By George Fullerton
Marco Caron knows that business success in harvest contracting depends on basics: a well motivated team, good equipment and keen business skills.
Marco has developed a highly talented team of harvester operators, and includes himself on regular equipment shifts, harvesting for Acadian Timber in northwest New Brunswick. His harvesting equipment consists of two Ponsse Scorpions, along with a John Deere 770.
Marco has adopted a unique business arrangement with his uncle, Yves Caron, to supply forwarding service to the operation. Yves owns a sixteen tonne Ponsse Buffalo forwarder and a John Deere 1510 forwarder. Yves manages his own equipment and his team of operators, and forwards wood harvested by Marco on a per tonne basis.
Marco has been impressed with his 2017 Scorpion harvester, to the point that he added a second 2018 model to his operation.
Marco began operating forestry equipment at 16, forwarding wood for his father, Fernand, operating a Landini tractor pulling a loader-equipped forestry trailer.
Marco later climbed into the cab of his father’s Enviro harvester, and worked it on commercial thinning operations for J.D. Irving. In 1999, Marco purchased the Enviro and a forwarder, and began his contracting career. In 2001, he added two additional Enviro harvesters to his operation, which also included some work on private woodlots around Edmundston, in northwestern New Brunswick.
Marco added a John Deere 770 to the harvesting team in 2013, and continued to do a good deal of partial cuts and commercial thinning.
Marco made the business decision to move to Acadian Timber in 2015, and wanted to upgrade his gear. He went to the ALPA Equipment shop in Edmundston and made a deal on a new Ponsse Scorpion, the first one to land in the Atlantic provinces. To round out the harvest team, he added a new eight-wheel Ponsse Fox harvester.
The Scorpion proved to be an exceptionally productive machine, and in 2017, Marco traded the machine in for a new 2017 Scorpion King.
“Operator visibility in the Scorpion is exceptional,” says Marco. “That visibility allows the operators to see the terrain and the trees they are handling, and that’s directly reflected in the production we achieve.
“The Scorpion is also very smooth for traveling, and stable for handling both felling and processing trees,” he added. “That also helps reduce operator fatigue and helps with our production.”
ALPA Equipment sales rep Danny Bouchard explained that the exceptional traveling and processing stability characteristics of the Scorpion come from the double bogie/three frame design of the machine. The Scorpion’s active stabilization system monitors the relationship between the terrain and the machine, and adjusts the chassis to keep the centre frame and cab level.
The active stabilization system also monitors the position of the crane, and uses the mass of the rear frame (which includes the engine), to balance the machine as it cuts and processes trees.
The exceptional operator visibility is a result of the arched main boom design which mounts to the base of the cab, and provides unrestricted operator views of the work site forward, as well as to the sides.
Operators sit in the middle of the cab which rotates with the boom and, as a result, the operator is always looking directly ahead at the harvesting head. The swing momentum of the cab is muted, which also compliments the operator’s comfort, and minimizes fatigue.
Based on his experience with the Scorpion King harvester, Marco made a decision in 2018 to add a second Scorpion King to his operation.
While the two Scorpion Kings are similar in design, they do differ in the engine department. While the 2017 model sports a Tier 3 Mercedes-Benz engine rated at 275 horsepower, the 2018 model came with a Tier 4 Mercedes engine rated at 286 horsepower.
Marco commented that there is no discernible power difference between the two machines, and fuel efficiency is also very close. He explained that the Tier 4 requires DEF fluid, which is only a small chore added to the daily service check.
The Tier 4 technology provides a cleaner running engine, which results in a much cleaner environmental footprint.
Another difference between the two Scorpion Kings is the processing heads. While the 2017 model was delivered with an H7 head, the 2018 model ended up with an H6 head.
“The Scorpion Kings have become very popular in our territory and when Marco said that he was looking for another machine, we had to look for one, and we located it in western Canada,” explained ALPA’s Danny Bouchard. “The machine was designated for processing at roadside, and it had a head specifically spec’ed for big wood.
“Marco wanted the H7, which he was convinced worked best in the type of harvesting he does. However, we did not have an H7 head immediately available, but we did have a H6 head at our Edmundston shop. We convinced Marco to try the H6, with the understanding we would switch it for an H7, when we received it.”
