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Working in Tandem

A Deere 753G buncher with Gilbert Tech head - working in tandem with cut and skid crews - is achieving production increases for an Ontario contractor.

By Tony Kryzanowski

The Gilbert Tech heads directional felling capability is an advantage, allowing the operator to turn and place the tree as it falls, minimizing damage to adjacent trees.

A mechanical harvester is helping a long-standing Ontario logging company do a more complete job of forest management work for by providing it with the proper tool to recover poorer stems. Essentially, they are working with the right tool for the right job with the objective of eventually creating a stronger, healthier forest. In addition to complementing the harvesting activity of the Company's manual cut and skid crews, the feller Buncher has also improved production and created a safer work environment.

In December 2000, Pembroke-based Hec Clouthier and sons purchased a John Deere 753G to feller Buncher equipped with the Gilbert Tech 1243W head. Company president, Tom Clouthier says production has since increased as much as 35 percent.

The feller buncher's primary purpose is to harvest poorer stands of small diameter spruce, soft maple, poplar and white birch that its pieceworkers have avoided in the past.

"This feller buncher doesn't have a brain to say that a tree is too small to cut," says Clouthier. "It's cutting trees down and putting them one beside the other. When the skidder arrives, there are three to six trees in a bunch. Those poorer quality trees are now getting out to the landing instead of being knocked down by a big older tree. They're being utilized." The result is more complete forest management.

"If you are only going to cut your best trees and keep the adjoining poorer quality trees, I don't think you are managing the forest properly," Clouthier says. "You have to take the bad with the good. If you take only the good quality stems, pretty soon there will be no merchantable forest left. So we're trying to improve the forest. Where we are here for the long haul."

Clouthier is one of five company partners-along with his 85-year-old father Hector who founded the company, brothers Willie and Jimmy & son Shannon. All are active in company operations in both the Ottawa Valley sustainable forest license (SFL) area near Pembroke and the Nipissing Sustainable Forest license area near North Bay.

Hec Clouthier and Sons is a stump-to-dump logging company, also responsible for its own road building and silvicultural site preparation. It's forest holdings consist of about 40 percent conifer, 30 percent hardwood, in a 30 percent mix of birch, poplar and spruce. Its annual harvest is about 60 thousand cubic meters, sold to 17 different buyers.

About 70 percent of the Company's logging operations adhered to the provinces shelterwood harvesting guidelines, 15 percent is hardwood select cut and 15 percent is modified clear-cut.

Both of the Company's SFL's typically receive as much as a metre of snow, making manual cutting in winter dangerous and difficult, if not impossible.

From the safety perspective, Clouthier says that the Company's mechanized harvester is far superior to the chainsaw operator working in deep snow. It is extremely difficult, costly, and unproductive for a chainsaw operator to attempt to cut smaller timber in deep snow because of the danger the tree presents when it falls to the ground. Sometimes a chainsaw operator simply cannot move out of the way fast enough. The feller buncher, however can harvest trees along a designated road location or skid trail, packing snow in the process. This makes cable skidding easier and creates more stable ground cover for chainsaw delimbers working at roadside.

"We didn't have a skidder breakdown all last winter or lost time injury because a fellow was trying to cut an eight inch tree in three feet of snow," says Clouthier. "When you look at it from that aspect, we had a really good winter, when on past occasions we probably would have been stopped in mid-January."

The Company evaluated three feller buncher brands, but Clouthier had already decided on the Gilbert Tech head, even before starting to shop for a carrier.

"We wanted a hot saw head," he says. "We talked to suppliers and found there was a lot of maintenance with bar saws. Also, there was potential for a lot of downtime, especially when the operator was learning to run the machine."

The Gilbert Tech's heads directional felling capability was also an advantage because the operator to turn and place the tree as it falls to minimize damage to adjacent trees.

"We also talked to other loggers using the head in the said they had very little trouble with it," Clouthier says. "In our neck of the woods, we always have to look at reliability because we're not close to any one supplier."

The model purchased by Hec Clouthier and Sons allows the Company to open the grab arms a bit wider. It has a cutting capacity about 22 inches, but the operator has cut trees up to 28 inches in two cuts.

The Company ultimately settled on the John Deere 753G carrier, which is nearly identical to Timberjack's model 608S. John Deere purchased Timberjack two years ago, so that explains the model similarity. It matched Clouthier's size and weight requirements, as well as having practically no tail swing.

The Company's operator has to avoid residual tree damage, particularly in shelterwood harvesting operations.

"We can't damage the forest," he says. "Otherwise we're going to end up with the 450,000 dollar piece of equipment which is going to be parked because Ministry of Natural Resources won't let you use it."

Since the John Deere 753G had the right weight and width dimensions, the company didn't have to purchase another float to move it from location to location.

Although other feller buncher's were more powerful, Clouthier says a 753G's ability to contract its boom closer to the cab was also a good fit for their operation as a further damage control measure. The 753G also comes with a self-levelling option.

With a full logging season behind them, Clouthier says the feller buncher's reliability has been "just excellent." "We've had very little downtime. That's what I needed. I have to make payments, so I can't have the downtime."

Buncher is offspring of John Deere acquisition of Timberjack, says contractor

John Deere's 753G feller buncher is an example of the offspring created by the acquisition of the Timberjack line of equipment by John Deere two years ago. According to Ontario logger Tom Clouthier, it's a lot like the old Timberjack 608S feller buncher, but with a different coat of paint. The 753 comes in a "G" non-levelling or "GL" cab-levelling configuration. 

The standard engine is a Cummins six-cylinder, 6CTA8.3 turbo-charged unit, with a standard 205-gross-hp engine in the G model, or an optional 230-gross-hp power engine. The GL comes standard with the 230-hp engine. The upper has 360-degree continuous rotation capability, with a swing speed of 6.1 rpm. The 753G weighs in at 23,680 kgs (52,200 lbs) with an optional counterweight of 907 kgs (2000 lbs). 

The GL weighs 26,830 kgs (59,150 lbs). Each carries a 568 litre (150 gal) fuel tank. Tail swing is 1.83 metres (6 ft) from the centre line. Maximum reach with John Deere's FS120 saw is 7.8 metres (25 ft 8 in) on the G model and 7.1 metres (23 ft 3 in) with the GL model. Minimum reach with the same saw is 4.65 metres (15 ft 3 in) on the G model and 3.8 metres (12 ft 7 in) on the GL unit. Clearance is 740 mm (29 in) with the G model and 760 mm (30 in) with the GL model with single grouser shoes, and 690 mm (27 in) on both units with double or triple grouser shoes. The GL's cab levelling capability is 27 degrees forward (51 per cent slope), 10 degrees rear (18 per cent slope) and 20 degrees side (36 per cent slope).


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