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Sept 2003 - East Coast Logging

Bucking uncertain times

New Brunswick contractor Lloyd Spencer made the leap into purchasing a new Tigercat buncher—despite the uncertain times in the forest industry—and hasn’t looked back since.

By George Fullerton

Lloyd Spencer (right) with son Joey and their Tigercat 860 buncher

Steep increases in fuel and insurance coverage for equipment are just a couple of the challenges that have had a major impact on harvesting contractors across the Atlantic region in the past year. Depressed markets in the lumber and pulp and paper businesses continue to push companies to reduce costs. That translates to harvest contractors being increasingly pressured to work longer, harder and smarter to produce more wood for less pay.

In such challenging economic times, it takes long and thoughtful consideration to make major investments in new equipment. Lloyd Spencer, a harvest contractor from Chipman, New Brunswick, took a long hard look at the economic situation and had more than a couple of long talks with his J D Irving logging supervisors—as well as his crew—before he saw the banker and traded in his old Timbco for a new Tigercat 860 feller buncher harvester.

Spencer started harvesting in 1998 after he purchased the Timbco harvester equipped with a Quadco buncher head. Formerly, Lloyd had been operating skidders on J D Irving’s Chipman District operations in south-central New Brunswick. After four years of tough service in the bush, the Timbco was showing its scars and Spencer knew he was facing the decision to purchase a new harvester or face major reliability problems with the older machine. “We had a bad noise in the final drives and rebuilds were not fixing the problem,” he explains. “I was concerned that we would soon be facing a big repair bill on the drive system.“

Spencer carefully weighed his options and made the move to a new machine that would provide greater reliability and increased productivity. And it looks to be paying off. Spencer says that his choice of the Tigercat came in part as the result of a visit to the Tigercat factory in Paris, Ontario in the late 1990s. “We were looking at different machines. We visited the Tigercat factory and I was really impressed with the way they built their machines. They are built strong and you can service them easily.” As it turned out, however, he went with the Timbco for his first harvester.

Besides the robust construction, power and stability, Lloyd Spencer also admires the Tiger 860 for its 300-gallon fuel capacity, which will run the machine for more than 24 hours. “With road cutting, we might be doing a road three miles long, so we don’t want to walk the machine back out the road every shift to fuel.”

Spencer’s Tigercat 860 was manufactured in 2000 and was sitting at a Quebec dealership before the Strongco dealership in Moncton brought it in for him. The 860 turns out to be the biggest Tigercat harvester application currently in the Atlantic Canada region. “The Tigercat appeared to have the capacity to handle the kind of work that Irving had for us. We figured that the Tigercat design would work in the terrain that we have in Chipman District. “It is generally flat terrain, so the levelling option was not necessary. We do a lot of road cutting and clearcutting operations and tail swing is not a concern there. We also do some thinning and hardwood partial cuts and we found that we can do a good job there, as well. You just have to plan your leave trees and make sure you can work without hitting them. This machine has a longer track base and a counter-balance and that makes for a more stable operating base.”

While the Timbco delivered good performance, its shorter tracks and zero tail swing meant the harvester had a tendency to rock and teeter, and the operator had to compensate for that when cutting trees. “The Tigercat is heavier and a lot more stable on its feet, and the operator is more confident that the head is going where it is aimed. That in itself makes the operator a little more efficient, and today the little bits are what it is all about as far as production goes.”

The machine has an 8.3-litre Cummins engine rated at 260 horsepower. Spencer said he was satisfied with the power the Cummins provided, but was concerned about fuel efficiency and that the engine was also using some oil. During spring shutdown, Strongco technicians were going over the machine and suggested that the engine speed be turned down to reduce fuel consumption and hopefully correct the oil consumption problem.

