October/November, 2001





The Pack-Rack

Idaho Logger Packs Versatility Into New Tool

By Barbara Coyner

With nearly thirty years of logging and road building experience, Oscar Anderson was ready for a little flip-the-switch convenience in the excavator cab. He tinkered, experimented, ran CAD drawing programs on the computer, until he came up with the Pack-Rack - a device that turns an excavator into an even more versatile machine allowing the equipment operator to toggle between two applications, all from the comfort of the cab. A felling head and a bucket could now be interchanged without ever removing or reattaching either of the devices. Or a log or brush grapple could ride tandem with the bucket for another quick-change scenario. 

"The biggest selling point is that with the Pack-Rack you have another attachment all the time, fully hooked up electrically and hydraulically, and you don't even have to get out of the cab to change it," says Anderson, who is based at Naples, Idaho, near Bonners Ferry. "With the locking mechanism in place, the bucket is 100 percent functional even with other attachment on. You have a full rotation and we haven't restricted it at all. The system is designed to shape to the bucket and the bucket actually adds extra support. 

To switch attachments on the Pack-Rack, there are only hydraulic lines and a few mounting bolts to reattach." With over 3,000 hours of use on the prototype Pack-Rack, which was first fitted to a 1991 Cat 231 and then remounted on a 1985 Cat 235, Anderson chose the Oregon Logging Conference this spring for the invention's debut. Armed with a demo video and a sack full of brochures, he said the reception was totally positive and generated plenty of interest. "I've never seen a system quite like this," says Anderson, who joined his father in the logging and road building business in the early 70's. "I've never seen a hydraulically activated tool arm. I've seen contraptions hooked to the thumb, and about eight or ten years ago, I tried a log grapple hooked to a thumb. I used it for a while, but it wasn't flexible, so I lost in some areas and gained in others." 

Determined to break the time-consuming routine of constantly changing felling heads or grapples with the bucket on his excavators, Anderson figured there had to be a better mousetrap. The quest began with a crash course in CAD drawing programs, then some intense design and fabrication work. The grand scheme was to create a tool arm activated by hydraulic cylinders to mount a second tool on the machine. All this from the comfort of the cab, using a flip of a switch. "We built the first Pack-Rack in March of '99, and put it to work in May and it did really well. The only thing we had to do was refine a locking mechanism, but after that, there were no changes. I didn't do anything with the bucket mechanism. I worked around it and made a slim design. I've always done my own fabrication, and built my own thumbs, but this was the first time I'd come across something with an advantage to share with others," says Anderson. 

Oscar Anderson checks out the Pack Rack at work.  Note that the tool rack body is large enough for installation of necessary valves and electrical junctions, greatly reducing the number of hoses following the length of the boom.

"When I had the first showing at Eugene, I was worried that I might see someone else iwith something similar, but all I heard was, 'You know, I've been trying to come up with something like that.' People would see the excavator at our booth and immediately stop and take notice." Encouraged by the positive reception to his invention at OLC, Anderson says he's got several prospects. Because each machine has different fitting requirements, he'll spend the most time customizing for specific models. And Anderson is no stranger to different excavator models. He owns a number of them, including seven Cats, a Link Belt and a German model, the Liebherr, which he rented from Oregon Tractor after seeing it perform at the equipment demo at Kelowna B.C. in 2000. 

"We started pioneering with excavators in 1977 and were the first ones in the area to use excavators to build roads," says Anderson of his long history with excavators in road building and logging. "Originally, things were pretty much dozer power, but we started a trend in 1977 with our excavator road pioneering which took our crew to the Grangeville area. We were there for six or eight years in the 80's." Still favoring the versatility of excavators, Anderson plugs his German Liebherr as innovative, noting that it handles well as a log loader. He got ahold of the rubbertired machine after landing several right-of-way and logging jobs that kept his crews going up and down the road fairly constantly. He thought he'd try the rubber tires rather than tracks and has been pleased with the experiment. 

Anything to make road building and logging more productive for his 35-member crew, which keeps busy with an assortment of private jobs for the state, Plum Creek and others, as well as seasonal work at Schweitzer ski resort. Anderson Logging plans on purchasing a new Leibherr 944 excavator and mounting a Pack-Rack on it first thing. The Pack-Rack, like the Liebherr, definitely qualifies as a time-saver and efficiency enhancement. "This tool adds reach, and when it's rolled back, it redistributes weight. It pulls the weight back midway on the stick, making it more stable. 

All the men on my crews that have used it think it's just neat and they like the versatility." Score some added points in versatility with the fact that the Pack-Rack utilizes a universal mounting plate that takes only fifteen minutes and eight bolts to change. The body of the tool also has space for valving, reducing the plumbing along the boom and stick. Each Pack-Rack is, by necessity, custom made, adjusting for weight, size and specific attachments. With good reviews on the machine, Anderson is in a holding pattern on his new product to some extent. Yes, he has a list of interested customers and some names of fabricators, but the basic design work, which tailor-makes each Pack-Rack a custom fit, is his responsibility. 

In between, he has yarding crews and road building jobs to supervise, and a new granite works enterprise to oversee. Not only does he do the design work and much of the fabricating on the Pack-Rack, but he also is the techno-guy who lays out brochures and produces marketing videos for it. Talk about multi-tasking. But wife Shirley helps lessen the load by running the office, while daughters Julie and Lucinda and their husbands Adam Krezman and Daniel McLeish pitch in, as well. 

And when his youngest, Laree, who married in July, brought her husband Travis Liermann into the mix as well. With the Pack-Rack taking Anderson off in a new direction as an equipment producer, the ambitious Swede envisions a tool for the trade and then some. Because excavators are part of the equipment arsenal for so many types of workers, he sees it fitting in on city streets for use with hydraulic hammers and rock drills, or in the country for use in forestry work. "There are so many more uses outside forestry, such as using it as a pavement breaker or compaction wheels for utility site work. It's not as fast as two machines, but only one machine is needed. This adds to the versatility of an excavator." 

Barbara Coyner has covered forestry issues and the timber industry for various magazines and newspapers for over 15 years.

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