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October 2005  - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal



Better Slash Management

An innovative front grapple being used in Alberta is delivering benefits in terms of improved slash management.

By Tony Kryzanowski

Two of the biggest dilemmas for logging contractors are how to derive more functional value from a purpose-built piece of equipment like a grapple skidder, as well as how to effectively manage debris to satisfy government requirements. An Alberta metal fabricator has developed an implement to address both these challenges.

A custom-built front grapple developed by ABCO Industries Ltd to primarily suit the needs of portable chipping contractors working with Peace River pulp producer Daishowa-Marubeni International (DMI) has much greater potential for use throughout the logging industry.

A feature of the ABCO Industries design that contractors appreciate is that the tines on the front grapple attachment have a gradual curve that tends to provide better compaction when trying to control a gangly load of branches.

Estabrook Logging is one of DMI’s portable chipping contractors and has two of ABCO Industries’ front grapples mounted on John Deere 748 GIII skidders.“The front rapples are well built and they definitely do the job,” says Estabrook Logging superintendent
Darren Wald.

The front grapple concept was originally conceived by another of DMI’s chipping contractors, LaCrete area logger Pineridge Logging. Company co-owner Pete Peters approached the owner of ABCO Industries, Bob Schartner, with the concept. Between the two of them, they developed a custom-designed front grapple that works particularly well grabbing, compacting and transporting hardwood tree branches and bark.

Schartner says that chipping contractors face a considerable problem with the build-up of debris in the summer. Unlike winter, when logs are frozen and many of the branches tend to break off during the felling and skidding process, they don’t break off so easily in summer. As the trees are debarked during the portable chipping process, a hog management device pushes the bark and branches away from the chipper.

“There is so much debris to haul away from the chipper, and, even in winter, there is still the bark that has to be moved,” Schartner says. Although DMI uses a considerable amount of the accumulated debris for hog fuel, its portable chipping contractors have permission from the Alberta government to distribute some of the debris back into the cutblock.

What contractors appreciate about the ABCO Industries design is that the tines on the front grapple attachment have a gradual curve that tends to provide better compaction when trying to control a gangly load of poplar or aspen branches. This compares to other front grapples that have straighter tines and less compaction ability to keep the load intact between the debris pile and the drop point in the cutblock. Wald says what Estabrook Logging particularly likes about the ABCO Industries grapple is that it is a little lighter than other grapples they have used.

ABCO Industries of Fort Vermilion,Alberta, has built and installed 13 of its custom grapples so far. They have been successfully mounted on John Deere, Caterpillar, Tigercat and Timberjack skidders. The installation price is about $20,000, depending on the price of steel.

The custom grapples have been successfully mounted on a variety of skidders, including John Deere, Timberjack and Tigercat machines.

Typically, the skidder owner’s equipment supplier will set up the hydraulic system prior to installation of the front grapple.

This involves installation of a selector valve so that with the flip of a switch inside the cab, the operator can use the existing control levers to operate either the front or back grapple. A switch to control each grapple separately offers a measure of safety. “They’ll never operate the front and the back grapple at the same time,” says chartner. “It’s an electric over hydraulic valve so that they can select the front end or the back end.”

The ABCO Industries front grapple is about 10 feet wide and is welded right onto the existing skidder blade. The fabricator opted to weld the attachment to the blade rather than design a bolt-on attachment because that would have meant added weight. They wanted to design a front grapple that was as light as possible, yet strong enough that it could take the beating that is typical of working in a North American forest cutblock. A heavier attachment would also have reduced the payload that the skidder could transport.

One frustrating aspect of operating a skidder in a typical stump-to-dump operation is that in most cases, the skidder travels back to the cutblock empty once it delivers its grappled load to roadside.

This unproductive time interval goes straight to the logging company’s bottom line as a direct cost in fuel consumption and equipment wear and tear. However, what if in a softwood environment the skidder could take a front grapple of cone-laden stems back into the cutblock from the roadside delimbing area and spread it like a mat, much like a harvester/ processor does? The result is the potential for greater natural regeneration, smaller brush piles, and an opportunity for contractors to request a better rate because they are providing added value to the forest company from that piece of equipment.

Another benefit to adding this aspect to the skidder operator’s job description would be reduced job boredom due to less repetitive work.That concept of returning softwood branches to the cutblock has in fact been attempted by Estabrook Logging as part of the Ecosystem Management Evaluating Natural Disturbance (EMEND) research project.

This study takes in an area 90 kilometres northwest of Peace River, and has industry support from DMI, Canfor, Manning Diversified Forest Products, and Weyerhaeuser.

Wald says researchers wanted to dispose of debris in the cutblock to avoid burning brush piles and to monitor the amount of natural regeneration this method would produce.

On the trip back to the cutblock, the skidder would swing by the delimber and pick up a front grapple load of conifer branches from the debris pile. In mixed wood stands, the operator also took back hardwood branches.

“It worked out not too badly,” says Wald. “It took a bit of time. Getting the debris evenly distributed was the hard thing to do. The grapples worked great. It was just a matter of training the guys on achieving proper distribution.”

The ABCO Industries front grapple is just one of many custom implements to come out of this northern Alberta metal fabricating shop. Schartner bought the business in 1972 from his father, Abe, who ran a service station. Today, his sons, Larry, Michael and Darrell, as well as grandson, Wyndelle, also work in the business and a lot of the company’s work tends to be related to the oilfield.

Rather than skidders going back to the cutblock empty, the ABCO grapple provides contractors with the opportunity to take loads of cone-laden stems back into the cutblock from a roadside delimbing area.

However, ABCO Industries has also designed a highly successful, heavy-duty mounder for a reforestation site prep company operating out of LaCrete called Forest Trotter. Again, the concept started with the customer. In this case, Forest Trotter wanted something suitable for extended use in a northern climate. The mounder needed to be fabricated using very heavy-duty steel so that its three teeth could break frozen ground apart without breaking apart itself. It consists of two-inch, QT100 plate steel with 3/4- inch plate for the moldboards. ABCO Industries built 25 of these 4,000 pound units.

All shape cutting is done on-site with the company’s state-of-the-art CNC plasma- oxy fuel cutting table. More recently, it has designed and built a V-plow site prep implement for Forest Trotter that can be attached to a track hoe. It consists of a three-inch centre shank with 1/2- inch thick steel wings to again function in tough ground conditions.

In terms of marketing his products, Schartner says he has received queries from the United States about his front grapple. Right now, he’s satisfied serving the local market because of the transportation costs associated with shipping the product longer distances. However, he’d entertain filling an order outside his immediate area if it was a volume deal.


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