By Tony Kryzanowski
Alberta’s Caber Logging works almost exclusively on higher elevations and steeper slopes in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains. They are like the mountain goats of the forest industry—demonstrating the ability to work efficiently and safely in this challenging environment.
Spray Lake Sawmills, located in Cochrane, Alberta, has provided Caber Logging with the opportunity to harvest about 110,000 cubic metres of softwood annually. But it’s not easy logging. They generally are required to return to second pass cutblocks to harvest standing timber on more difficult or steeper ground left behind after the initial cut. While challenging, they are glad to be doing what they know well.
Kent Strandquist established Caber Logging in 2012 and owns the business with his son, Braydon, and nephew, Bob, with the goal that someday this younger generation will take over. All are actively involved in the day-to-day business management and logging operations, and several extended family members also work with them in the business.
It is a stump-to-load logging business, with Kent owning a couple of logging trucks in a separate business to help with log delivery.
“We’re dealing with slopes up to 50 per cent,” says Kent. “There are places where we have to leave some areas, but it is basically right to the limits.”
The Strandquist family has a long history in logging spanning over 50 years. Kent’s father started out in the industry and later opened the door for his six sons to learn the ropes and start their own business endeavours, right from harvesting to log loading. Over the years, they have worked for many sawmill companies in southern Alberta, and several are still actively involved in logging business ventures.
“It was all line skidders and manpower back then and slowly evolved to feller bunching,” says Kent.
Logging for Spray Lake Sawmills is a bit different. The main difference is that they require their logging contractors to process at the stump, taking advantage of leaving branches and cones in the cutblock to encourage natural regeneration as part of their reforestation strategy. It also eliminates the need to burn brush piles at roadside, but Kent says that this approach is challenging on steeper slopes.
Caber Logging not only has to harvest logs on steep slopes, but also process logs and deliver them to roadside, where they are decked with a loader and later loaded on to log trucks. What’s also rather unique about Spray Lake is that they still require tree length logs. They generally are focussed on capturing maximum value from both their dimension and treated lumber and recently invested in a new log merchandizing system on the front end of their sawmill. That’s why they require tree length logs.
Kent says that processing at the stump has its pros and cons. It does diminish processor production because they are moving around more but there are benefits on skidder production because the non-merchantable material stays on the hillside. Also, if a processor breaks down, it’s way up the hill instead of at roadside.
“It’s a tougher job but I know that the processor operators like it better because it is not as boring,” he says. “You are not just sitting by the same pile at roadside week after week.”
Because they are working higher up the mountain, Caber Logging must not only contend with steep slopes, but also with a rather uneven wood fibre resource. The majority is lodgepole pine, followed by spruce and fir.
“The wood tends to be shorter than what they are logging further north or in B.C.,” says Kent. “They will get 100-foot trees, where that is rare for us.”
Because they are processing tree length logs to a maximum of 57’, it is a bit more work with shorter trees to produce the same volume. Bucking is only required when quality wood fibre is longer than that maximum. In that case, the operator needs to manufacture a measured sawlog or two for the mill’s benefit. The amount of merchandizing at the stump really varies from block to block.
When Caber Logging started out, it was with a lot of second-hand iron because that was all they could afford at the time. A previous Strandquist logging company had been victimized by a bad business deal. Because of the family’s mechanical skills, they were able to keep their equipment working.
Steep slope logging is a specialized skill, sometimes requiring specialized equipment like hoe chuckers working on benches to move logs further down the slope where they can be retrieved safely by a skidder. The problem is that Caber Logging couldn’t afford to walk into a dealership and write a cheque for a purpose-built hoe chucker. So, Kent created ‘Chucky’, which is a Hyundai 250 high walker excavator equipped with Cat pads, converted into a hoe chucker.
“It is basically a hoe with a quick attach grapple,” says Kent. “It’s a skidder grapple mounted on a quick attach. I just take my bucket off, put the grapple on, hook up the hoses, and walk up the hill with my boom stretched out. Then I grab the drags and pull the logs off the steep spots and place them where the skidder can pick them up. I can even use the thumb as a live heel. It looks funny, but it works.”
So for the few spots where their new Tigercat 635G six-wheel skidder can’t reach, he can still retrieve the logs with Chucky.
The days of Caber Logging operating tired iron are almost behind them. Today, they are cautiously rebuilding every aspect of their logging operation with new equipment suited for steep slope logging, with 12 employees. Their newest purchase is the Tigercat 635G six-wheel skidder, which Kent’s brother and former business partner, Glenn, says allows the company to retrieve logs in up to a 35 per cent grade on a side slope. He adds that a four-wheel skidder is limited to only about 15 per cent. The benefits with the bigger, six-wheeled Tigercat skidder equipped with tracks are obvious—more production with the ability to deliver bigger grapple loads consistently to where the roadside decking loader is working. It’s easy to justify the investment with those gains.
