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April 2006 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal



New Grinders for the Gillespies

With new markets for biomass now open in neighbouring Maine, New Brunswick’s W & R Gillespie has invested in some new equipment, adding a Morbark 3600 Hog Grinder to its existing Morbark equipment.

By George Fullerton

Getting the opportunity to get Billy and Ronnie Gillespie together to talk about their contracting business, W & R Gillespie Ltd, is a challenge in itself. At 8 am in their offices at Thomaston Corner in southwestern New Brunswick, the brothers have obviously already been at work for a few hours, and the pace of the telephone calls only increases. The rare periods off the telephone are taken up by office, shop and road building staff confirming assignments. As the day shapes up, the brothers manage to confer on a bid for trucking chips, finalize plans for landscaping their new office and shop complex, make a deal on a used truck and discuss a number of harvest contracts that are currently or soon to be underway. Describing the atmosphere as busy is a simple understatement.

The Morbark 3600 at work: the hog is powered by a 455 horsepower Cat engine and operated by a remote control panel in the loader cab.

Reflecting on the frequency of phone calls, Ronnie comments, “About the only time we get a break from the phone is when we get in the woods and we get out of the service range.”

After a short tour of the current shop and new facilities across the road, the brothers are off to see the newest addition to their contracting operations, a new Morbark 3600 Hog Grinder. Their equipment inventory includes a Peterson 5000 flail chipper, a Morbark 2455 flail chipper, a Morbark 30-inch whole tree chipper and a (spare) Morbark 27-inch whole tree chipper, and, of course, the new Morbark 3600 Wood Hog.

There are three harvesters—two John Deere 653’s and a 753 machine—seven Deere grapple skidders, a Deere/3500 Denharco delimber and a Case/Forest Pro Mono Boom delimber, twelve companyowned and ten hired tractor trailers. They have two Prentice 210 loaders and a Prentice 310 loader. The loaders are mounted on Mack and Western Star trucks. One loader is dedicated to the Wood Hog and the other two are used to load round wood. The road building team consists of a Case 210 excavator, Deere 850 dozer and a Komatsu D41 dozer.

The W & R Gillespie Ltd operation employs 50 to 60 people. And if that is not enough, there are additional forestry sub-contractors hired as required when things get busy or a specialty service is required.

Ronnie Gillespie (above, right) with hog operator David Smith.

Their annual production is around 50,000 to 55,000 tonnes of hog fuel, 40,000 to 45,000 tonnes of biomass chips, 75,000 to 80,000 tonnes of flail chips and 50,000 tonnes of round wood. The round wood production is split between New Brunswick and Maine mills. Biomass and hardwood chips are primarily going to Maine.

Forestry and trucking operations are based on single shift. “It is an increasing challenge to find and keep good operators,” says Billy. “The Alberta oil patch continues to pull good operators away. Working a single shift gives our staff a little better quality of life, and it also means we get more life out of our equipment.”

“We make sure our staff is up to date on safety training and first aid,” adds Ronnie. “We schedule training sessions during spring break-up and we have monthly meetings through the year.”

The brothers started working in the woods while still in high school in the late 1970s, harvesting pulpwood and fence rail material with snowmobiles and a pickup truck. “Our father was working as a millwright at the time and he said that it was a bigger job keeping our equipment running than it was the mill,” says Billy.

While still in school, the pair graduated to a farm tractor and later to a cable skidder. Their operations grew and eventually became mechanized with feller bunchers and delimbers. They started trucking around 1984 and began chipping in 1990.

Billy and Ronnie’s father, Robert, currently works with W & R as an equipment operator, primarily on road building. The brothers concur that he probably works more than he should, but admit that he is doing what he wants to do … “and how could we get him to slow down?”

W & R Gillespie operations have outgrown their offices, parts and service facilities, which led to the construction of the new 10,000 square foot complex with three tractor-trailer bays and an additional area for one or two forestry pieces. The new building has generous space for offices, parts inventory and chipper knife grinding. The third Gillespie brother, Nicky, manages service, parts and grinding, and says he is looking forward to the roomy, new facilities.

A John Deere grapple skidder (right) with a load of tops and limbs to feed the Morbark 3600 hog.

The Gillespies employ eight full-time mechanics to handle service in the woods, as well as overhauls and rebuilds at the shop. Two mechanics service two trucks on the night shift.

