Nov 2004 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal
BC’s Schunter Contracting has just about every brand of logging equipment going, and recently added to its collection of performance-driven iron with a Tigercat 870 feller buncher.
By Paul MacDonald
It seems like Lumby, British Columbia’s Schunter Contracting has just about every brand name of logging equipment going in its equipment line-up. From Caterpillar to Timberjack to Link-Belt to Komatsu—they are all represented in the equipment at Schunter Contracting. Bob Schunter, who heads up the operation, has been logging for more years than he cares to remember on some days. But after more than 50 years in the business, he has developed an equipment approach that works: if it’s the best equipment for the job, that’s what he wants to use, regardless of what brand it is. “We seem to have just about everything in terms of the brands and types of equipment,” says Schunter. “At this point, we probably have close to at least one piece of equipment from everyone out there. We’ve picked them up over the years.”
The equipment line-up recently got a bid broader this past summer with the addition of a Tigercat 870 feller buncher. Schunter figures the new machine, which is Tigercat’s highest production feller buncher, and is said to be suited to large-timber applications and extreme terrain, will complement his other feller bunchers. He has three Timberjack 2628 machines. “So far, the Tigercat is working out pretty good,” says Bob’s son, Terry. “The machine is pretty fast and it offers some good tilt functions.” Schunter Contracting can work in some fairly steep ground in this part of BC’s southern Interior, and with a variety of sizes of timber. “We work in all kinds of ground, from flat to yarder ground,” Bob Schunter explains. “We have to do everything, so we have to be flexible in terms of our equipment.”
And they are dealing with a variety of timber sizes, from six-inch wood right up to 24 inches, and all of the species in this region are represented in their stands, such as spruce, ponderosa pine and Douglas fir. Some of the bigger wood, a small amount, they have to hand fall. Schunter Contacting had tried out Tigercat bunchers on a rental basis before, and were happy with them, hence the decision to go ahead with a purchase. With a powerful lift capacity at full reach, the Tigercat 870 is expected to be a productive player for the operation. The 870 comes equipped with a 280 hp Cummins QSL9 Tier II engine. It offers a large, wide (8.5 inch. pitch) undercarriage for good stability in tough terrain. With 73,000 lbf (324 kN) of tractive effort, the unit has a reputation for high performance in extreme terrain.
The machine comes with a standard or 32 foot. ER boom or “big wood” boom package. The patented ER boom system allows the machine operator to extend and retract the feller buncher boom on a horizontal plane smoothly and quickly using a single joystick. The unit has a spacious work platform, with easy access to engine, valves and heat exchangers. That ease of access was an attractive feature to Schunter Contracting’s operators and mechanics, who were involved with the feller buncher purchase decision. “It should make it easier to service for everyone,” says Schunter. In addition to involving their own people, they also did their due diligence, talking to other contractors using Tigercat bunchers. With the rising cost of diesel, fuel economy on logging equipment has become more of a pressing issue. “The Tigercat seems pretty reasonable in that area,” says Schunter.
While the features of the Tigercat and other logging equipment these days are impressive, dealers have to back up all that sophisticated equipment with service. “That’s the most important thing,” says Schunter. “We bought the Timberjack from Marcels and they’ve treated us pretty well.” Service support is key to keeping things moving at Schunter Contracting, which does anywhere from 160,000 to 200,000 cubic metres a year for Tolko Industries, which has a sawmill in Lumby. It shares duties for Tolko with Kineshanko Logging, usually on two sides. Schunter Contracting does the processing, loading and hauling while Kineshanko does the falling and skidding. The rationale in dividing the work is to achieve some cost savings for Tolko, and to keep both contractors busy for longer periods throughout the year.
They harvest a further 100,000 cubic metres for Paragon Wood Products, an added-value cedar operation, also in Lumby. They also work to pick up harvesting work for timber sales, both in the Interior and on the coast. It’s all part of trying to keep their equipment—and their people—busy. Schunter says they are no different than other contractors in the region, in that they are trying to get more out of their equipment, and are tending to hang on to iron longer. As part of that process, they recently added another mechanic to their shop. With the relatively large number of pieces—now standing at 39 with the new Tigercat buncher—and the aforementioned variety of equipment, the mechanics are kept busy. That number does not include associated equipment like the two low-beds, water trucks or the gravel trucks and other logging trucks, about a dozen, all Kenworths.
They have one field service truck and “it’s busy pretty well all the time.” They keep a good supply of parts on hand, but if more extensive supplies are needed, the dealers for the major equipment lines are essentially down the highway in Vernon. From the mechanics in the shop right through to the equipment operators, preventative maintenance is preached. Operators, especially, are the first line of defense. “With the delimbers, we don’t have a mechanic on that side so the operators have to watch things and let us know what’s going on. If they see a roller going, we’ll get up there and get it changed while the machine is down, rather than the machine going down because of the roller.” While the company is currently well set-up in terms of operators, Schunter expresses real concern about finding equipment operators in the future.
It’s clear that most youngsters are keener on designing computer games than in operating a feller buncher or skidder. “I really don’t know what is going to happen because the young people are not interested in logging any more,” he says. When Schunter Contracting does have an opening, they usually try to train someone within the company since it can be hard to find someone from outside with the right skills and aptitude. And he notes that with new equipment easily costing $400,000 and up, the last thing they want to do is entrust it to a beginner. Fortunately, there is no shortage of interest in logging in the Schunter family. Two sons, Terry and Rusty, now work in the business, along with daughter Stacey, who manages the office.
This next generation will have its own challenges to deal with, such as the provincial government’s announced clawback in timber from the major companies. How this will affect logging contractors still remains to be seen, but some contractors might see steep cuts in the amounts they harvest. And this comes at a time when profit margins are tighter than ever. Schunter notes that, in general, the forest companies should remember that it is in their interest to support—and foster—a healthy and profitable contracting sector. Some of the production numbers that are expected these days can be unrealistic, he says. “They may say that you can skid this many logs a day, and those numbers may look do-able on paper in a forest management plan.
But it doesn’t work that way out in the bush.” It would be an overstatement to say that Schunter has seen it all in his half-century in the logging business, but he has certainly seen a lot. When he started out as a teenager working with his father, they were using a “log jammer,” a small A-frame to load logs for short skidding, and doing horse logging. Their area of operation then—as today—is around the Lumby area, just west of Vernon in the Okanagan region of BC. His full entry into the business came at the young age of 18, when he took over after his father had health problems. More than a half-century later, as the fourth generation of the Schunter family is firmly entrenched in the logging business, there is a strong legacy for them to take over. In the office, Schunter points to a wall of safety and environmental awards that the company has received over the years. “We take pride in doing a good job,” he says.
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