By George Fullerton
In 2015, with nearly three decades as a professional forestry worker—and 15 years of that as a harvest contractor—Luc Beaulieu switched his operation from chainsaws and cable skidders to a fully mechanized cut-to-length operation. It was time to do the switch. Beaulieu had decided if he was to continue as a wood producer, mechanization was a necessity.
That year, Beaulieu was working—along with a couple of full-time employees—operating with a Timberjack 240 skidder and a John Deere 440C cable skidder, felling and limbing with a chainsaws and processing the stems at roadside with a Tanguay CC 125 slasher.
Beaulieu says that the physical demand of operating chainsaw and pulling chokers was taking its toll on him. But he wanted to stay in the forest industry, continue to serve his customer base and grow his company. Mechanization was the path to meeting those goals.
Based in Dégelis, Quebec, Beaulieu continues to operate exclusively on private woodlots in the southern corner of the Bas St. Laurent region, adjacent to the New Brunswick border, and in Madawaska County, in the northwest corner of New Brunswick. About 80 per cent of his annual production work is in Quebec and 20 per cent in New Brunswick.
Beaulieu said that the decision to move to mechanized harvesting came after a good deal of consideration and research. Much of the research focused on what type of harvester would fit his clients’ demands, and be productive in the steep terrain which dominates his operating region.
Woodlots provide a wide variety of species and piece size. On any woodlot, he could be working in large diameter older growth softwood or hardwood one day, and the next day be challenged to do commercial thinning on a plantation or a stand which had previously been pre-commercially thinned.
Woodlot owners in both Quebec and New Brunswick have a long history of silviculture and management. The management activities typically occur on relatively small patches, which means there is a good deal of diverse stands across a woodlot. Through his work experience, Beaulieu knew he required a versatile machine, which could handle hardwoods and softwoods, as well as big and small wood.
Beaulieu was also aware of the need to have good dealer and service support. He was also looking for good value, being aware that low-priced machines, with considerable hours on the clock, typically demand a good deal of repair and upkeep—which has a direct impact on production and the bottom line.
When it came time to make a deal on a harvester, Beaulieu was intrigued with the opportunity presented by ALPA Equipment salesman Danny Bouchard.
Bouchard brought Beaulieu’s attention to used machines from Europe offered by Ponsse. Ponsse had a program and a dedicated facility to refurbish relatively lightly used forestry machines, which carried an 800 hour warranty.
Beaulieu had already established a business relationship with ALPA Equipment, relying on their Edmundston, New Brunswick, shop for supplies, parts and deals on used equipment.
The two men studied used harvester listings, and after careful consideration, Beaulieu proceeded to confirm a deal on a used Ponsse Beaver. Beaulieu took delivery of a ‘like new’ Ponsse Beaver in September 2015.
For years, Ponsse had operations dedicated to refurbishing used machines with relatively low hours. Because of a combination of operator training and operating in highly managed (uniform) forests, the Scandinavian machines tend to be in far better shape compared to most similar aged machines operated in North America.
The program provided a very detailed inspection of all the machine parts, and replacement of items found to be worn or in disrepair, as well as re-painting the machines.
Beaulieu’s Beaver arrived with just over 18,000 hours on its clock. The machine features a HN125 crane and an H6 Ponsse head.
The HN125 crane system (the arrow crane) is recognized for its fast extension and retraction. The H6 head handles trees up to 23” in diameter, has a three roller feed system and feed speed of 20’ per second. The head also has multi stem capacity.
As part of the purchase deal, ALPA ensured Beaulieu was provided with a comprehensive training program for maintenance and operation, along with technical support.
Operator training for Beaulieu and his operator, Yvan Dubé, began with a few days at the Edmundston shop, with ALPA trainer André Cyr, on a Ponsse harvester simulator.
“The training process gives the operator good familiarity with the joysticks and the different switches.” explained Bouchard. “It also provides the elements of how to fell trees and to sort products.
“Typically, the operator will then try the harvester for a couple days, to put those basic functions into action in the woods. That initial practice on the harvester generates a lot of questions from the operator and we have found that it is beneficial for the trainee operators to come back to the simulator and share their questions or problems with the trainer, and together they address the issue or questions through the simulator.”