However, with the rpm turned down to 2,100, the engine anti-stall feature was thrown out of whack, causing the engine to lug under load. Spencer says he and his operators struggled with the problem and worked with Strongco and eventually the engine was turned back to 2,351 rpm and the anti-stall, again, worked fine. Spencer runs the harvester with two other operators, his youngest son Joey and Uwe Hensler. Hensler and Joey take nine-hour shifts and Lloyd fills in the day with a six-hour shift.

“We were running three eight-hour shifts, but that made it hard for me to handle other work that has to be done. Then the operators felt they wanted to work a little longer so we went to 10 and 10 and four. That gave me a short shift to handle other work, but I felt that the operator’s production suffered at the tail-end of their shifts. So we went to nine, nine and six and we are doing pretty good. Sometimes in the winter, if the boys want a day off, I will hire other operators to fill in. For now, this shift pattern works best for us.” The fourth crew member is Lloyd’s wife Deanna, who handles all the payroll and accounts for the business. In addition to the important pay master function, Deanna also has a good understanding of machine production, providing statistics on number of trees cut per minute, hour and shift.

In addition to robust construction, power and stability, Lloyd also admires the 860 for many other attributes, including the 300 gallon fuel capacity, which will run the machine for more than 24 hours. “Fuel capacity is important when we are road cutting. We might be doing a road three miles long, so we don’t want to walk the machine back out the road every shift to fuel. This machine also has room to store a couple of pails of oil, a big tool box, a nice place to store spare hoses and a couple of fuel filters. It’s nice to have those things with you if you have a little trouble. That way, you aren’t running back out to the trailer for supplies.” Joey Spencer says that the Tigercat has notable power and lift capacity advantages over the previous harvester.

The biggest advantage he sees is in its lifting capacity. “At full extension, the booms still have some angle and it will lift a big load. With the Timbco, the booms were straight at full extension so we had to drag the tree in toward the harvester before you could lift it.” With 14,000 pounds of lift capacity and more than 60,000 lbf of tractive force, the Tigercat is strong. Joey also notes that the Tigercat is stable and has good swing power and counter balancing that allow for a smoother ride. He also credits Tigercat for a comfortable and quiet cab and good lighting. “The Tigercat came with a real good lighting system that allows the operator to see all around the machine.

The gull wing engine hoods allow great access to the engine compartment and it makes a stable well-lit work platform for service work,” says Joey. He cautions that the big machine is not as agile as the lighter and more compact Timbco, so there was a learning curve with the machine and they had to watch to stay out of trouble. “The tracks are longer and wider and the machine is a lot heavier, so it is not quite as maneuverable.” Joey says that part of running the Tigercat involved avoiding some of the same physical positions the Timbco worked in. When Spencer bought the Tigercat, he opted to keep his original Quadco hot saw head. “It has been very reliable. We have rebuilt the saw motor, but we have never had to replace it. We have done cylinder and bushing work on the head and we have welded and gusseted all the weak points and we are pretty happy with it. It is still working really well.”

Spencer credits his operators and their particular mechanical talents for helping him to operate a successful business. “Uwe is a real good welder, and he can fix breaks up right and fast. Joey knows electronics and he fixes little snags that would have lots of people stumped. Having that kind of help is real important in keeping things running.” Lloyd was watching as Joey began his shift at 3 pm on a warm, black fly-filled, June afternoon, tackling a stand of spruce and mixed hardwoods. “Joey is a good operator. Notice, he never backs up. When I’m operating, sometimes I find myself backing up to reach a tree or a pile. When I hear three beeps out of the back-up alarm, I figure I’ve gone too far. “You only make money with a buncher when you’re going ahead. I tell them, I don’t like to hear that back-up alarm!”

Watching and listening to the growl of the Tigercat as Joey piles up stems, it is apparent that he is going in the precise direction that he has been trained to go, and at a right good clip as well. With a serious nod of approval, Lloyd heads out of the woods and home for supper saying: “It’s a real tough business. If you are going to stay in the harvesting business, you’ve got to be going ahead all the time.”

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