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A new Wagner Lumber Jack L4-130E log stacker is delivering savings by reducing log breakage at Canfor's Chetwynd sawmill. 

By Jim Stirling

The turbulent black heart of a thunderstorm rumbles north across impossibly green hills toward Hudson's Hope and Williston Lake in north-eastern British Columbia. In its wake, a few sullen raindrops flush down on a now muddy mill yard where the big yellow Wagner stacker goes obliviously about its business. It approaches a wood deck, jaws wide open, carefully engorges a highway load of logs, backs up, rambles its cargo down the yard to the de-banding station before climbing a ramp to deliver the logs to a live deck and start their transformation into lumber. 

Then the machine repeats the process. The log stacker moves steadily, not fast, within itself and without exertion. As an operator was to comment later: "This stacker will last forever." Well, maybe not quite, but a long productive service life is assured. The Wagner Lumber Jack L4-130E is into its second year of duty at Canfor's Chetwynd Division in BC's Peace region. The stacker and complementary mobile yard machines are part of the Power by the Hour alliance with equipment dealer Finning. 

The supply and support lease agreement is designed to lower operating costs and improve availability while contributing to better yard management and efficiencies for the sawmill. And at the end of the machinery's day, Finning assures a no-surprise buy back. "We view it as an operational guarantee," says Loren Brandt, logyard/mobile shop supervisor for Canfor in Chetwynd. 

It's a comforting guarantee to have since the log stacker is highly important to the operation. "We can't afford for it to be down long," explains Brandt. About 90 per cent of wood arriving from the bush into the Chetwynd yard is banded before decking. "We can't get that wood out with a loader. 

The log stacker is a key piece of equipment to keep running." Brandt reports everything was working out excellently under the Power by the Hour arrangement,helped considerably by a Finning serviceman on the spot in Chetwynd. Canfor mechanics put in valuable time at the Allied Systems plant in Oregon where the stackers are manufactured.

Hydraulics on the Wagner stacker help operators achieve smooth machine operation.

The stacker is hydraulically operated, with the exception of its on-board computer. "That's a definite plus for our mechanics maintenance-wise. It's like a glorified big loader," says Brandt. Canfor's corporate decision to develop Power by the Hour with Finning is also tailored to the company's sawmills at Isle Pierre, Clear Lake and Polar in the greater Prince George area; Fort St. James; Taylor and Fort St. John in the Peace region and Grande Prairie and Hines Creek in Alberta. 

Between 700,000 and 750,000 cubic metres of wood flows through Canfor's Chetwynd yard every year. The mill yard of company owned and leased land is a busy place for two eight-hour shifts a day. Average yard volumes are 245,000 cubic metres with the intention of keeping log inventory moving for financial considerations and so the wood dries out less. 

At the end of spring break-up, the inventory goal is to have enough logs in the yard for a few days of sawmill production before the logging trucks start re-hauling. But that's akin to playing Russian roulette with Mother Nature. About eight to 10 per cent of volume is top lengths separated in the bush and delivered to the mill on hayracks. 

The short wood dries faster and separating it out helps prevent the clogging problem on the merch decks with mixed-size loads. As pointed out, the L4-130E is the main machine. It unloads incoming logging trucks, decks the bundles, reclaims them and feeds the two-line mill. A Cat 980G also feeds the mill while a 966F series 11 is the utility machine with a variety of yard functions. 

Reducing log breakage in the yard is a primary objective and the Wagner stacker is helping achieve it. "We're still generating numbers but we have less breakage. It is noticeable," says Brandt. The Wagner usually builds decks four highway loads high. Going to five can lead to more breakage. Building bigger decks would be handy because the Chetwynd operation runs a very tight yard, notes Brandt. He recalls discussions about decking plans with Finning and Allied. 

The Wagner stacker at Cafor's Chetwynd operation has lifting capacity of 130,000 pounds and is equipped with a Cat 3406E engine with dual torque capability,.

They were concerned about getting the wood in and moving around the yard when running a third shift was contemplated. "We have to deck a little differently because of the turning radius of the Wagner, " says Brandt. The back-up comfort zone for operators is about 45 to 50 feet and there are ditches to be avoided and slopes negotiated. The third shift hadn't happened because of lumber prices and uncertainties in the US market. 

The yard was trying decking loads by size. This was helpful, when re-claiming, to maintain the small and large log mix preferred by the mill, continues Brandt. Sized decks can reduce stem breakage with its accompanying dollar factor and helps in another area. The mill's beehive burner has been shut down for several years and reducing yard wastes is important. 

A drum debarker can handle larger, clean pieces while bark and spent gravel is disposed of off-site. Canfor's Wagner log stacker has a lifting capacity of 130,000 pounds. It's equipped with a Cat 3406E engine with dual torque capability. The feature allows operation at two horsepower levels. 

It delivers 525 horses when the stacker needs them to unload from logging trucks and building decks, while reducing to 425 hp when in motion around the yard. The dual torquing capability results in improved overall fuel economy. Detailed numbers were still being crunched but Brandt confirms the Wagner consumes a little less fuel than the operation's predecessor stacker.

The hydraulics help deliver a smooth machine operation in the hands of Wayne Berlinger, who has spent the last 17 years working at Canfor's Chetwynd division. "This stacker backs out of the decks real nice," notes Berlinger. 

Dual wheels on either side of the front axle provide good traction and floatation. Ruts in muddy working conditions are reduced by up to twothirds compared with the operation's old machine. The configuration tends to pack rather than tear up the ground surface. A rotating operator's platform in the cab makes for much more comfortable working conditions, says Berlinger. 

The old stacker's angled seating arrangement was like riding a horse sidesaddle all day. The cab also has an auxiliary joy stick steering control, requiring short motions to operate. Berlinger explains the stacker is equipped with a second and smaller set of tongs in addition to the main forks. It helps secure the load and further reduce breakage. The extra hold is also a safety feature when bands are removed. 

There's less chance of a stem popping out. The bands, incidentally, are recycled an average of five times. The extra hold is also useful during sorting and orienting butts for the mill's merchandising system. A stacker modification requested by Canfor Chetwynd allows for better loading on the hayrack logging trailers and improved small wood handling. 

The forks have been narrowed from eight inches to 10 to access the space between the trailer rails and the bottom log. A Kubota generator was added to beef up the lighting plant for additional visibility during Chetwynd's long dark winters. The Kubota allows the stacker to run all night without being plugged in. 

The hydraulic fluid tank's heater can also be switched to the Kubota power plant. Stairs on both sides of the stacker save operators walking around the machine. The Wagner is a sophisticated piece of machinery delivering an every day bank-on-it reliability. Delightfully low tech by comparison is the ingenuity behind the method used to keep the yard passable for the Wagner and other mobile equipment. 

It's an assemblage of I-beams put together in the mobile shop. When ground conditions in the yard warrant, it's hooked by chain behind the 966. It's pulled either straight or windrowed over the ruts, knocking off the humps and allowing the ground to dry out. "It works better than a grader," says Brandt. And it is much cheaper.


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