By Paul MacDonald
The improvements on new logging equipment are certainly welcome by equipment operators and logging contractors, but sometimes they are not exactly revolutionary. The term tweaking might come to mind.
But once in a while, equipment manufacturers are able to deliver big time on improvements—and Cat’s Next Generation 538 Forest Machine seems to be a case in point.
Logging company Tri Valley Construction Ltd., of Princeton, B.C., did not hesitate when they were approached by Cat and B.C. Cat dealer, Finning, about participating in a trial of the new 538 machine.
Tri Valley has been a long time customer of Cat and Finning, explained Logan McKenzie, who is now the third generation family member to run Tri Valley, which logs in the Similkameen Valley region of southern B.C.
“We’ve always had a good working relationship with Finning and Cat,” says McKenzie. That relationship extends to his father, Kim, and even his grandfather, Leslie McKenzie, who established Tri Valley Construction in the 1960s, with two partners.
The 538 machine was pretty much ready to plug-and-play for Tri Valley when it was brought to the nearby Finning branch in Kamloops last August. At McKenzie’s request, it was equipped with a Waratah 622C head, a processing head Tri Valley is very familiar with.
One of the main features that McKenzie and operators noticed right away on the 538 was the increased visibility and space in the cab. “It has lots of room in the cab—it’s a night and day difference from other forestry machines,” says McKenzie. “It is very operator friendly. One of our operators was saying he’s now excited to come in to work.
“Operators have long days in the machines, so anything the equipment manufacturers can do make a difference,” added McKenzie. “The guys now have extra room in the cab and can stretch out—that all makes a difference over the course of a 12-hour day.”
A larger, 1.25-in polycarbonate front window improves visibility and operating safety on the 538. Smaller cab pillars with the large panoramic windows and recessed on the right front of the machine contribute to a 50 per cent visibility improvement over the previous model.
Two different cab risers—6.5-in. fixed or 48-in. hydraulic tilt—are also available to help operators better see the jobsite. Video feed from the standard rearview camera is easily visible on the high-resolution monitor to enhance operating safety; an optional sideview camera improves visibility even more. The new configurations give operators much more visibility when they are processing timber, says McKenzie.
The all-new Certified Forestry cab design for the 538 dramatically improves operator comfort and safety, says Cat.
The cab is 25 per cent larger with 50 per cent greater overall visibility than the previous 538 machine. Plus, it has a heated seat and a more ergonomically friendly layout, so the operator doesn’t have to exert much effort to be efficient and productive.
Cab entry/exit is easier due to the cab’s wider and taller door and tilt-up console on the operator’s seat. The machine’s new dual HVAC system keeps operators comfortable regardless of working in the summer heat or during subfreezing ambient winter temperatures—a helpful feature in the extreme temperatures Tri Valley can see in the B.C. Interior. Its specially insulated roof and improved window and door seals keep in-cab noise levels low.
Their experience with the 538 has been big-time positive, says McKenzie. “We’ve had zero oil leaks, no maintenance issues, and it has given us huge fuel savings—the machine has been performing flawlessly.”
While the new 538 has certainly received top marks from the Tri Valley folks, every new piece of equipment requires some tweaking. McKenzie said they are glad to be part of the evaluation process, and being able to pass on their comments to Cat and Finning.
One of the minor changes done to the machine at the dealership branch in Kamloops was improving the grab handles in the cab, for easier operator access. “They were on that, right away,” McKenzie said.
Available in Log Loader and General Forest configurations, the 538 has a new electrohydraulic control system with 10 per cent more swing torque that allows the machine to do work with more power and precision.
Updates to the drive system result in a 12 per cent increase in travel speed, helping the 538 cover more ground and move up and down slopes faster, says Cat. A high wide undercarriage provides 15 per cent greater ground clearance to help the machine pass over stumps and other obstructions with ease. McKenzie said the longer track frame on the 538 also improves its stability. “It doesn’t bounce around, like some other machines.”
The 538 features an efficient Cat 7.1 engine delivering 174 hp that meets U.S. EPA Tier 4 Final and EU Stage V emission standards and is flexible to run on biodiesel up to B20. Smart mode automatically matches engine and hydraulic power to working conditions to help reduce fuel consumption up to five per cent without sacrificing performance.
The fuel tank on the rear of the machine adds to its stability, and that tank is much larger, at 990 litres. “We haven’t really run it out to see how long it can actually go,” says McKenzie. “In the fall, we can get condensation issues if the fuel tank runs too low, so we just top it up every day. But we figure it could easily go two days, maybe three days, if you pushed it.”