They started the business with a Timbco feller buncher with a Quadco head and added to the fleet with a Tigercat LH870 tilting feller buncher. Finding that it wasn’t the perfect match for their particular needs, they converted it into a tilting processor, and purchased a Tigercat LX870C tilter feller buncher, which Kent says is a much better fit.
For skidders, they started with an old Timberjack 560, and first added a Tigercat 630, followed by a Tigercat 630E, and now traded up to a six-wheel, Tigercat 635G.
“It’s been awesome,” says Kent. “The tracks on the 635G have been great, just by the way it gets us up to the top of the mountain. You are not spinning your tires over the stumps and it kind of takes away that rough ride. You can cork it up, and away you go on snow, ice, or whatever conditions you encounter.”
He adds that the way that the skidder grapples the logs on the hills is incredible.
“We used to have to build trails almost everywhere, and now we are getting away with just skidding.”
For processors, they have three Link-Belt carriers consisting of two model 240 X2’s and one 210 X2.
“The 240’s have Cat pads on them for climbing up the mountain,” says Kent. “The 210 X2 we use mostly for right-of-ways and flat ground.” Complementing these three units is their converted Tigercat LH870C carrier for reaching right to the top of the mountain.
“Wherever the buncher can reach, he can reach,” says Kent. All processors are equipped with Waratah 622B processor heads, primarily because they are not only good units, but all their processor parts are the same.
“We’ve had one head rebuilt so it is actually an Axis head with a full rotate,” he adds.
Because the processing is conducted at the stump on steep slope, Caber Logging is careful who they designate for that job. It is not only important to capture maximum value for the sawmill when processing each log, but also to create bunches easy for the skidder to retrieve, without the logs rolling off the pile while working on a 40 per cent slope.
“The processor operators have to be pretty talented,” says Kent. “You can’t just stick a guy on there and expect him to do well. The three operators we have on there now are as good as they get.”
Logs are skidded to a loader, which handles the sorting for quality, decking and log loading. Their loaders are a Link-Belt 240 LX and a Link-Belt 210 LX. They recently added a Tigercat 875 log loader specifically for loading trucks.
Caber Logging builds their own roads, using an older Link-Belt 240 X2 and the Hyundai 250 high walker as excavators, as well as a Cat 160M grader, a Cat D7H dozer, a Cat D7R XR dozer, and an older Cat D7G dozer.
Kent says that they generally have a preference for Tigercat equipment because they are productive, reliable, easy to repair for extended life, and hold their resale value well.
“At least you can operate them for a few years after the payments are done,” he says.
He also appreciates the Link-Belt product because the Isuzu engines have worked well for them.
“The reliability and fuel economy is just amazing,” he says. “If we are saving $20 per day, every day, per machine, it all adds up.”
They also get great service on the Tigercat, Link-Belt products from dealer, Inland Kenworth in B.C., as well as dealers Wajax and Finning in Alberta.
On the Cover:
In terms of operations and equipment, the status quo does not work for Andrew Johnson of Wolf Lake Logging and A&K Timber—he’s all about constantly improving his logging operations on B.C.’s Vancouver Island. The latest example of the constant improvements is now at work: the John Deere 959ML tilting hoe chucker/shovel logger (Cover photo by Paul MacDonald).
New forest management standards for FSC
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has launched a new national forest management standard, and it includes new or changed requirements in areas such as aboriginal rights and woodland caribou recovery.
New Deere hoe chucker gets coastal workout
Andrew Johnson of Wolf Lake Logging and A&K Timber is all about constantly improving his logging operations on Vancouver Island, and the latest example of the constant improvements was recently put to work: the John Deere 959ML tilting hoe chucker.
Small sawmill prepares for big investment
Ontario’s Papasay sawmill is preparing for some significant equipment investments as they continue the move into value-added wood products.
Hoe chucking in the Rockies—with Chucky
Alberta’s Caber Logging works in some very high elevation areas in the Rockies—where mountain goats call home—and they are using some specialized equipment, including their own home-built hoe chucker, nicknamed “Chucky”.
Fibre win all the way around
A new program in the B.C. Interior is providing jobs in the bush, improving wood fibre utilization and includes delivering fibre to a pulp mill on Vancouver Island—a win all the way around.
Getting the forestry-related digital help you need—now
B.C.-based Tolko Industries has partnered with Epilogue Systems, a developer of a digital adoption platform called Opus, to centralize and standardize documentation, giving employees access to an easy-to-use, single-source portal to quickly obtain information.
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from Alberta Innovates, Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC) and FPInnovations.
We take a look at the latest equipment in Hydraulic Grapple Carriages.
The Last Word
The new B.C.-based federal Environment Minister must seek a balance with natural resources, says Tony Kryzanowski.