Galen Kuykendall LoggingTaking on the Steep Slope Challenge

Galen Kuykendall Logging, Orofino, Idaho

By Barbara Coyner

Galen Kuykendall chased a dream of playing college football, but he ultimately opted to move back to his hometown, where for 20 years he has coached the football team at Orofino High School, his alma mater. The guy loves a challenge, competition, and strategy. So, it’s no surprise that Kuykendall decided to tackle winch-assisted steep slope logging for some of his timber contracts in north central Idaho’s Clearwater region. More than a year into the game, he’s still polishing his technique, but seeing definite progress. This is a game he likes.

Kuykendall selected the 855 Tigercat in part because of its sturdiness and stability on hillsides.

Learning from the Best

There are several reasons we moved this way, but the biggest reason was safety,” says the 53-year-old Orofino, Idaho, native of the new winch-assisted system. “That’s the whole reason this method was designed. They’ve been doing it in New Zealand for quite a while. Potlatch Corporation, who we work for, put it out there for us to consider.”

Taking the first step toward transitioning to the new ways was critical. Kuykendall met up with Frank Chandler of Technical Forest Solutions (TFS). Chandler, owner of C & C Logging, has become fluent in steep slope techniques, equipment, and outcomes, so he worked closely with Kuykendall to devise the best system for dealing with steep slopes.

“I learned a lot from Frank,” says Kuykendall of Chandler, whose company is based in Kelso, Washington. Chandler got into winch-assisted steep slope concepts after visiting New Zealand in 2013. “Every day is a learning curve,” Kuykendall continues. “I’m kind of excited about where we’re going with this. We went over to the coast with the Potlatch people, and they sent people over here, so we’ve really seen good support from everyone.”

Galen Kuykendall LoggingWorking with the 855 Tigercat is a 330B Cat as the tether for the twin-line traction winch system — the innovative Tractionline. Kuykendall says the winch system is “well-built and it’s definitely built for safety

Sturdiness and Reliability

As for equipment, Kuykendall placed his bets on a grapple saw approach. The choice was important, and also still somewhat unusual for the region, according to Chandler. “There aren’t a lot of these in our area,” Kuykendall agrees.

“We researched really hard,and the grapple saw had more applications we could use. It enables us to cut strips for the yarder, and it just gives us more options. It’s easier to cut going downhill. The grapple just allows us to cut the stump closer to the ground.”

With a variety of good base machines on the market, Kuykendall selected the 855 Tigercat, citing its sturdiness and stability on hillsides. The Tigercat and its Tigercat grapple have been paired with a 330B Cat as the tether for the twin-line traction winch system, the innovative Tractionline. He says the winch system is “well-built and it’s definitely built for safety. It’s a good product.”

Once all the equipment was rounded up, Kuykendall and operator Bart Walker went to work with traction lines and radio controls, experimenting with what worked best in terms of getting production up to speed. Kuykendall has high praise for Walker and his abilities, and notes that production is going up.

Galen Kuykendall LoggingNew, Different, and Safer

“We’ve tried out a lot of ideas to see what works,” says Kuykendall. “We’ve bunched for the yarders, shovel logged, and tried having the Tigercat bring the logs to the landing. We have to see what works for us and for Potlatch. But this whole system keeps our people safer, and that is what was intended when they developed the system.”

Galen Kuykendall LoggingKuykendall employees 34 and is proud that many of them are long-term.

Kuykendall clearly is sold on the new way of doing things. “This technology is fast and amazing. It gets expensive to keep up with the changes, but you’ve got to try new things and you’ve got to keep up.”

Frank Chandler echoes Kuykendall in his evaluation of the emerging way of doing things. “The 855 with the grapple saw is relatively new, and it’s definitely different from a hot saw. The 855 is a light machine with good swing power, so there are quite a few of these machines in use. Winch-assist is the safest, most productive system on the market. The 855 has a very stable platform, it’s comfortable and very smooth and well-engineered. And the grapple saw gets the guys off the ground. It can totally eliminate choker logging, which is one of the most dangerous jobs out there. The younger guys are really liking this way of doing things, and it’s a whole lot easier on the body.”

Researching for the Future

With a loyal crew of 34 employees, many of them long-term, Kuykendall values the safety of his workers. For now, he’s doing one application with winch-assisted, still setting up a tower yarder and relying on a couple of choker setters to get logs to the landing. He also keeps five stroke delimbers busy, harvesting timber mostly around the remote Headquarters area, two hours out of Orofino. The terrain is steep, densely wooded, and has historically stayed in the hands of Potlatch Corporation, which began its tenure in the Idaho woods around 1900 under the Weyerhaeuser timber syndicate. Kuykendall has three yarder sides and a shovel logging side, and his five Link Belt 240XZ stroke delimbers have kept good production numbers. But as the machines age, Kuykendall is eyeing new dangle-heads.

Galen Kuykendall LoggingIn addition to this Link-Belt 3740 operated by Rod Corder, Kuykendeall utilizes five Link Belt 240XZ stroke delimbers.

“I’m researching that now,” he says, expressing an interest in a Komatsu 290 with a quad Southstar dangle-head. He’s had a Komatsu 390 in the past and likes some of the features. “The stroke delimber was king in its day, but now I am looking ahead. I will start with one and see what we think.”

Always alluding to his goal to satisfy Potlatch Corporation and nearby sawmills at Lewiston, Grangeville, and Weippe, Kuykendall often confers with company foresters on the latest and the greatest. But knowing the high cost of changing into new equipment, he does his homework thoroughly, as wife Mary keeps an eye on the books.

Riding the Roller Coaster

Coaching the local football team as he sees the last of his three children graduate from high school this year, Kuykendall and his wife have watched the ups and downs of logging as a profession, but he seems to hang on well with the roller coaster ride. Maybe it’s his coaching savvy. And maybe logging is just in his genes. Kuykendall’s dad worked in a sawmill, so his son gravitated toward woods work after college. “It got in my blood,” says Kuykendall, who attended Columbia Basin College and Lewis-Clark State College, where he majored in business, but liked football more. “I liked the competitive nature of working in the woods.”

Galen Kuykendall LoggingSetting chokers for Richard Morgan in his early twenties, Kuykendall got a good break when he signed on with Medley Logging. “I worked hard for Dick,” says Kuykendall, referring to owner Dick Medley. “He was looking to get out, so he set me up and mentored me. It was a state-of-the-art company at that time, and he gave me an opportunity.”

That was 30 years ago. These days, Kuykendall’s company runs five logging trucks of its own and also works with 20 gypo truckers. The goal is to get 50 loads out a day when the crews are all up and running. Innovative and reliable equipment, with good crew members in a safe environment, are key strategies.

“Logging is always changing technologically, and it’s really evolved, changing to much more mechanical,” says Kuykendall. “I’m just one of those guys that it just gets into my blood to try new things. We have good people working for us, and I am proud of them. In all, it’s a great industry. Things are cutting edge all the time, and that’s important to our business. The timber industry is constantly changing, and we’re changing with it.”

TimberWest November/December 2013
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