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May 2006 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal

 

EQUIPMENT PROFILE

Good equipment fit

A Liebherr rubber-tired loader has proven to be a good fit right off the bat for BC logging contractor Dixon Trucking.

By Paul MacDonald

You could easily say that the Liebherr A934B HD loader has found a home in the logging operations of British Columbia’s Dixon Trucking. Initially, the rubber-tired loader was brought in for a try-out in the Dixon operation in southeastern BC last fall. But it proved to be a good fit—and has never left.

The Liebherr A934B HD loader, with its hydraulic cab riser feature, provides operator Bill Matters with a good overview when loading trucks in the landing. “We don’t need to take it as high as it can go, but it’s a nice feature,” says Matters.

As befits the company’s name, company owner Wally Dixon has been involved in trucking for a long time, over 40 years. As for the logging side, “We bought our first skidder in 1968, and we’ve kind of gone from there,” he says. They generally harvest on two sides, mostly mechanical harvesting, with some hand falling done in very steep ground that the feller bunchers can’t access. In addition to the harvesting operations, they run five of their own logging trucks, plus a couple of low-beds. Most of the harvested wood, an average of 500 cubic metres a day, is delivered to the Tembec sawmill in Elko, about an hour out of Cranbrook.

Having been in the business for such a lengthy time, Dixon has worked with a number of log loaders, the most recent being a 1998 John Deere 744H. He usually gets eight to ten years out of a loader—such as with the Deere—so the operation certainly gets its money’s worth out of the equipment. “After eight to ten years, you start to have trouble with the loaders, doesn’t matter what kind of loader it is,” he says.

“At that eight-to-ten-year mark, it’s pretty clear that it’s time for us to make some changes. You don’t want logging trucks coming in and the loader is down or to be having problems with this component or that component.” That is especially true when the demand for logs sometimes comes in fits and starts. They want to be able to deliver logs on a smooth and continuous basis to the Tembec mill. “Things have to be running smoothly in all phases of the operation.”

While they have sometimes extended the life of some of their loaders, replacing the motor or the boom, last year they decided to see what was out in the market in terms of new loaders. Their needs were straightforward: they wanted an efficient—and dependable—machine for loading logs at the landing. As noted, they had been using front end loaders, but Dixon was open to whatever kind of loader would do the job in an efficient manner.

He got a pretty good idea of the range of loaders available at the last Interior Logging Association show, with both equipment displays and brochures available. The brochures did not really interest Dixon that much—if he’s interested in some iron, he wants to be able to demo it before he buys it.

“You can look at the specs on paper, but that doesn’t really work when it comes to making a decision to buy a piece of equipment. We want to try it out.”

Chance had it that a Liebherr A934B HD loader was finishing up some trials in Williams Lake, BC, and was available for a go at the Dixon operation. And it all came together. “Liebherr brought it down here, the boys tried it out and it has been here since,” he says.

From out in the bush to the loading being done by the Liebherr, Wally Dixon (right) of Dixon Trucking needs to be able to deliver logs on a smooth and continuous basis to the Tembec sawmill. “Things have to be running smoothly in all phases of the operation,” he says.

The Liebherr loader has meant some positive changes for the Dixon operation. Using a front end loader before meant that Dixon had to plan on building fairly large landings. The front end loader had to do a lot of running around on those landings, both to get the logs ready, and to load the logs on the trucks. But with the Liebherr, they can now access a lot more of the landing without even moving the machine, since it has a 53-foot reach with its Rotobec grapple. And they no longer have to build loading ramps as the Liebherr, with its hydraulic cab riser feature, provides operator Bill Matters with a
good overview when loading the trucks. It’s a big difference operating the Liebherr versus the loader Matters had been handling.

“The riser cab is good, it makes loading a lot easier,” says Matters. “For what we are doing, we don’t need to take it as high as it can go, but it’s a nice feature.” With the elevated cab, Matters can see exactly where the timber is going, an especially handy feature when you are placing that last grapple load of logs on top of the bunk. “You can’t see any better than when you are basically sitting right on top.”

The Dixon operation sometimes cuts short wood, 20 feet, and Matters is able to essentially reach over the truck and load the short wood from the other side, essentially allowing him to load timber from both sides of the truck. “It’s good to be able to do that, especially in tight situations.”

Matters notes that they do not do a great deal of decking at the landing, but when they do, they can now go higher. They recently had a deck 30 feet high. “We could go even higher,” he says, noting such heights would pose challenges for conventional loaders.

Production is good, with the loading of from 12 to 14 trucks a day done with ease.

The Liebherr came with a grapple for handling pulp wood, which they changed to the Rotobec. “We ended up putting a pin-on hydraulic grapple on it, but it’s not the best because you can’t fold the boom down and under,” says Dixon. “So the grapple has to be taken off when we move the loader.” Their plans are to put a quick-attach grapple on later this year.

The quick-attach grapple will still have to come off for a move, but at least taking it off can be done faster.

There were some initial small problems with the loader. They ran into some cold weather in December—upwards of minus 35 degrees Celsius—and had some trouble starting the machine. But a ProHeat oil pan heater was installed that addressed this. And, Murphy’s Law at work, the weather turned warm shortly thereafter.

They had a few broken hoses, mostly due to loose fittings. Generally, though, Dixon has been happy with the performance and engineering details of the German-built machine. “We haven’t had any major problems,” says Dixon. That should be the case, he adds, considering the machine is almost brand new. Dixon agrees that the rising cab on the Liebherr is a nice feature. “You’re sitting up in the air, and have good visibility of the logs. Some of the other loaders that are around have cabs that are fairly high, but the difference is this cab goes up and down, with just the push of a button. It’s pretty slick.”

The loader is equipped with a Liebherr D 924 TI-E 197 horsepower direct injection turbo-charged engine which Dixon says seems pretty good on the power front and delivers decent fuel economy. “With the price of fuel now, we’re taking a closer look at that.”

It has a heavy-duty undercarriage, with four outrigger supports, and easily handles heavy timber. Straight from the factory, it has an operating weight range
of from 35,500 to 37,500 kilograms, depending on the length of the stick. Swing drive is a Liebherr swash plate motor with integrated brake valve with Liebherr planetary reduction gear. Swing speed is up to 6.9 rpm, according to the company.

The machine is equipped with an oversized two-speed power shift transmission with additional creeper speeds. Travel speed is up to 2.5 kilometres per hour (creeper speed). The cab is sound insulated and features tinted windows, with the front window storing overhead. The operator’s seat features shock absorbing suspension, is adjustable to the operator’s weight, and features a six-way adjustable seat.

Although he likes how the Liebherr performs, operator Bill Matters had some suggestions: the machine’s controls could be upgraded and the cab itself could use some additional storage space.

Wally Dixon’s son, Gary, does maintenance on all the equipment. What maintenance has been done to date on the Liebherr has been pretty straightforward, with good accessibility.

Like all of the logging equipment in the Dixon operation, the Liebherr will be brought into the shop in Elko at break-up for a thorough going over. They also have a well-equipped shop truck to handle repairs in the field, which is overseen by Gary. Wally’s other son, Allan, works as an operator on the processor. They have a full-time mechanic in the shop, and Wally does his share of monkey-wrenching there, as well, in between stints running the low-beds.

 


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