Taking on the tasks
The first Hitachi Zaxis 200F purpose-built Forester machine in BC is successfully working on a variety a tasks for Quesnel Bros Logging in the BC Interior, and looks to have a busy winter ahead, making up for the logging shut-downs due to forests fires.
By Fred Smith
There was a strong connection when Vic Gagnon and Darin Eliason, of Savona, BC, bought Quesnel Bros Logging from Dave Quesnel, the son of Armand Quesnel, the founder of the company, in 2002. “I’d been logging since I was sixteen and worked for Armie and his son for a long time,” says Gagnon. Once they had purchased the business and operated it for a while, Gagnon decided they needed a new log loader to add to their equipment line-up of a Hitachi EX200 with a Denharco delimber, Prentice 630A feller buncher, and John Deere 748GIII skidder. “I was looking for an economical, tracked log loader capable of handling 10 to 15 loads a day, six days a week, 20 hours a day with minimum maintenance,” says Gagnon.
Gagnon contacted Bob Long, the equipment sales representative at the Wajax Industries Ltd dealership in Kamloops, and told him what he was looking for. It was Long who suggested the new Hitachi 200F purpose-built Forester. Since the mid-1970s, Hitachi excavators have been used and modified for a variety of forestry applications, and the company has won a following in the industry. With the opening of the Deere-Hitachi Specialty Products plant in 1999 in Langley, BC, Hitachi Forester models became purpose-built, instead of conversions, and are among the few machines actually built in North America in the heart of Pacific logging country.
To understand what “purpose-built” means these days, you can go to the Hitachi web page (www.hitachiconstruction.com), click on the Zaxis 200 Forester, and then select the “build your own” button. You can select the Zaxis 200F Forester configured as either a log loader, delimber, harvester or road builder using the same base machine. “I wanted it to do everything we needed,” says Gagnon, “hoe chucking, loading, piling brush, ripping out trails and deactivating without having to change attachments.” Gagnon selected as the front end a purpose-built boom with a reach of 34 feet, with hydraulic arm and tilt cylinders, and controls to operate a WBM articulated clam grapple.
The Zaxis 200F Forester offers a choice of three undercarriage widths, 7’10”, 9’2” or 9’7”. Gagnon chose the 9’2” undercarriage, which has an overall width of 11.5 feet, 28-inch ground clearance, and 28-inch double bar Grouser track shoes. “I preferred tracks to a wheeled loader,” says Gagnon. “The lower profile makes it easier to operate on uneven terrain with less danger of it toppling.” The narrow gauge also meant he could transport it on the highway on a low-bed without a pilot. Gagnon’s final configuration cost him around $350,000 with his trade-in and he took delivery of the machine—the first of its type in BC—in June 2002 from the Hitachi plant in Langley. “We’ve logged 2,000 hours of operation since then to March 2003, when it was too dry to work and we were shut down for fear of starting a forest fire,” says Gagnon. “The sawmills are now playing catch-up and we are expecting a busy winter,” he adds.
Gagnon operates the Zaxis 200F log loader with its power clam, and partner Darin Eliason works the Prentice 630A feller buncher. In addition, they have a crew of seven who work two 10-hour shifts, seven months of the year in temperatures that can plunge as low as minus 35 degrees Celsius. That crew is key to their success, Gagnon says. “People tend to forget that without a good crew you’ll soon be out of business.” `They harvest bug-killed pine, spruce and fir in the Criss Creek area, 55 kilometres northwest of Kamloops.
Owner-operated logging trucks haul the logs to the West Fraser stud mill at Chasm, BC, and the Ainsworth OSB mill at 100 Mile House. The large peelers are sent to a veneer plant at Lillooet, and made into plywood at Ainsworth’s plywood mill at Savona. The Zaxis 200F Forester proved ideal for Gagnon’s size of operation and cost effective in its fuel consumption and low maintenance. It came with a full 6,000-hour or six-month manufacturer’s guarantee. So far they have only had one major problem, a failed track motor, which the Wajax field service personnel quickly replaced. The Zaxis 200F Forester has a rear-mounted fuel tank integral with its counterweight, which holds 308 US gallons (1,166 litres), three times the capacity of some other adapted loaders with front mounted tanks. “That’s enough fuel to last us a week of steady operation but I top it up every night to reduce the condensation in the tank when it cools down,” says Gagnon.
Machine purchasers can choose their configuration of work lights, either no lights or front and rear lights, with or without extra arm lights. Gagnon chose to have the full set of lights for night work and added safety. Each 200F Forester is powered by a turbo-charged, six cylinder, Isuzu AA-6BG1T, 6.5 litre diesel engine capable of generating 140 net SAE horse power. “It’s a great little loader, lighter and more nimble than earlier adapted models,” says Gagnon. The upper structure of all configurations of the Zaxis 200F Forester are constructed with thicker (0.5”) and longer frame rails and larger plates in the swing box area than earlier adapted models, and the cab mount area is designed to support standard and rear entry cabs with seven-inch or 48-inch power tilt risers.
The absence of a forward fuel tank gives it a shorter body and provides more storage for tools and service equipment. Hitachi says an advantage of being purpose-built involves the upper deck and frame. They are built specifically to Deere-Hitachi Specialty Products specs, to handle the tough stress loads encountered in log loading. This ensures the deck and frame are rugged enough to handle delimber, processor and road building applications as well. The frame is designed to satisfy FOPS, OSHA and Workers’ Compensation Board standards. “The WCB visited us on site to check we were up to code and was fully satisfied,” says Gagnon. He had this to add about his Forester log loader: “She works hard for a little girl, and having the one attachment is nice because I don’t like stopping to take it off and put on a bucket.”
The side-entry forestry cab has an integral operator-protective frame, forward sloping front window and side windows made from high impact and abrasion resistant polycarbonate plastic for good, all around visibility. “The Zaxis 200F Forester’s cab and controls are built to be more user friendly than earlier machines I’ve used,” says Gagnon, “and I required no special training to operate the controls.” Asked how long he expected to operate his Zaxis 200F, Gagnon replied: “I’ll be lucky if I get 30,000 hours, but if we grow to more than 20 loads a day, I would trade it in for a Zaxis 250F.”
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