By Tony Kryzanowski
An Alberta silviculture site preparation contractor has hired a forestry-focused machine repair and fabrication business to successfully mount a newer model Bracke mounder on a John Deere skidder.
The contractor was so impressed with the performance of the first one installed by Edmonton-based Motion Machinery that he has now ordered a second one.
Site preparation equipment like mounders, ripper plows and disc trenchers are used by contractors to create micro-sites within logged cutblocks prior to manual tree planting. Alberta, as in most Canadian jurisdictions, has a policy of planting at least one tree for every tree harvested.
The goal of the site prep equipment is to lift and expose mineralized soil so that when a tree is manually planted, the roots are exposed to the right combination of soil, minerals, and water to maximize the chance for survival—and growth response.
A mounder implement in particular creates actual mounds or micro-sites of exposed mineralized soil as it rotates when pulled traditionally by a forwarder carrier in a cutblock. The movement of the mounder also ensures that there is proper spacing between micro-sites, competing vegetation is controlled to ensure that seedlings can establish themselves, while also creating a divot in the ground so water will collect near the seedling.
Attaching mounders on to skidders has been done before. The Motion Machinery project is believed to be the second successful combination of a purpose-built Bracke-brand mounder on to a skidder in Canada. The first was the installation of a three-row Bracke mounder on a skidder used in Quebec.
This skidder/mounder project was initiated by site prep contractor Larry Zeller, operating as Larry Zeller Enterprises Inc. Zeller’s entire career had been spent in the oil and gas industry. His most recent experience was as a construction superintendent for an oil and gas firm in Algeria, but with the recent industry downturn, he returned to Alberta and was searching for a new challenge. He struck on site preparation contracting to forest companies. Although he had an oil and gas background, the forest industry was not entirely foreign to him, as his brother, Les Zeller, is a veteran logging contractor working in the province.
Larry noted that several forest companies had a significant backlog of forest blocks requiring site preparation work and were offering contracts. Recognizing the opportunity, he made an investment initially into a D8R dozer pulling a ripper plow and an older generation skidder/mounder. The ripper plow creates a trench exposing the mineralized layer of the soil, and seedlings are planted within that exposed layer. The benefit of the plow is that this site prep work can be done in winter. The skidder/mounder works from the time that the frost melts till freeze up, so together, there is the potential to work most of the year.
The key to success in site prep contracting is uptime and hectares prepared per day. It just wasn’t happening for Zeller in his first year of operation with the old skidder/mounder, although he has no regrets about making the transition to silviculture work vs. the oil patch. It provides him with a more stable income.
So he started to investigate other options, included a custom-designed skidder/mounder combination that featured a brand new, purpose-built, model M24 Bracke mounder mounted on to a mechanically-sound skidder.
The Bracke mounder was developed and is marketed by Bracke Forest, a Swedish-based company with a long history of developing and marketing site prep attachments and mechanical tree planting equipment. The Canadian distributor for Bracke equipment is Montreal-based, Silvana Trading. This mounder technology, which has been around for decades, has traditionally been mounted on forwarder carriers partially because skidders are not commonly used in Europe.
“The skidder option seems to be faster and more versatile for traveling around slash piles and generally moving around the block,” says Zeller, compared to a mounder attached to a typical forwarder carrier and even compared to the production of older model skidder/mounders, although it is important to start with a good quality skidder.
“If you have a new mounder, then you should have a good skidder because you don’t want to be breaking down with that investment,” says Zeller. “I think that a skidder is a simpler option. The cost is a bit lower than a forwarder, there is more access to replacement parts, and there are more machines available.”
Klas-Hakan Ljungberg, Managing Director and Export Sales Manager at Bracke Forest, says the company is very pleased with the success that Zeller has experienced with his skidder/mounder combination.
“Larry had an extremely successful season last year,” he says. “Even though he started late in the season, he managed to produce an impressive number of hectares, and Silvana reports that the forest company is very pleased with the work. Larry plans his work very well. It’s a tough job because Mother Nature also has a say. It is easy to lose a part of the season due to factors you cannot control yourself.”
He adds that staff at Silvana Trading will be following his progress this season with the second skidder/mounder in operation.