Forestry operations include contracting for licensees and sub-licensees on Crown land, private woodlot contracting and working on their own private lands. “We generally have woodlot management plans on our own land that focus on harvesting the more mature stands first, following up with pre-commercial thinning as the natural regeneration develops. One thing about our forest type is that we have lots of natural regeneration.”

Forester Shaun Little splits his time between completing his Master’s Degree at the University of New Brunswick and working for the Gillespies. Little handles most of the harvest layout, cruise, management plans and permit applications. Ronnie’s son, Joel, is currently enrolled at the Maritime College of Forest Technology and has a pretty good opportunity to find employment in the family business.

Billy points out that conducting forestry operations has become very bureaucratic, which adds significant cost to their operations. He is qualified as a Certified Culvert Installer, which means that their road work is audited for environmental compliance, rather than acquiring a permit for each individual culvert. Still, he points out, it is not uncommon for any one of their operations to require permits for watercourse alteration, watercourse buffer harvest, and wetland buffer harvest.

The Gillespies also bid harvest contracts on CFB Gagetown, Canada’s largest military training base. All forestry operations on the base are subordinate to military training and, consequently, contractors have to work around a schedule that includes times when they are unable to operate in specific areas. Gagetown adds unique safety concerns for forestry operations, such as tree top approaches by fighter jets and laser guided ordinances.

Supervision of the Wood Hog and the associated trucking operation is handled by Billy’s son, Daniel. The Gillespies were familiar with the demand for forestry biomass in Maine and realized there was a relatively untapped biomass resource in New Brunswick that could serve Maine’s bio-energy electricity generating plants and mill cogeneration. After three years of lobbying the provincial government, the Gillespies were finally granted the opportunity to purchase roadside slash from Crown land, full-tree harvest operations.

Ronnie Gillespie checks on the wear of the hammers on the Morbark 3600. The hammers on the machine are made of tungsten-carbide impregnated, 1-1/4 inch T-1 steel.

The Gillespies also hog residue from their own forestry operations and contract with several sawmills to clean up mill waste.

They ship to two electrical generating plants and one mill co-gen plant which are between 60 and 90 miles from their forestry operations. “There are lots more plants further south in Maine and through New England, but we can’t afford to haul any further than 90 miles. There is simply not enough value in the product,” says Billy.

“When we went to purchase the new hog, we went with Morbark because we know the quality of their products and we have a good relationship with Cardinal Equipment in Moncton, which is only a of couple hours away,” says Billy.“We know they will have parts in stock and service if we need it. We had a few problems at start-up, but once they were worked out, we have been pretty happy with the way it has performed.”

The Morbark 3600 is designed primarily for millyard work, and before the Gillespies put it to work, they replaced the low profile tires with full size highway trailer tires, after the framing around the axles was beefed up and reinforced. They also fabricated a push bar on the rear, and some frame work with a pintle hook hitch (which ties in to the Hog’s fifth wheel pin) was added on the front. The pintle hook allows the Hog to be positioned in the woods with a grapple skidder. Road transport is handled by the
Western Star loader truck that feeds material to the hog.

The hog is powered by a 455 horsepower Cat engine and is operated by a remote control panel in the loader cab. It has a live floor measuring 11 feet by 36 inches with four strands of WHD 110 bed chain. The rotor is 25-1/4 inches in diameter with a six-inch shaft. The rotor has a breakaway torque limiter that protects the engine, clutch and drive train. Hammers are tungsten-carbide impregnated, 1-1/4 inch T-1 steel.

“Typically, four trucks make two trips every day from the Wood Hog,” says Billy. It takes about one hour to load a truck. It works five days per week, single shift. “It wasn’t an easy task to get the provincial government interested in marketing the roadside slash,” adds Billy.

“Typically the slash is returned to trails in the cut. It gets pretty expensive to haul the slash back into the cutover. We saw the bio-mass generating energy in Maine, so we worked on the provincial government for nearly three years to get them interested in selling it and creating some more jobs in the forestry sector.” Billy says that since they have been up and running, the provincial government is more interested in the potential for biomass. He says that as New Brunswick mills look for opportunities to cut costs and stay competitive, biomass co-generation is being cited as one key step.

“In the past year the biomass markets have been up and down, just like the rest of the forest industry. But there is a lot of talk about more co-generation here in New Brunswick so we are looking forward to the biomass markets becoming more stable and providing us an opportunity to service that growing market.”

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This page last modified on Monday, October 02, 2006