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Versatile skidder

The new Morgan SX 706 skidder is proving its versatility, day-in, day-out, for BC contractor Dwayne Holmes.

By Jim Stirling

A principal reason for the Morgan’s strong performance is its patented SyncroTrack drive system. It is 100 per cent hydrostatically driven with electro-hydraulic components and operated with a micro-controller.

Versatility is as handy an attribute for log harvesting machinery as it is for people. It’s a feature Dwayne Holmes appreciates in his Morgan 15-foot swing boom grapple skidder. “This is a production-size machine,” says Holmes. “The swing boom capacity on a big robust machine opens up so many avenues. It’s so much more flexible.

It can be a high producer plus a niche player.” His company—Grizzly West Logging—has been running the machine for about a year on one of its two logging sides in the Prince George area of central British Columbia. The Morgan SX 706 is a new entrant in the western Canadian skidder stakes and brings an appealing upside to the competition.

Grizzly West operator Ken Ross had put about 2,400 hours on the Morgan and the experience is paying dividends. Some of them become clear watching the equipment work. Gathering well-positioned bunches of felled timber, accumulating a drag and delivering the load to the deck was a cohesive exercise in fluid motion. The wood averaged 0.5 cubic metres per stem and the Morgan was consistently carrying 10 and 12 trees on a good skidding site.

Contractor Dwayne Holmes

The high-lift swing boom allows construction of tall, straight piles of wood. The machine isn’t scrambling over the wood, contributing to breakage. Instead, it enhances the processing function. The Morgan doesn’t have to turn around, back up and stop all the time. As a result, skidding cycle times are reduced, along with per cubic metre costs. A principal reason for the Morgan’s performance is its patented SyncroTrack drive system.

It’s 100 per cent hydrostatically driven with electro-hydraulic components and operated with a micro-controller. The infinitely variable hydraulic pumps and motors control speed without gear changing. Getting to this point has been a long and determined journey for the Morgan’s developer and manufacturer. Chief executive officer Martyn Morgan began the odyssey with his plans to develop a mechanical tree planter. He was dissatisfied with what was available on the market to drive the planter and began an R & D program to find a better transmission solution.

The SyncroTrack power package was what emerged from that, with hydraulics replacing a conventional drive train. Morgan’s fluid power systems have been used extensively in military vehicles, like tanks, and are proven tough in harsh conditions. The skidder is the first forest industry application for the system in Canada. The Morgan name is more than eponymous convenience. The corporate logo is the head and mane of the Morgan breed of horse which, as Morgan the CEO explains, helped open up the West. It was a versatile animal useful for ploughing the fields or riding into town, he notes. The name symbolism extends to the Morgan, a highly-tuned make of British sports car, renowned for peppy performance.

Those characteristics, manufactured into Morgan Forest Products at International Silvatech Industries Inc, in Langley, BC, are attracting a growing interest among logging contractors in BC and Alberta. Contractor Dwayne Holmes has been following the Morgan skidder’s development for three or four years. “It tweaked my interest,” he recalls. “Even before the introduction of the Forest Practices Code in BC, I hated to put a dent in the ground. I always wanted a lighter and lighter footprint. It was an innate desire on my part and I thought the six-wheel drive was a way to go.”

Grizzly West Logging equipment operator Kevin Ross is able to control the Morgan SX 706 and its functions with just two joysticks.

The elimination of a conventional transmission and final drives was another appeal. But taking on the Morgan skidder—the first in BC—was akin to going out on the end of the evolutionary limb, says Holmes. He had to gauge the support available. Kudos there to Roy Blanchette, Morgan’s field support representative based in Prince George and to the company’s Langley factory and headquarters. “We had growing pains,” concedes Holmes. “It takes a virtually different mind set to properly run the machine and the thinking into the skidding process changes.” He recommends modifying the learning curve with realistic machine utilization as operator familiarity develops.

Operator approval is always a key issue for maximum machine utilization. But right from the beginning, when Grizzly West was demonstrating the Morgan and other skidders, the machine earned operator approval. “We couldn’t pry them off the seat,” notes Holmes. Operator Kevin Ross immediately liked the cab comfort and layout. The seat he was reluctant to leave can be adjusted six ways with 300 degree base rotation.

The operator controls the machine and its functions with just two joysticks. A thumbwheel system controls carrier speed. Ample power is provided by the Cummins 6CTA series 8.3 litre engine rated at 260 hp. The Morgan skidder complements two Cat 320 processors and two bunchers, a TK723 Risley with zero tail swing and a Cat 227, and has no problem keeping them hopping. The equipment produces about 15 loads a day for the Woodland Group, a manufacturer of value-added wood products.

Grizzly West’s other side averages a similar wood volume in balanced working seasons primarily for Canfor’s Isle Pierre Division. The fully mechanized, roadside stump-to-dump show includes two conventional Cat 525 grapple skidders, a Madill 2200 buncher, two Cat 320s with Denharco stroke delimbers and Cat 330 and 350 butt ‘n top loaders.

Road building for both sides is done primarily with Cat 320 hoes and a tracked 527 short Cat. “What I like with the Morgan is the versatility with the swing boom. You can do more without backing up,” says Ross, a forest machine operator with more than 18 years’ working experience. “The steadiness of the hydrostatic drive allows the skidder to work without jerkiness.” He says the Morgan more than matches any other skidder for pulling power with ample breakout force when picking up a drag. Both Ross and Holmes rave about the strength of the Morgan’s hydraulic power.

They cite the time the Morgan pulled out loaded logging trucks mired in a foot and a half of mud, uphill no less. Ross also appreciates the swing boom’s ability to build decks to best suit either dangler or stroke-type processors. The Morgan’s full rotation grapple has a 15-square-foot capacity and a rounder shaped basket to roll up and better accumulate wood. The Morgan has had no trouble handling snow or slopes. “It’s quite comfortable skidding down hills, there’s lots of room to make adjustments for the weight and stay stable,” says Ross.

The Morgan is wider than most skidders and its weight is carried low. The company says the swing boom has worked successfully on 65 per cent slopes. Ross adds that access for servicing the Morgan is easy. You can get to items like filters and hoses without standing on your head. The machine incorporates industry-proven components.

The last word goes to Holmes. With the learning curve flattened, the Morgan has become operational this year and is proving the purchase decision to be the right one, he says. “If it continues to do what it’s doing and keeps the two processors busy, I’ll consider adding another one.”

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