Bouchard explained that the H6 has a shorter frame than the H7, and it provides an advantage when processing crooked stems.
“After some time with the H6, Marco came to like it and decided to keep it on the harvester. While the H7 and the H6 are both high production heads that work well for thinning, the H6 shows its advantage with processing crooked and rougher stems, so it allows Marco to assign the machines to stand types where it performs most productively,” explained Danny.
Marco is happy with the performance of his Scorpions, and also delighted with his team of operators who hit production targets, and are dedicated to maintenance.
Contractor success depends greatly on finding and keeping high quality operator talent, he notes.
Through his own experience as an operator, Marco realizes the value of providing work schedules that offer positive benefits to an operator’s well being and home life. Marco’s shift schedule allows all his operators the opportunity to enjoy daylight hours both off-shift and operating on-shift. Having part of the day off allows operators to participate in important family activities or to schedule personal appointments.
The early operating shift begins at 4 a.m. and concludes at 2 p.m., and the late shift starts at 2 p.m. and finishes up at 1 a.m. The shift schedule provides both teams of operators a share of daylight hours at work and at home. Work shifts are done Friday at noon.
Marco regularly schedules himself as one of the harvester operators on his team. He said it serves somewhat as a morale incentive, since all the operators see him at work, dealing with the same day to day challenges that every operator deals with.
He added that working as an operator provides him with hands-on experience with the harvesters, and on the performance limits of the machines. It also keeps him up to date on maintenance routines, and any mechanical issues that have the potential to become major problems.
Working on the crew and being present at shift change keeps him in close contact with his operators and aware of challenges and other issues they experience.
Additionally, being on the harvest operation allows for timely contact and one-on-one communication with Acadian Timber personnel.
Being a regular operator also puts Marco in a good position to help train new operators and help them through the ‘on boarding’ processes.
Marco likes to recruit experienced forwarder operators to train them for harvester operators. He said they have experience with the work schedule, understand how to maneuver machines through the forest, know tree species and product spec’s and the importance of product separation, and preparing timber piles so forwarders can operate efficiently.
Danny Bouchard added that Marco also takes advantage of ALPA Equipment’s Ponsse training simulator which familiarizes trainees with function control for the head, before they embark on harvesting on the job.
Each of the two Scorpion Kings produce 150 to 250 cubic metres per shift, depending on the operator and the timber where they are operating. Marco’s annual production is around 50,000 cubic metres. Harvest operations are around 75 per cent clearcut and 25 per cent partial cuts and commercial thinning.
Each harvester operator is responsible for doing a quality check during their shift, which includes checks on log lengths and diameters.
Acadian Timber foresters flag out harvest block perimeters as well as flagging wet land and water courses, along with any special zones or hazards in a block. Acadian also downloads harvest block maps in the Scorpion Kings, which helps ensure operators cover the entire block.
While having a team of well motivated operators is key to business success, Marco also realizes the requirement for inspired and excellent business administration. The bulk of the administrative duties are very ably carried out by his wife, Janick.
Marco’s father Fernand, well into his mid-70s, had been working night shift on the operation, operating Yves Caron’s 2012 Buffalo King forwarder. Typically, the Buffalo King and the John Deere 1510 can handle the production of the two Scorpion King harvesters—but if production is up, forwarder shifts are added to meet production. In summer 2020, Yves traded the Buffalo King for a brand new Buffalo forwarder.
Also that summer, Fernand Caron decided to try out ‘official’ retirement.
ALPA rep Danny Bouchard explained that Fern did okay at retirement for only a couple months, and then he went to Marco and declared: “That is enough! Put your old John Deere 770 harvester and the John Deere 810 forwarder on private woodlots, and I will operate them.”
Danny added that Fern is now much happier, enjoying a somewhat more relaxed work/retirement schedule.
On the Cover:
New Brunswick logger Marco Caron knows that business success in harvest contracting depends on basics: a well-motivated team, keen business skills and good equipment. In that last area, Caron’s harvesting equipment includes two Ponsse Scorpions. In fact, Caron was so impressed with his 2017 Scorpion harvester that he added a second 2018 Scorpion model to his operation. (Cover photo by George Fullerton).
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