Taking the Road
Thideman uses some innovative methods to log and build logging roads in hilly areas of Saskatchewan.
by John Dietz
Trucker, logger, road-builder-it's all been in the career path for Murray Thideman. Coming up with innovations that solve problems has been M Thideman Logging Ltd.'s specialty since 1995. "I like the challenge," says Thideman. "It feels good when you're given a challenge, and then the people that you are working with come out and say, 'this looks really nice, you're going to meet all our requirements'." His main territory these days is the rugged Pasqua Hills, between Hudson Bay, Saskatchewan and The Pas, Manitoba. He faces steep ravines, muskeg areas on high ground, lots of snowfall, small wood, and 1,500-foot elevation rises. Thideman's forest industry career began further west, with three years in the logging industry-right out of high school-near Quesnel, BC. He moved back to Saskatchewan and started farming and driving trucks near the community of Endeavour. Thideman bought his first logging truck in 1988 and soon had two more. Then he brought in a slasher from Fort Frances, Ontario to keep his trucks busy. That was in late 1993. The slasher improved opportunities for the novice forestry contractor, but revealed some problems. "We ended up going into an area that nobody wanted," he says. "It needed low ground pressure equipment. After I was in that operation for six weeks with conventional equipment, a roadside processor, a skidder and a feller buncher, I could see we were going to have problems." Thideman wanted steady, year-round work for his crew.
He could only work about four winter months on the soft ground with conventional equipment. He went to forestry shows, read articles, consulted, and decided to bring the first cut-to-length system into Saskatchewan. He traded the slasher for a Hyundai 130 crawler with a 16-inch Fabtek processing head, and a 230 Timberjack forwarder. The system arrived in December 1995, and changed his whole business. "It was major, for us and for everybody," Thideman recalls. "We were the only ones in the province doing cut-to-length. The learning curve was terrible, and we had to change some attitudes." As his first move, the contractor approached the mill about his plans prior to investing. He offered to risk his own money in the venture. If he could extend his season by just three months, he calculated the extra expense would be justified. "They said try it. If it works, great. Well, it did. We proved we could access and bring out the wood in an economical way in areas that they'd basically given up on." The processing head and low ground-pressure machine also increased his versatility as a contractor. He received a contract for some straight bunching and the same job involved some processing, so he processed. And the system was easily mobile. "It was a small, neat package. We could load up to go do small areas, without a special permit." His system isn't as fast as a feller buncher, but it does the job. In short order, Thideman was a stumpto dump contractor for Saskfor MacMillan. He's still their only contractor with a CTL system in the Hudson Bay region. His work schedule has also ballooned. "Now we're working nearly 11 months of the year.
That was my goal," he says. They have since added some new equipment. "We traded the first Fabtek head in after 10,000 hours. We now have two Fabtek 2000 series fixed heads and a new Fabtek 240 series danglehead is on order." Going to the newer processing heads has improved his accuracy in producing nine-foot logs for the mill at Hudson Bay. The equipment has also proved to be reliable. "We have very little maintenance on them. They run 24-hours a day in winter, five days a week, and a single shift for most of the summer," he says. The logging system has proven itself. Thideman has since upgraded to two Hyundai 130 high-walkers. For really soft terrain, he moves material to roadside with a Timberjack eightwheel drive forwarder. As his CTL system developed, Thideman says, "I could see how we had to do some road-building. On my own, I found different machines that could reduce my costs." He decided to buy a heavy hoe as a dual-purpose machine. It would load his trucks, mainly, but in the off-season, it would be useful for road work, as support for the traditional bulldozer. Thideman's used John Deere 790 arrived in time to start the 1997-98 logging season. The 54,000-lb machine was soon at roadside, loading as planned. He added a 44,000-lb Hyundai 180 a year later. He recently took shipment of a midsize Hyundai 210. Over the past two years, Thideman and Saskfor MacMillan mill staff have worked together to develop a complete road-building and decommissioning package that is environmentally friendly and meets obligations set out in the most recent Forest Management Agreement. Thideman continues to come up with innovations in roadbuilding. "We had an idea how to build roads better, about a year ago," he says. The mill agreed to support a six kilometre trial to test the system and study the costs.
The method deals with issues like compaction, wildlife access and reforestation. On a contract in a new area, Thideman's CTL crew starts by cutting a right-of-way with the highwalkers, processors and forwarders. The 790 hoe comes in with its 66-inch piling rake to take out stumps and brush, which is piled on one side. Next, the rake is replaced by an 84-inch tilting chuck blade with a two-yard heaping capacity. Top soil is pushed off to the other side with the chuck blade or a Cat, depending on ground conditions. "Then we trench with the chuck blade or ditching buckets," says Thideman. He has several ditching buckets, up to a 1 1/4-yard capacity. Working between the brush piles and road centre, the hoe operator digs a trench. Clay, gravel and other material taken from the trench are piled to form a grade for the new road. "We level that clay on top of the road with the chuck blade, Cat or a grader, then we pull that wooded material, stumps, tops and other stuff into the trench, and pack it." If a site happens to need more gravel, he notes, the hoe has another advantage over the Cat. The hoe can dig straight down to get material out, then quickly restore the landscape. A Cat is forced to strip a wide area first as it gets down to the gravel. Thideman's methods are an immediate benefit to game animals as well as forestry people.
Animal movements are often disturbed by brush piles, causing them to funnel through at certain points. Putting that debris in the trench allows game to cross the road easily at virtually any point. In two to five years, after logging, it will be time to decommission the road. It will be replanted to seedlings. "It's simple to reclaim," he says. Using the piling rake, he can cut into the compacted roadbed to loosen the material. The topsoil that's still piled to the side can be brought over and mixed with the clay. Debris in the trench can be pulled out, if needed, to apply like an organic mulch to the mix of clay and topsoil. If not needed, material in the trench will be left to continue to decompose. Decommissioning of old landing sites and winter roads is already in his work schedule. His hoes loosen the material, mix in soil and wooded debris, preparing the way for reforestation. At the moment, he said, efforts are underway to develop a system for decommissioning heavily compacted roads. In these steep hills, the versatility of the hoes with their attachments is proving to be a great asset, Thideman says. The watershed is full of springs, watercourses, muskeg and swamps. "The other day, we ran into quicksand and had to find a way around it," he said. The smaller hoes can work in a low pressure environment, cutting down hills, making drainage channels, putting in culverts. "We're opening areas with our hoes that were only accessible at freezeup with Cats. That's giving the mill a bigger supply of wood." Once the roadway is established, other crews can work longer periods, giv ing the mill a steadier wood supply. Thideman finds his chuck blade is a great help for esthetic work.
His crews often do cleaning along water runs to prevent erosion. As they put in roads and culverts, they also do landscaping work to clean and repair the ecological system. If they find damage, they also take a little time to repair it. "We hit a very wet clay area this year," he says. A conventional, high pressure crew would be forced to wait for freezeup to cross it. A low pressure alternative is to use geotextiles to form a mat and make a crossing, but Thideman used big, round flax straw bales, a local product available at low cost, and one of his hoes. With this method, he starts by making a grade with the wet clay. It sits for a week or two to let water escape. When it is ready, flax bales are brought to one end and unrolled like an eight-inch thick blanket onto the grade. The crew then puts another six inches to one foot of the driest clay they can find over this. After a few passes, the material packs together and gravel can be added to the top. "In a couple of days, we're crossing it with full loads of wood.
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