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Timely, perfect yarder

Summary: Born in Bill Varner’s machine shop in Enderby, Skylead Logging Equipment has seen small cable yarder sales explode in Interior BC.

L. Ward Johnson
Copyright 1996. Contact publisher for permission to use.

If you find yourself visiting cable logging operations around the BC Interior, chances are good you’ll be looking at yarders made by Skylead Logging Equipment Corp. of Enderby, BC. For the past nine years, this company has been producing a line of small cable machines that are designed specifically for small to medium-sized timber and long yarding distances, typical conditions on many interior cable logging sites.

Not only are these yarders effective in these applications, loggers say they like the machines because they work and they make money. Skylead is a family-run operation, owned by Bill and Yvonne Varner. The Varners started the company after they moved from Vancouver to the small community of Enderby in the north Okanagan Valley, because Bill disliked lineups and the hubbub of big-city life.

Bill Varner has been designing and manufacturing custom equipment and components for over 27 years. He has built everything from fishing boats to helicopter landing pads, as well as a multitude of custom components for other applications. Varner is well known for designing the Nahanni line of truck boxes, which he built until the late 1960s, at which time he sold the company.

Raised in Port Alberni on Vancouver Island, Varner says he was always interested in making things. "I think I started building things before I could read or write," he says. "My father was a mill-wright and I remember going with him on weekends when I was just a boy to help at the mill. I was always a hands-on person, and fixing and making things came naturally for me."

Bill Varner entered the logging equipment manufacturing business in 1987, while looking for something to build in his Enderby machine shop. He says he was leafing through the local newspaper one evening and noticed an article about Skylead Manufacturing. Ltd., a Vernon, BC-based company that had been trying to introduce a small cable yarder. Varner went to see Marcel Payr, the owner of Skylead, and eventually worked up a deal with him to buy his company. Varner wasn’t at all skeptical about the mechanical aspects of producing a yarder, but he was aware that he needed to learn more about small cable logging.

He started by spending a couple of months with loggers discussing the problems they encountered and observing how they operated the equipment they were currently using. Eventually Varner determined that what the the industry required was a small, lightweight yarder that was reliable and affordable, that could yard long distances with minimal support equipment, that could operate from small or even nonexistent landings, that was suitable for either clearcut or selective logging applications, and that could operate equally well uphill or down.

Back at his shop, Varner and his staff went to work on the drawing board and, after reworking the original Skylead design, the company produced its first Skylead yarder. That was in 1988 and since then, with input from loggers and harvesting planners, Skylead has continued to refine the design and produce light-weight, high-speed cable logging equipment.

The latest model from Skylead Logging Equipment Corp. is the C-40 16000 series. Trailer mounted, skidder mounted, or truck mounted, this unit has a 40' tower which is hydraulically raised and lowered for transport. The drive train is a six-cylinder Cummins diesel engine mated to an Allison automatic transmission with four forward speeds and one reverse. The yarder is a three-drum configuration that includes skyline, mainline, haulback, strawline and guyline drums.

yarder The guyline set is a four-drum single-part system with individual tightening controls. Each guyline has a capacity of 200' of 3/4'' cable. The skyline drum carries up to 1,700' of 3/4'' line, while the main-line drum carries 1,700' of 9/16'' line or 2,200' of 1/2'' line. The haulback has a capacity of 3,600' of 9/16'' line or 4,500' of 1/2'' line. Mainline and haulback drums each have a bare drum pull of 35,090 lbs. and a mid-drum speed of 1,525' per minute. The skyline drum pulls 45,170 lbs. bare, with a speed of 410' per minute.

Located at the rear of the yarder is a low-profile, one-step operator’s cab, fitted with ergonomically positioned controls and ample window area to provide the operator with a clear view of the woods and the winch drums. Windows are fitted with bar guarding and tinted safety glass. The rear window opens as an escape hatch and there is a heavy-duty cab heater with defrost fan.

When Logging and Sawmilling Journal visited Skylead, the shop was putting unit #42 together, while unit #41 was assembled and in the yard awaiting its new owner. With an invitation to see the latest Skylead yarders in operation, Varner and I drove a short distance up the road from Enderby to the Fly Hills near Salmon Arm, BC.

On this logging show, BryMc Logging Ltd., owned by Brian and Wendy McNeil, was clear-cut yarding for Bell Pole’s Salmon Arm Division. McNeil has operated Skylead equipment for the last six years, and recently invested in a new C-40 16000 Series, complete with an Eaton 118 water-cooled brake.

Using an intermediate support to yard over a topographic break, the skyline was out about 1,200'. Logs were being landed on the lower side of the road at the base of the yarder, and were swung hot by a skidder to a small landing a short way down the road. On the landing, a heel-boom loader was sorting up to seven sorts and loading out highway-configured logging trucks.

The operation was putting out four to five loads a day, with about 40 logs to a load. The crew consisted of a loaderman, a bucker, the skidder operator, the yarder engineer, and one chokerman. The yarder was flying a Maki-11 ra d i o - c o n t ro l l e d carriage.

Operating the yarder was Jim Stoney, who was just getting used to the new machine. "The controls are well laid out and there is good visibility," Stoney explained. "I like the one-step cab, because I’m in and out all the time to unhook the turns. I also like the six-cylinder engine. It’s got lots of power on the long yarding distances we often find ourselves using these days. The trend in the Interior is for longer yarding to reduce the amount of road we build and to lessen environmental impacts.

With this yarder, we can do both. It’s also a great yarder for selective logging and strip logging, and we do a lot of both types," Stoney says. Bell Pole’s Forestry Supervisor Peter Mair agrees with Stoney. "Over the next six years, we estimate at least 70 per cent of our logging in the Larch Hills Chart Area will be on steep terrain. Everyone is getting very conscious now of site and soil damage and with the move into steeper ground, we want to control the environmental impact. A cable system such as this Skylead yarder can handle the long distances and topographic breaks, and it has the versatility for selective and strip-logging operations. We are encouraging our logging contractors to think about cable systems more and more," says Mair.

"It means more planning and better layout on our part, but it’s definitely the way we are going in the future."

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