When the operator lands back in the machine cab, they have a lot more information and typically can rapidly develop their skills.
Bouchard pointed out that a trainee who has chainsaw felling and forest machine operation experience can pick up harvester operation a lot quicker than someone who has relatively little woods experience.
“A guy who cuts trees with a chainsaw has intimate and detailed knowledge about how a tree is best felled, and can read terrain very well and place his trails so the forwarder can easily follow and reach the logs,” noted Bouchard.
ALPA also provided Beaulieu and Yvan Dubé with specific training on the Ponsse OPTI computer system, with trainer André St. Onge. Training included operation, calibration and troubleshooting the system.
Beaulieu also considered his need for forwarder capacity, to fit into his new cut-to-length operation, and decided rather than make additional investment in a purpose built forwarder, he would convert his Deere 440C skidder into a forwarder.
The conversion required removing the winch and associated hardware, and then fabricating a frame which mounted on the rear differential. For loader capacity, Beaulieu mounted a Kesla loader on the frame just behind the articulation joint, with the loader controls fitting into the back of the skidder cab.
The conversion looks very professional and is a testament to Bealieu’s craftsmanship and attention to detail. The skidder conversion is definitely a very clean and functional piece of equipment.
However, once the harvester operator became proficient with the Beaver, Beaulieu soon realized his conversion forwarder was not up to matching the Beaver’s production.
Another call was made to ALPA, and Danny Bouchard began the search for a forwarder, which resulted in the purchase of a used Timberjack 1110 eight wheel drive forwarder. Operator Serge Bossé quickly found his comfort zone in the 1110.
Beaulieu’s team overcame a lot of challenges in learning to operate the new equipment productively. One seasonal challenge they faced was dealing with an excessive snowload through the winter of 2017-2018. Both harvester and forwarder struggled through snow which led to Beaulieu to packing trails with his bulldozer so the machines could operate more effectively.
“We just could not get traction for the forwarder in the deep snow, and the Beaver also struggled somewhat,” explained Beaulieu. “In some situations, we used our bulldozer (a Deere 650G) to improve the trails so the machines could travel and operate more efficiently, and with less stress on operators and the machines.”
An eight wheel drive Ponsse has the traction capacity to handle extreme snow conditions, and Beaulieu is considering the Fox for his next machine.
Beaulieu keeps his bulldozer on site year round to ensure roads are open and in good repair for trucking. He operates with two service trailers, which are well equipped with hose supply, generator/welder, tools as well as a lunch room. All are very well organized and neat, as are the landings and wood piles.
The Beaulieu operation produces 15 to 20 loads per week, depending on the type of harvest block and harvest prescription.
For trucking service, Beaulieu relies on Mathieu Daigle Trucking, based in Baker-Brook, N.B. Daigle dedicates one truck to the Beaulieu operation and will assign a second one as required. Daigle operates with quad axle trailers with Rotobec centre mount loaders.
Beaulieu’s wood markets include sawlogs and studwood to Groupe Lebel in Dégelis, Quebec, hardwood logs and chipper wood to Begin Lots, in Renversé, QC, poplar (waferboard) to Huber, in Easton, Maine, chip wood (pulp) to MLM Chipping, St. Anne, New Brunswick, as well as studwood to J.D. Irving in St. Léonard, NB. All markets are within a 150 kilometre radius of his base in Degelis.
Beaulieu is happy with the performance of his harvester and forwarder team. Production is meeting expectations, but he expects the production numbers to increase, as the operators realize the full potential of the machines.
Beaulieu has also brought his son, Émille, into the contracting business and he is gaining experience operating the Timberjack forwarder, and is also being introduced to the Beaver cab.
Émille is also proficient in operating the Tanguay slasher which continues to be employed in a firewood operation working out of St. Jean de la Lande, QC.
“With the mechanized harvesting, we have overcome a lot of challenges,” says Beaulieu. “We have a strong customer base and they are happy with the service we are providing, and currently we have a strong market demand.
“Looking back at the past couple years, it was a good time to make the move to mechanization. My son likes forestry work and he works full time with us. Mechanized harvesting provides a secure future for us.”
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