Compared to the previous model, the Next Generation 538 lowers maintenance costs by up to 15 per cent over the course of 12,000 hours of operation, says Cat.
Cat improved the filters and service intervals, and ground-level access to service points to make daily maintenance quick and safe, including a new ground-level dipstick for checking the engine oil. A new electrohydraulic control system eliminates the need for a pilot filter and pilot oil altogether.
The improved filters and synchronized replacement intervals result in greater uptime and 50 fewer filters being consumed over 12,000 hours, says Cat. Fuel filters feature a synchronized 1,000-hour change interval, which doubles the service life of the previous model. A new hydraulic oil return filter improves filtration and delivers a 3,000-hour service life, which is 50 per cent longer than previous designs.
Operators can start the 538’s engine with a simple push of a button. The new Operator ID allows each operator to quickly program and store their own machine settings and attachment function preferences. A larger 10-in. high-resolution touchscreen monitor delivers intuitive navigation through operating menus and includes a digital version of the operator’s manual for quick reference.
Cat’s Product Link technology captures critical operating data, fault codes, and machine location information to boost fleet management efficiency. The Next Generation 538 has Remote Troubleshoot capability when within cell coverage. Remote Troubleshoot analyzes real-time machine data captured by Product Link for diagnostics of fault codes without impacting machine productivity, and it can potentially save a service trip to the jobsite. Also, owners can be sure the 538 is operating with the most current version of software with standard Remote Flash (dependent on cell service), which updates machine software around the production schedule.
Including the work they do during fire season, McKenzie works to keep his employees, and equipment, busy, with shorter time off during break-up.
Many of his employees started working with his Dad, Kim McKenzie. Logan purchased the company from his Dad in June 2017, just before the area got hit by the Knudsen wild fire. “I had just bought the company, and with the fire, it was, ‘Well, here we go’—we were down for two months. But my Dad helped us out through that.” Since then, Kim has been happily retired.
This past summer saw the new 538 and a lot more of the Tri Valley gear pressed into service for fighting wildfires around the region.
Things change pretty quickly for loggers like Tri Valley when wildfires flare up. “Everything kind of shifts,” explains McKenzie. “The fires can start small and we try to stay ahead of them so they don’t become monsters.” When a fire breaks, they can be out there pretty much around the clock, trying to get a fire surrounded and putting fire breaks in. “We can go from running five days a week logging, to seven days a week, for a straight 14 days, full on, fighting wildfires.
“It was a busy season—there were a lot of interface fires.”
Tri Valley does all its logging for the Weyerhaeuser sawmill in Princeton, so they are operating on Weyerhaeuser’s tenured lands. The Forest Service oversees the firefighting, passing on direction to Weyerhaeuser, which in turns, passes on direction to Tri Valley.
“Most of the time, we are logging for Weyerhaeuser—we don’t venture too far away—there is enough in the wood basket to keep us busy,” says McKenzie.
If they are not working on fighting fires, they shift operations during fire season, to keep crews busy, operating from 9 at night to 9 a.m. “It keeps people busy, but it’s tough on the guys—it throws your whole schedule out of whack.”
Now that fire season is behind them, further challenges lie ahead for Tri Valley, as they started to get into steep slope tethered logging this fall. McKenzie is currently working on incorporating the new steep slope equipment into the operation.
Steep slope logging equipment is not entirely new to the company, as Logan’s Dad used to operate a high lead side at one point.
For their steep slope work, they have a Tractionline they put on a Cat 336E which will be attached to a Tigercat LX830E. They also have a Harvestline that is on a Tigercat 875 log loader, with a Cat 325d back spar.
The Inland Group is the exclusive dealer in B.C. for Tractionline and Harvestline, and sold the Tractionline and Harvestline equipment to Tri Valley. In addition to conventional logging equipment, The Inland Group is now a full service steep slope harvesting dealer in B.C., and provides the base machines, tether machines and the winch platforms (Tractionline and or Harvestline). In effect, the entire steep slope package can be purchased through Inland.
“It’s a big step, but we’re excited about it,” says McKenzie, who is feeling confident about the Tractionline and Harvestline equipment, and that it will deliver for them in the steep ground work.
“We already do a lot of steep ground on Weyerhaeuser’s tenured land now, and if they get timber sales, and it’s got steeper ground, we usually end up doing that, too.”
The steep ground work will be a particularly good fit for the Tigercat 635G skidder they purchased a few years’ back.
“The 635 is a great machine, especially with our ground getting tougher and steeper—and we have to skid longer. The 635 has helped us in so many aspects of our operations—it’s hard to picture us working without it now.”
Handling the Tigercat sales and support for Tri Valley, and for B.C., is the Inland Group.
