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February 2005  - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal

HARVESTING

Producing in the Rockies

A Prentice 490 dual arch skidder is proving it can produce in the steep eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains for Alberta contractor Myles Heisler.

By Tony Kryzanowski

An Alberta logger has proven that there are equipment deals available for those willing to keep an open mind and kick a few tires—and do some wheeling and dealing. Heisler Contracting Inc of Pincher Creek, Alberta, recently purchased a Prentice 490 dual arch skidder for use in its tree-length operations on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. With 800 operational hours on the skidder, owner Myles Heisler says he is pleased with the performance he has gotten for the price he paid. Heisler bought the skidder for about $250,000, which he says is about 35 per cent less than some other comparable skidders on the market. The price made it possible for Heisler to buy a new unit with extra warranty, rather than his usual practice of purchasing a used machine with little or no warranty coverage. “The price was a big factor, and they gave me a pretty good deal on the warranty too,” he says.

With the money he saved on the purchase, he was able to put some extra cash toward three years of warranty coverage. Heisler Contracting logs primarily for Bell Pole Co Ltd, a pole manufacturer based in Salmon Arm, BC. It owns a pole peeling and pressure treating plant in Carseland, southeast of Calgary. Heisler and Bell Pole Co recently amalgamated their provincially allocated, commercial timber permitted areas near Pincher Creek to earn a timber quota from the province. Heisler Contracting is responsible for logging, sorting, and transporting pole quality logs from the quota area to Bell Pole’s plant. The remaining merchantable timber is shipped to other area sawmills and exchanged for pole quality logs. Their wood basket consists primarily of spruce and pine measuring between 10 and 12 inches in diameter.

In terms of visibility, Prentice has delivered with the 490, says Myles Heisler, with large all-around cab windows, a compact dash and angled corners on the engine house.

Heisler sub-contracts the felling to Sundre area logger Darcy Coleman, and handles the skidding and delimbing himself. In addition to his new Prentice skidder, Heisler owns a John Deere 850 crawler dozer, a Lim-mit 2000B delimber on a John Deere 200 series carrier, and a Ranger G7 skidder. He says one of the main challenges to logging the eastern slopes is the terrain. The grade is sometimes extreme, and Heisler admits to flipping a skidder once or twice. However, the Heisler clan is very familiar with logging what is known as the Crowsnest region of the province. Myles’ father, Alvin, starting logging the area in the early 1970s as a hand faller with a cable skidder, before investing in some mechanical logging equipment.

When Alvin retired a couple of years ago, Myles took over management of the entire business. Over the past two summers, southern Alberta and BC have experienced severe forest fires as a consequence of extremely hot and dry weather. It was logging the burn area—and the problems Heisler experienced working in that environment with his old skidder—that convinced him that it was time to shop for a new unit. After trying out the Prentice 490 dual arch skidder, it never left the cutblock. What impressed Heisler right from the start was the speed of the machine. He estimates that his cycle time has improved by as much as 25 per cent. His longest skids are about 300 metres. “The Prentice skidder has improved production, especially on the long skids,” he says.

The Prentice 490’s torque converter transmission, with six forward and three reverse gears, delivers a smooth ride and offers more gear selection, says Heisler. “And it seems to respond faster during the process of shifting gears.”

However, he couldn’t yet give an accurate reading on fuel economy over a 12-hour shift because so far the only problem he has had with the skidder is with the fuel injector on the Cummins QSB 173 horsepower engine. It turned out to be a factory defect that was fixed under warranty. He expects to have a better handle on the unit’s fuel efficiency now that all components are working properly. Given the area’s hilly terrain, the skidder’s stability was a major consideration in Heisler’s purchasing decision. “The stability on steep slopes and how it handles is another thing that impressed me with the Prentice,” he says. “It compared very well to my old skidder, which was also a pretty stable machine. The Prentice is a bit wider and we’ve found it to be really stable.”

Consequently, he says he feels safe maneuvering around wherever the skidder is working. In addition to stability, Heisler adds that the skidder’s torque converter transmission, with six forward and three reverse gears, delivers a smooth ride and a lot more gear selection. His old skidder only had three forward gears. “It’s a bigger transmission than what I had previously,” he says. “It seems to respond faster during the process of shifting gears. We find that travelling out to the bush in second or third gear is adequate and pulling the grapple load is smooth.” Once the skidder has grappled a load, Heisler says the smooth ride and speed getting it to roadside is impressive. “The ground speed through all the gears on this skidder is way better than my old skidder,” he says. “I don’t know how they do it, but it does seem to run better and smoother through the bush. Maybe it’s because it is wider and has more ground clearance.”

The skidder’s centre section has 90-degree articulation and it is designed with outboard planetary axles. Prentice offers optional axles for duals and flotation tires. Heisler says Prentice uses a lot of Clarke components on the driveline, something he was familiar with from previous skidders he owned. The hydraulics are quick and responsive, and have a dedicated cooling pump. Visibility from the cab and the position of the operator’s seat are important considerations when purchasing a skidder because of the long hours that operators often put in, in the driver’s seat.

It involves a lot of back twisting and neck craning to keep an eye on the grappled load. Good cab visibility is also important so that the skidder can be positioned efficiently to grapple a load quickly, as well as avoid debris along the trail to minimize log damage and damage to the skidder itself. Heisler says Prentice has done an excellent job of addressing both these issues with the 490 skidder. It comes equipped with large, all-around cab windows, a compact dash, and angled corners on the engine house. “The visibility is way better than my previous skidder, especially out the front,” says Heisler. “The side windows in the front come down far enough so that I can see my dozer blade and what is in front of my front wheels. When I am decking with the dozer or moving stumps or deadfall out of the my way, it is way easier to see what I am doing.”

When skidding to roadside, Heisler says he is watching the grappled load behind him 90 per cent of the time. “The seat on this skidder is turned a little bit so I don’t have to twist around as much,” he says. “And the visibility out the back of the Prentice is excellent. I have better visibility of the butts of the trees and the grapple, especially lower down.” The Prentice 490 is available with either a single or dual arch. Heisler prefers the dual arch because he says he can reach out further with the grapple, which is especially important on steep hills where it is not always possible to back right up to the drag. It also comes with a delimbing grate and a choice of a bunching or sorting grapple. Heisler has his skidder equipped with a 120-inch bunching grapple with a 13.2 square foot capacity. Prentice has just introduced a 14.5 square-foot capacity thinning grapple with a 123-inch opening for use with this skidder.

Heisler says the Prentice 490 has plenty of power to handle a bigger grapple. His only other complaint with the skidder is that the grapple is limited to 180-degree rotation. He’d like to have the option of purchasing a 360-degree rotation grapple. From a servicing standpoint, Heisler says the machine is fairly easy to service and comes equipped with a hydraulic tilt cab for quick access to hoses under the cab. “Everything is pretty easy to get at,” he says. “For changing the oil, there is a hose from your oil pan. You turn on a valve and it drains right into your bucket so there is no big mess. It takes less than a half hour to change oil and filters.” Coneco Equipment Ltd sold him the skidder. Heisler rates their parts and service support as excellent, with either same or next day service. Given the company’s branch network in Western Canada, he adds that he has no worries about moving his skidder to work anywhere in the province because he knows that if he has a problem, he can still get parts and service quickly.

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