By Tony Kryzanowski
There are many moving parts to Tom Fisher’s logging operation near Huntsville, Ontario. This includes the maintenance of good relations with inquisitive cottage owners concerned with the sound of logging equipment and resource road traffic as they enjoy their lake properties.
This industry veteran and early mechanical harvesting adopter is well-acquainted with the hot buttons that draw the ire of the area’s cottagers, and understands how sharing a little information about the truth of sustainable logging activities and organizing a few tours with community leaders can help to build a better understanding and important bridges.
Given the quality and variety of wood available to him, it’s worth the effort.
Fisher owns Tom Fisher Logging Inc and harvests about 70,000 cubic metres annually. He employs about 25 workers and 10 sub-contractors, plus their employees.
Fisher is a stump to dump logging contractor working primarily to supply the hardwood sawmill in Huntsville, owned by Rayonier Advanced Materials, formerly Tembec. About 90 per cent of the wood he harvests, consisting mostly of hardwoods, is shipped to this location, with the remainder, like softwood, pulp wood and veneer logs, sold to a variety of other customers.
Tom Fisher Logging Inc conducts selective harvesting in a forest that consists of several high-value wood species including hard and soft maple, beech, oak, yellow birch, ash, poplar, cherry, spruce, hemlock and white pine, which provides Fisher with the opportunity to tap into a variety of markets for his wood products, running the gamut from high-value veneer logs to pulp wood. The diverse wood basket results in about seven sorts at roadside.
Typically with about 120 tonnes of wood growing per hectare, they harvest about 40 tonnes of trees marked by Rayonier silviculturists, using a herringbone harvesting pattern. This pattern minimizes damage to surrounding trees that continue to grow, and be harvested at some future time in an ongoing 20 year cycle.
Given the variety of wood he harvests and the environment in which he works, Fisher says that equipment sturdiness is the name of the game. Their log diameters at the stump can range anywhere from 10” to 38”. He regularly tweaks his equipment fleet to maximize efficiency and uptime, while minimizing environmental impact.
One change that he is definitely looking to make in the short term is a transition from grapple skidding to clambunk skidding, simply because it allows him to work a longer season. He has used this approach in the past; while it was effective because of a clambunk skidder’s superior flotation, the two 18 tonne clambunk skidders he was using at that time were not well-suited to the wear and tear of skidding in this logging environment. They experienced a lot of drivetrain issues, with only about 2,000 hours of production before they’d have to overhaul the entire rear bogie system.
“I’ve been talking to Tigercat and equipment dealer Wajax and I really like what they could potentially offer me in a clambunk skidder,” he says. “They have a heavier bogie system in their machines that Tigercat designed and manufactured themselves.”
He describes a clambunk skidder as basically a forwarder with the bunk removed and equipped with an upside-down grapple.
“You have eight-wheel drive and you have tracks on the four sets of wheels,” he says. “In the past, there were many times—especially in the fall—when the grapple skidders were parked and the clambunk skidders were still pulling wood and staying well within compliance. It was just a mechanical issue, with the clambunks we had being just a little too light for the job.”
He feels the solution is to purchase a heavier machine with a heavier duty loader and drivetrain, without the extra weight counteracting the flotation benefits.
Fisher’s business has grown steadily over the four decades he has been logging, as has his reputation as a reliable and responsible logger in a challenging environment of sometimes conflicting priorities, to the point where he is now responsible for the entire logging process—from roadbuilding right through to log delivery to his client’s yard.
His current fleet consists of a Caterpillar 521B feller buncher with a Quadco 24” hotsaw head as well as a Tigercat 822C feller buncher with a 22” hotsaw head. He also hires a sub-contractor for this function, who uses an older Timberjack 608 feller buncher.
Fisher says that grapple skidding is a new experience for the company, having typically used the cable skidding approach. They still have six sub-contractor cable skidders working as part of their operation. Delimbing the trees is still handled by two manual chainsaw operators who do both topping and delimbing in the bush. Fisher says he still has not found a feller bunching head tough enough to handle the variety and large limbs on the hardwood trees he harvests. Leaving the tops in the forest is particularly positive for the environment, because he says that 70 per cent of the tree’s nutrients are in the tops, regenerating the soil for future tree growth as well as supporting wildlife.
