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February 2006 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal

QUEBEC LOGGING

Buncher earns its keep

A Timberjack 608S feller buncher is solidly earning its keep in the rugged Saguenay region of Quebec for contractor Dominic Bergeron, who gives the buncher good marks for its dependability.

By Martine Frigon

The Saguenay is one of the heavily forested regions of Quebec, and considering the huge swath of forests that cover Quebec, that’s saying something. The region has several sawmills and no shortage of forestry entrepreneurs and timber harvesting machinery. The harvest is carried out mainly on public lands that are much rockier than elsewhere in the province, which carries its own perils for logging equipment.

Dominic Bergeron, an owner-operator of a Timberjack 608S feller buncher in Saguenay, is one of the forestry entrepreneurs who work those rocky lands.

Bergeron, who grew up and still lives in Laterrière, a small town just seven kilometres from Chicoutimi, started to work in the forest with his father at age 16, during summer holidays and days off while he was still in high school. At 18, he decided to work full-time and partnered with his father. A mere four years later, Bergeron bought his first feller buncher.

Dominic Bergeron is sold on the Timberjack 608S feller buncher. “I’ve owned four feller bunchers and this is by far the best in terms of its toughness and performance.”

At 37, Bergeron now has 20 years experience as an owner operator. When his father died some years ago, he continued the business, and with the family involvement
continuing; his mother helps with the bookkeeping.

Bergeron subcontracts for Produits Forestiers Saguenay (PFS), a sawmill that is the result of a joint-venture between Abitibi-Consolidated, Scierie Saguenay and the Coopérative Laterrière.

“I’ve always worked near my hometown since I started in this business, mainly for 15 years for Scierie Saguenay,” says Bergeron. “But two years ago, I was scared when the Scierie Saguenay sawmill shut down permanently. Fortunately, I didn’t have to move elsewhere because of my association with one of the three companies that launched PFS.”

Seven other owner-operators, with a combined total of 12 to 15 machines (some have more than one), work for PFS. “We sign an annual contract every spring and we negotiate collectively with the company despite the fact that we are all self-employed. There are no particular deals with one over the other.”

A year and a half ago, Bergeron bought a Timberjack 608S feller buncher with a Waratah HTH 470 head, a move that has worked out well. “Since I started in this business, I’ve owned four feller bunchers and this one is by far the best I’ve ever had in terms of its toughness and its performance,” he says.

The feller buncher and the Waratah head are standard issue. “I didn’t need to customize the equipment or expand it.”

With a 205 horsepower (153 kW) Cummins 6CT8.3 engine as standard, and dedicated hydraulic pumps for the carrier, attachment and saw blade functions, the 608S is said to have the power for high levels of sustained productivity in a variety of conditions.

The 608S has 53,550 lb-ft (238 kN) of tractive effort which provides enhanced mobility and performance in deep snow and tough conditions, such as those encountered by Bergeron.

The main boom on the Timberjack 608S buncher offers reach of 25 feet, eight inches. The machine uses the welded carbody, D6D size track and tractor type rollers from the larger Timberjack 850 feller buncher for long-term durability.

The main boom on the machine provides reach to 25 feet, eight inches. The 608S uses the welded carbody, D6D size track and tractor type rollers from the larger Timberjack 850 feller buncher for long-term durability. Using larger component sizes well below their designed weight limits results in longer component life and increases machine stability, according to the manufacturer.

The Waratah HTH470 is purposebuilt for high volume harvesting. It has optional dual accumulating arms that allow bunching of the cut stems for processing of up to five stems in a single pass.

The four feed rollers are fully synchronized and the five strong delimb knives can effectively process difficult heavylimbed or crooked stems into clean log lengths. With a weight of 2,376 pounds, the HTH 470 offers cutting capacity of 25.6 inches, and maximum delimbing diameter of 18.9 inches.

Two employees divide up their working hours to operate the feller buncher, as it runs 24 hours a day, from Monday to Friday. “My operators each work 12 hours a day, one on the night shift and the other on the day shift, beginning at 5am. I’m in charge of the maintenance with a mobile unit, which contains spare parts and all the tools for oil changes and other regular repairs. I also operate the buncher on Fridays during the day shift,” he says.

In an unusual move, payments for both of Bergeron’s employees are prepared by his client, PFS. “It simplifies my life,” he says. “PFS’s payroll department calculates all the deductions and prepares the pay. Then, the company takes off these amounts when it pays me.”

Produits Forestiers Saguenay obliges its operators to provide their own forwarders to transport logs from the bush. “Actually, another subcontractor who owns a machine works with me,” says Bergeron. “It’s a pretty good thing for me because I don’t need to buy a forwarder myself. However, the situation could change because I’ve heard that PFS will require its subcontractors to have their own forwarder. I’ll have to invest in a machine.”

With a mobile unit, which contains spare parts and tools for the feller buncher, Bergeron can do about 80 per cent of the maintenance on the Timberjack buncher himself.

With its mobile unit, which contains spare parts and tools for the feller buncher, Bergeron can do about 80 per cent of the maintenance himself. Among other things, he greases the machine and checks the oil at the beginning of every shift. Oil changes are conducted every 250 hours and more elaborate maintenance is carried out every 1,000 hours. Bergeron is paid on a per cubic metre basis, and his Timberjack 608S cuts on average between 10,000 and 12,000 trees a week, which represents 1,000 to 1,500 cubic metres.

“This buncher requires less maintenance than others I’ve had before and it is more reliable than other models on the market,” he says. “In winter, in four feet of snow, this feller buncher really works.”

Bergeron previously owned a Timberjack 1270 harvester and had some difficulty working with it in this kind of tough terrain. In making the choice of the Timberjack 608S buncher—and really with all equipment purchases—he was looking for a solid, reliable piece of equipment that could deliver good uptime, and little downtime. The results with the 608S are encouraging, so far— Bergeron plans to keep his Timberjack
608S another seven or eight years before making a change.

At PFS, the foreman gives each subcontractor direction on which blocks to cut. “It can take a month or a week to finish our block completely depending on the land. In the Saguenay, the land is rocky, making it more difficult for machines.”

Spruce and fir represent the majority of wood species cut in this area. Aspen is sometimes harvested, as well, but in very small quantities. Forestry activities are generally carried out from the beginning of June until the end of March each year.

At a time when many in the industry are talking about how hard it can be to get good operators, Bergeron has been fortunate. “One of my operators has worked with me for 12 years and is 47 years old and the other, who is 38-yearsold, has been with me for three years. I’m lucky not to have any problems in that area.”

Produits Forestiers Saguenay obliges operators to provide their own forwarders to transport logs from the bush. In Bergeron’s case, he works with another sub-contractor who has a forwarder.

Despite having gone through 20 years of often difficult work, Bergeron plans to carry on as an owner/operator. Does he think any of his children will take over the business? “I have two boys, 13 and 9 years old and an 11-year-old girl. At the moment, they are too young to think about a career.”

But, he adds, expressing the reality of the industry: “Honestly, I hope that they will do something else. Despite the fact I like the job, it is very difficult.”

 

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