't already, I think that sold a lot of people on the new loaders right there."

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