For grapple skidding, they use a Caterpillar 525D.
“The grapple skidder is nice because you are not getting in and out to hook up all the time like cable skidding, so less strains and sprains,” says Fisher. But they have had some compliance issues using the grapple skidding approach, especially in wet ground conditions. That’s why he believes that clambunk skidding with the right equipment could be a better option.
Processing at roadside is handled by Serco slashers. Logs are delivered to roadside with species mixed together. It’s the slasher operator’s job to process logs according to customer requirements, sort logs according to species, while also sorting out higher end products like veneer logs. Their Serco 270 and 290 slashers equipped with 60” circular saws are mounted on decommissioned logging trucks. The local dealer for the Serco slashers is H. J. Searson Ltd in Eganville, Ontario. Fisher says he appreciates that Searson personnel are knowledgeable about the industry, and that they keep a large parts inventory.
Tom Fisher Logging Inc uses self-picker logging trucks. They have three Western Star series 4900 trucks equipped with Serco 8500 self-pickers to transport logs to holding yards and local customers, and two Western Star 4900 highway tractors, all purchased through Northland Truck Center, with lightweight Timmins log trailers for long haul products. They also work with three log haul sub-contractors.
For road construction, their fleet consists of a Cat D6N dozer, a Cat 320E excavator, a Cat 160H grader, a Cat 950F loader and a Cat 950H loader, along with several tandem gravel trucks. Typically, road construction will start in late May for a June logging start up.
Fisher says being in charge of both the roads and the logging has its advantages.
“You get things done the way you want it done, when you want it done,” he says. But the new and upgraded old roads are often also used by cottagers, campers and hunters which is why it’s important to keep the lines of communication open.
Fisher has no particular preference for equipment brands and says that he keeps equipment “as long as it’s faithful to me.” He is also not afraid to try new brands, having operated a Quebec-made Direct feller buncher for five years, along with a 608S Timberjack. He appreciated the Direct’s performance but the company closed its doors as a result of the last forest industry downturn and Timberjack was sold to John Deere.
He operates a number of pieces of Caterpillar and Tigercat equipment because there is strong service support for the equipment in that area of Ontario from both Toromont and Wajax.
“The biggest thing for me is service and parts availability,” says Fisher. “They show up a lot and come and talk to us. They tell us what’s new and take us on tours to see equipment advancements. We like to try new things to see if it is something that will work for us.”
The issue of the exchange rate between Canada and the U.S. and equipment prices based on U.S. dollars is definitely a major concern, and is adding to the overall costs of doing business. Fisher is always on the lookout, like many other logging contractors in Canada, to purchase a slightly used piece of equipment at a cost saving, and has taken this approach with several of his purchases.
Fisher’s son, Jessop Ferguson, works with him in logging operations and his younger son, Matthew Ferguson, works with Fisher’s wife, Michelle Ferguson, to look after the paperwork in the office. Tom is leaving it up to his sons to decide whether or not they are interested in carrying on the business, as he looks to potentially semi-retire five or so years down the road. The key is to have some experience starting out, which is what he is providing to them.
Fisher is also playing an important role safely training younger workers for long term employment or leading them to consider perhaps eventually entering the industry as owner-operators. That training is very important, he says. “If you are thinking that you can buy a piece of equipment and put an operator in it and then sit back and think that you are just going to collect money from what the machine is making, that likely isn’t going to happen,” Fisher says.
With new ownership at the Huntsville mill that may result in new investments, Fisher says he is preparing his fleet so that he’s ready to respond to whatever new timber requirements that Rayonier may require.
On the Cover:
Tom Fisher Logging conducts selective harvesting in a forest that consists of several high-value wood species, which provides him with the opportunity to tap into a variety of markets for his wood products. Fisher very ably maintains good relations with inquisitive local cottage owners about the sound of logging equipment and resource road traffic as they enjoy their lake properties. (Cover shot of a Tigercat 822C feller buncher with a 22” hotsaw head by Tony Kryzanowski)
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