Like most areas of B.C., the wood basket is tight in the Similkameen Valley region, so going for steep slope equipment will help position Tri Valley for the steep ground that is here now—and what is to come.
The company has come a long way since Leslie McKenzie set it up in the 1960s. Back then, he had around 44 guys working, mostly to harvest for Weyerhaeuser Princeton.
These days, Logan does between 160,000 and 180,000 cubic metres a year. They also have three roadbuilding sides, building anywhere from 60 to 70 kilometres of road for Weyerhaeuser Princeton. This year, though, they had 97 kilometres of road.
“We keep pretty busy—we’re doing more volume with less guys than my grandfather had thanks to all the equipment we have now,” he says.
McKenzie says they have been hit a bit by supply chain issues due to COVID-19, but not in a major way. The delivery of the Tractionline was a bit later, but that worked out ok. “A lot of the steep ground we were going to start on was affected by fires, so where we are going to be working needed to get re-laid out,” he explained.
There are long lead times for ordering new equipment, and used equipment is in short supply. Anything that is in good shape disappears really quickly these days—at top dollar, he says.
In terms of operations being affected by COVID, they are running a few more pick-up trucks (pickups are also tough to get these days). For the most part, though there have been the occasional flare-up, Princeton and this region of B.C., has not seen a lot of COVID cases, thankfully.
“We are pretty isolated here—and our work is pretty isolated, working out in the bush.”
McKenzie was working on bringing in some new people in the bush, to operate the new steep slope equipment. While there is very little turnover at Tri Valley, they still have a few operators that are nearing retirement age, and replacing them could be a challenge. A big advantage is the company’s location in Princeton, three hours west of Vancouver, along the Crowsnest Highway. The town is just east of the Cascade Mountains, and offers great outdoors adventures to anyone living there—the office/shop for Tri Valley, for example, is just steps from the Similkameen River.
While Tri Valley’s mid-sized shop is on the outskirts of Princeton, most of their work is done by a local mechanic, on contract with Cat dealer, Finning. McKenzie is trying to get his Tigercat equipment on a service contract, too, especially since he is adding a couple of Tigercat machines.
“We’ve got a lot going on, so it’s good to have a service contract—and that way, we don’t have the overhead, stocking all the parts, and having a service truck. It’s worked out pretty good.”
With close to two dozen pieces of equipment, their shop and yard would be pretty crowded if a lot of it came in for maintenance during break-up. It’s certainly a lot different equipment set-up than when his grandfather started the business. Logan himself started getting involved in the business some 25 years ago, when he started running skidder and working in the shop. But he started coming into work with this Dad when he was eight-years-old. “I loved logging right from the start,” he says.
And no doubt his grandfather, who retired in 1991, and passed away in 2018, would be proud that Logan is still carrying on the family logging business, and tradition.
On the Cover:
Logging company Tri Valley Construction Ltd., of Princeton, B.C., did not hesitate when they were approached by Cat and B.C. Cat dealer, Finning, about participating in a trial of the new Cat 538 machine—and the new machine has proven itself in B.C.’s Southern Interior. Tri Valley is also getting involved in more steep slope logging, with the purchase of Tractionline and Harvestline equipment from The Inland Group. (Cover photo courtesy of Tri Valley Construction).
Major industry expansions in Saskatchewan
Big things are happening in the forest industry in Saskatchewan, with a new timber allocation from the Saskatchewan government supporting growth of the industry, including a $100 million expansion of Dunkley Lumber’s Carrot River sawmill.
Moving into steep slope equipment
Tri Valley Construction has been working with some new logging equipment, having solid success with Cat’s new 538 machine, and the company is now springboarding into getting involved with steep slope logging equipment in B.C.’s Southern Interior.
Franklin Forest dives into different markets
Franklin Forest Products turns out a variety of wood products—everything from wood for logging road bridges to diving boards—from its spectacular location on Vancouver Island’s Alberni Inlet, using an interesting combination of mill equipment.
Livestock still makes up a good portion of the business for B.C.’s Ootsa Lake Cattle Company, but it has also been doing more logging the last few years, including an interesting project for a community forest.
Turning out more lumber on The Rock
Newfoundland’s largest sawmill, Sexton Lumber, has seen some big increases in demand for lumber, and has incorporated a number of equipment changes to improve efficiencies.
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC) and FPInnovations.
From power upgrades to safety improvements, read all about what’s new in mulcher systems in this issue’s
The Last Word
The partnership of Alberta sawmill Vanderwell Contractors—which will be supplying the raw material for a $35 million biofuel and hydrogen commercial demonstration project partnership—with a biofuel producer deserves praise, says Tony Kryzanowski.