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Switch Opens New Sources 

  A switch to a Fabtek mechanized harvester has opened up new timber sources for a New Brunswick logger.

 ByTony Kryzanowski

One of the less publicized advantages to mechanized harvesting is that some companies have gained access to wood resources that would have previously been inaccessible or uneconomical for chainsaw gangs to harvest. That is the case with John Law Corporation, a New Brunswick logging company owned by Darren Hargrove and headquartered in St John. The company harvests a wide variety of hardwood and softwood such as fir, spruce and cedar from its own land within an hour's drive from the city. At present, most of their wood is exported to Maine. All except the cedar is delimbed at the stump, skidded to roadside, and transported tree length. The cedar is slashed to eight-foot lengths at roadside before transportation. John Law Corp recently purchased a purpose built Fabtek FT133 tracked boom harvester with an 18inch harvester/processor head, which has since replaced teams of chainsaw operators. The company is engaged in an intensive harvesting and thinning campaign on its own property. 

Fabtek harvester operator Paul Bevans (above) says the unit maneuvers well. "It's not really wide, but it has enough power to handle a big tree."

The objective is to salvage all merchantable wood while at the same leaving significant amounts of natural regen so that the forest is managed in a sustainable fashion. Fabtek harvester operator Paul Bevans says the harvester is definitely gaining access to areas that chainsaw crews would have avoided. He and his brother worked tandem on chainsaws in the area for a number of years. "You couldn't get anyone to cut some of that land because there is so much trashy wood," he says. "For example, there is a lot of fir that is rotten because it is too thick. No one could possibly cut it. You'd have to pay them too much money-you wouldn't make anything off the wood." However, the speed, power and production capabilities of the mechanical harvester now make it worthwhile. "That machine will go pretty well anywhere," he says. "I cut with a chainsaw for a lot of years, and there are a lot of hills that I didn't like to cut with the chainsaw because it is a hard day's work walking up and down the hill all day. But with that machine, you are getting all the wood that can be harvested." Bevans has now operated the mechanical harvester for about a year and to date it has produced 60 to 70 cords of tree length wood per 10-hour shift. 

That is about the equivalent of three chainsaw tandems. Not only is the transition to mechanical harvesting a new experience for Bevans, but it's also an important test for Michigan based Fabtek. The company has made a forestry name for itself in excavator conversions. The FT133 is a smaller member of a new line of purposebuilt harvester processors that the company has introduced into the market.  It is the only commercial unit working in that part of New Brunswick at the moment. Given its smaller size and the amount of commercial thinning that occurs in the province, it comes as no surprise that it should make an appearance in New Brunswick. It has been available for about the past two years. Fabtek has also more recently introduced a larger model, the FT153. Both carriers are designed for an 18inch harvester/processor head. In a further foray into the purpose built forestry equipment market and to present contractors with a more complete package, Fabtek has also brought two forwarders to market-the 544C and 546C. The FT133 harvester weighs in at 35,000 lbs, and is powered by a 155 hp, 6cylinder John Deere 6068T engine.

 It comes equipped with an oversized swing bearing and a high swing torque. Given the terrain being harvested by John Law Corp, Fabtek couldn't have asked for a more challenging test. "The terrain is either rocks and cliffs or swamp," says Bevans. "It is pretty tricky terrain to cut. I was really impressed by where that machine will go, and it will pretty much turn on a dime." The carbody and track system is produced for Fabtek by Intertractor with an XBody design and oversized, B4 heavy-duty track system. It has eight lower and two upper interchangeable rollers and a two-speed track motor. Undercarriage ground clearance is 24 inches, and the pads are 24 inches wide. The carrier's width with the 24inch pads is 8 feet 6 inches, and it has a 12inch tail swing. The upper is designed to provide an adequate counterweight for the off centre boom location, with the cab forward, the engine in back and a 100gallon fuel tank. "Its pretty stable. It surprised me," says Bevans. "When I first started operating the machine, I was a little concerned about certain spots. Now that I know the machine, I can pick the terrain where I know that it will go." 

Although the head is capable of harvesting and processing, the company is using it exclusively for tree length harvesting. The operator will harvest all merchantable wood in a designated area, down to about a six-inch butt for a tree slated for lumber and down to five inches for pulpwood. Given the variety of wood that Bevans encounters, he expends considerable effort sorting the delimbed wood to assist the skidder operator. Having the reach, power and mobility of the FT133, Bevans is able to keep well in advance of the skidder even though he is harvesting, delimbing and sorting according to species on the go. Because of the challenging terrain, Bevans says it is difficult to harvest in a straight line. His general approach is to harvest in an environmentally friendly fashion that also improves his mobility. This means laying down a carpet of limbs in front of the carrier. Using this approach reduces ground disturbance, provides him with better ground cover and places tree cones in their natural environment to encourage natural regeneration. 

Rather than clear cutting, he takes a modified selective cut approach where he leaves a row of trees between each harvested row. "The machine maneuvers really well," added Bevans. "It's not really wide, but it has enough power to handle a big tree." He adds that having the ability to reach 21 feet not only improves production, but allows him to save plenty of regen. In terms of lifting power, he says it struggles a bit with larger trees. However, he suspects there wouldn't be any difficulty at all if the company was harvesting and processing at the stump. It is much more difficult to manipulate and sort a tree length stem, compared with operating the harvester/ processor in a cut to length fashion and then manipulating shorter logs. Bevans agrees that the cab forward design provides him with excellent visibility. He has no complaints about the cab comfort- if he were to make any changes, it would be to install an air suspension seat for working long hours in rocky terrain. 

In terms of serviceability, Bevans says it isn't difficult to conduct regular maintenance on the FT133. "You just remove one bolt and jack up the cab," he says. "Within 10 minutes, you are into the engine components." The cab interior computer control system is a Parker/VoacI QAN system, which Fabtek says is the latest in hydraulic control technology. They say it simplifies the control wiring while delivering unequaled precision control through the fully proportional valving system. It is compatible with either Fabtek's harvester/processor heads or with competing heads. One computer screen monitors all carrier functions and it comes with four operator presets for control parameters to suit personal preferences. Despite the challenging conditions they are operating in, Bevans says the company has experienced no serious downtime in the more than 1,500 hours on the FT133 to date. 

The machine is working in some tough New Brunswick terrain- either rocks and cliffs or swamp. 


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This page last modified on Tuesday, February 17, 2004