“We hope that other forest companies will take the opportunity to visit and see the mounders in action,” Ljungberg says. “There is so much research that has been done in Alberta and British Columbia showing the benefits of good site prep. It is nice to see that it is coming back.”
J.B. Colbourne, owner of Motion Machinery, says when Zeller approached them about mounting the Bracke mounder on a skidder, he was immediately interested because of the challenge it presented.
It was tedious work at times, involving machining and manufacturing of pin bosses to ensure that the attachment was being mounted at the right angle.
“You have to be elevated a bit higher and sloped back to achieve the right angle so that the drums actually engage the ground,” says Colbourne. “You also have to ensure that you have proper clearance for the tires.”
One area that is always a concern is in matching the electrical system and hydraulics, but Colbourne says that thankfully, it was quite straightforward on this project.
“Whether you are mounting the mounder on a skidder or forwarder, that part doesn’t really change,” says Colbourne. “You are just supplying the Bracke mounder with oil, no different than any other forestry attachment, and then it was just tying in the electrical to power the functioning of the valves, hydraulic joysticks, controller and monitor in the cab.”
All of the tie-ins were provided by Bracke Forest with the Bracke mounder attachment, and they sent a technician from Sweden once the project was complete to ensure that everything was tied in properly so that the unit would work as designed. Both Colbourne and Zeller say that Bracke was easy to work with, and were quite supportive and impressed with the installation on to a skidder.
Colbourne adds that an installation similar to this project costs in the range of $30,000.
The only aftermarket add-on was an electric fan cooler for the hydraulic oil, which is essential as the mounder is in constant motion often working on hot summer days vs. the functioning of a typical skidder where there are numerous hydraulic stops and starts.
There were no imbalance issues as the skidder is designed to grab a drag of trees and lift it off the ground, while maintaining four-tire contact.
“The John Deere 748 skidder is a good combination with that mounder,” says Zeller. “The 648 is a bit lighter, and a bit rougher to ride in all day long.”
Wide, flotation tires are essential and Zeller says that was the difference for him to continue to work, estimating he only missed one operational day last year with this set up.
“With the wide tires, you are more stable, so if you go up a hill and have to turn at the top, with those wide tires, it’s no problem,” he says.
In terms of skidder selection, any model in the 748 range will work, but it is essential to have a direct drive transmission versus a hydrostatic drive to avoid heating issues. The skidder typically travels in either second or third gear, depending on ground conditions.
“The John Deere is a good skidder for this application because there is plenty of access to machines in the marketplace, and it’s a well-built, reliable skidder. There is lots of access to parts,” says Colbourne. “I think a Tigercat would work just a well, but the problem with some of the newer models is that the transmissions are hydrostatic. The Cat skidder would also be not too bad, but there just
aren’t a lot around.”
On the Cover:
Ben Hokum Lumber has completed a major upgrade at their sawmill, located at Killaloe, west of Ottawa. The mill directly employs more than 100 people and produces white pine, red pine and aspen lumber. With a view to improving efficiency, the company looked at various options to upgrade the entire milling operation—and decided the best strategy would be to replace the small logline with a ‘small to medium’ saw line. Read all about the details of the upgrade beginning on page 12 of this issue of LSJ.
B.C.s silviculture sector rising to the challenge...
B.C.’s forests—hit by beetles and two successive big wildfire seasons—are in need of rehabilitation, and the province’s silviculture sector is rising to the challenge, ramping up to meet the need for seedlings.
Ontario’s Manitou Forest Products has recently added to their mill production facilities with equipment that will help increase production, and create more jobs—and it’s been a game-changer for the company
Increasing production—and flexibility
A big capital investment by Ontario’s Ben Hokum Lumber will increase their lumber production—and the flexibility of the sawmill to meet the needs of its customers.
Things are cooking for New Brunswick logger
Bolstered by demand for wood from both sides of the border—and his son entering the business—New Brunswick’s Jeff Cook is optimistic about the industry, which has prompted him to carry out some equipment upgrades.
Site prep success
A project by an Alberta silviculture site prep contractor to mount a Swedish Bracke mounder on a John Deere skidder has met with success—with the equipment combo delivering solid results in the number of hectares prepared.
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from Alberta Innovates and Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC).
The Last Word
The B.C. forest industry is starting to look at, and carry out, commercial thinning, by necessity, notes Jim Stirling.