By Jan Jackson
KC VanNatta, of VanNatta Brothers Logging, did not see the Quadco 4400 feller head on display at the February 2020 annual logging conference in Eugene, Oregon. However, his brother Robert did. When Robert told him how it would let a single operator cut and control the placement of trees up to 48 inches in diameter and then load them on the truck, KC headed for the Internet to find out how he could get one. Eight months later, VanNatta’s crew was operating the first — and only — feller head of its kind in North America.
The Quadco 4400 (QB4400) was invented by New Zealander Paul Ricco to harvest the fast growing, but brittle and limby, Radiata pine. Quadco saw the need for it in North America and about two years ago, they bought the patent, tweaked the design, and started production.
Kirk Luoto, Northwest Forestry Specialist Territory Manager for Modern Machinery’s Portland office, facilitated the sale.
“I’ve known KC for many years and wasn’t surprised that he would be interested in adding the QB4400 to his operation,” Kirk said. “As a private landowner, his 1500-acre mixed rotation operation was a perfect match, and he had a big enough machine to put it on.” The 4400 will handle big trees because of the maximum sock that can do a 50 or 55-inch bar. Kirk adds that the QB4400 can update a logger’s old equipment for the 21st Century.
“I was there three or four different times talking to him about the machine, talking about the head, and making sure we got the right measurements so we could get the correct adapter Quadco was custom making for it. We had some challenges mounting it up to his machine because of all of the electronics involved but we were prepared for it and made it work.” Luoto notes that his main job was keeping KC in communication with Quadco to make sure everything happened smoothly.
“KC has done some pretty amazing things out there already. It was so amazing to watch him work. He knows exactly what he wants to do, understands what’s best for his property, and is very well set up to do it,” adds Luoto.
VanNatta’s Tree Farm
VanNatta Brothers Tree Farm, located near Rainier, Oregon, was developed on property that has been in the family since George VanNatta moved his family there in 1940.
“My dad, who was a lawyer, and his building contractor friend, had two things on their mind when they bought the land on which we still operate,” says KC. “They wanted to get their families out of St. Helens before the war broke out, and they wanted to follow their dream of starting a cattle ranch. The land they found was covered with willows, maples, snags, and black stumps from a previous forest fire and defective Douglas fir that the Deer Island Logging Company had rejected.” (KC says, “Some of these big Douglas firs were head-high when Dad moved me here as a five-year-old.”) When George VanNatta bought his partner out, the family developed their tree farm and logging operation — although KC still keeps some cattle to control the grass.
KC is enthusiastic about the QB4400’s contribution to the bottom line. “My interest in the QB4400, is that I can harvest and load both the big ones for the domestic market, the smaller eight to 19-inch stuff for export, and do it all with my three-man crew. Before, to do the same things, I had to bring in two tree fallers at $700 a day.” Being able to control the direction of the falling tree decreases the damage and contributes to additional savings.
Although KC purchased the QB4400, his son Jeff is running the machine, and KC says the learning curve has been steep. “He’s finding out it’s all between the operator and the tree, and you have to get everything right.”
The Learning Curve
Jeff VanNatta, who was born and raised on the family tree farm, has been the sole operator to date. Armed with a degree in Industrial Safety and Health from Oregon State University and seven years of night school courses in nuclear machining, he is the most experienced operator of their Caterpillar 330 forest machine.
“I was used to running feller bunchers and bar saws, but I had never run a bar saw on a feller buncher before,” says Jeff, adding that when he began using the QB4400, an operations manual did not exist, and there were no owners in the area to whom he could turn to for advice, so he bent the bar on his very first tree. “After a couple of days and a couple of bent bars, I started to get the feel of when to stop cutting on the tree — the big question is, just when to stop.”
Even so, he notes, “Now I carry an extra bar and lots of extra chains so I can change them in the woods. My advice is to have spare bars and extra chains and maybe a fifty-ton press for straightening bars.”
With some time on the QB4400, Jeff now finds it easy to operate although he feels it is something every operator will have to figure out. “You can let go of the trigger, and the bar will come back and then pull a trigger again, and it’ll go back in and cut some more. You can sneak up on it that way, but you can also cut too much at one time, and then you have an issue. You can see the tree start to move, but you may still have four inches of wood left. If you don’t get it cut down to maybe an inch-and-a-half or so, it’s going to split up the side of the tree.”
Jeff instructs, “On the smaller trees, upward pressure before sawing causes the tree to turn off-stump. On the larger trees, you watch the sawdust for the color of the bark. But it’s falling trees over 36 inches where the QB4400’s 270-inch saw rotation really shines! This means you can place the head against the right side of the tree, swing the saw all the way out, cut the face, and then move the head to the back side and fall it.”
In addition to the 9,000-pound QB4400, the VanNattas also have the Jewell feller buncher package on their machine, which makes a combined weight of around 110,000 pounds, says Jeff. “The point is, you want it on a big machine, and you want it on a shovel-front or a feller buncher boom assembly that’s designed for this activity — and not on a machine with the 45-foot boom.”
Quadco Weighs In
Joel Dupré, Northwest sales rep for Quadco, is optimistic about the future for Quadco’s new feller heads.
“We had a lot of interest in the QB4400 at the conference, and then COVID came along and threw water on everybody’s fire,” says Joel. “The beauty of this product is you have basically a controlled fall head so you can lay the tree where you want it. With a regular felling head, you’ve got to be pointed the correct direction, and then once you cut that tree off the stump it’s going, its free-falling, and it crashes to the ground. This machine places it on the ground. It’s just a great multi-purpose tool.”
Quadco manufactures the QB4400 in Kamloops, B.C., and Joel notes that it takes about a week to assemble “from the time it’s a piece of metal until final assembly.” QB4400s are currently being assembled with expectations that they will be delivered to the showroom by the end of January.Quadco is also working on a 3500 and a 2500, which means, says Joel, “We will have a small, medium, and large.
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