Changing Gears – With New Processor

by | Dec 18, 2023 | 2023, Harvesting, Logging & Sawmilling Journal, November/December

Boadie Forsyth reckoned the low-bed driver had pulled into the log yard to ask for directions. But the driver wasn’t lost. He knew exactly where he was. He had delivered the shiny new processor he’d been hauling to its new home. Furthermore, Forsyth was to become the machine’s first operator. By all accounts, Forsyth had a big smile on his face for the rest of that week.

Jarrett Mikelson’s company, AAA Logging Ltd., is based in his home town of Valemount, in east central British Columbia. It’s a small community tucked among the mountains near the border with Alberta.

Since that day in June 2023, Forsyth and the John Deere processor equipped with a Waratah cutting head have become much better acquainted. The team quickly started producing consistent volumes of high quality processed logs each shift. The positive results proved contagious downstream in the process. The loadermen were kept busier and the logging truck drivers were wasting less time waiting for a load to haul.

The new Deere processor’s seamless break-in period has been a welcome tonic and a preliminary measure of vindication for Jarrett Mikelson. It was he who made the decision to invest in a new processor rather than buy a used machine. It was an agonizing option to choose for a small logging company operating in uncertain times and conditions.

“It was the toughest decision I’ve had to make in the last five years of running this company,” he declared. “It’s a big gamble.” But the good start has certainly helped. “So far, I don’t have to worry about the new machine. I’m pretty happy about that.”

Mikelson’s company, AAA Logging Ltd., is based in his home town of Valemount, in east central British Columbia. It’s a small community tucked among the mountains near the border with Alberta.

Mikelson has been in the log harvesting business for more than 25 years, pretty much since leaving school. He formed AAA Logging when he started sub-contracting to his Dad, Vern, and his partner’s log harvesting enterprise in Valemount. Gradually, AAA Logging assumed more of the harvesting responsibilities from his Dad until the elder Mikelson retired about five years ago.

Buying new log harvesting equipment was not part of the family DNA. When the time came to replace a piece of logging equipment, the Mikelson’s would typically search for the best deal they could find on used equipment and then invest in it to keep it going, he remembered.  Mikelson’s existing processor had more than 24,000 hard earned hours on the clock. A replacement machine was at the top of AAA Logging’s priority list.

Mikelson said he and Forsyth invested considerable time looking at potential replacement processors, venturing as far east as Saskatchewan in the process. He said the common denominator among them was the rising cost of used replacement machines. Mikelson bit the bullet and Forsyth had himself a new equipment partner.

He purchased the John Deere 2154G tracked processor from the Brandt Tractor dealership in nearby Kamloops, B.C. It’s been upgraded in response to customer recommendations. The machine has a more powerful swing system than earlier models, a boost in horsepower and new hydraulics which together are designed to improve the machine’s overall production.

AAA Logging’s production machines include: two Deere loaders, a 2954 and a 2054; a Tigercat levelling 870C feller buncher; two Cat 545 skidders and a Hyundai R3026 road builder with bucket and a clam head attachment that does double duty as a hoe chucker.

The machine’s boom is fitted with the latest incarnation of Waratah’s proven HTH 622 B Series III harvesting head. Waratah says it includes new scanning and feeding systems. Mikelson added the new head has handled the range of butt sizes typically encountered in the region, with the occasional oversize stem.

AAA Logging’s other main production machines includes: two Deere loaders, a 2954 and a 2054; a Tigercat levelling 870C feller buncher; two Cat 545 skidders and a Hyundai R3026 road builder with bucket and a clam head attachment does double duty as a hoe chucker.

The company’s compact fleet of equipment is typically found working in the Valemount Community Forest. AAA Logging is the go-to contractor for the community forest’s AAC of 100,000 cubic metres. It includes a mix of species reflecting the diverse biogeoclimatic zones of the region. It supports spruce, Douglas fir, balsam, hemlock and cedar growth. The community forest’s tenures are geographically varied, too, lying northeast and southwest of the village of Valemount.

The community forest includes pretty demanding logging conditions. “It’s never flat ground around here,” observed Mikelson. “Conventional logging here means working on slopes from 35 to 50 per cent.”

Latterly, AAA Logging has taken on additional work for area landowners and ranchers. The work is not usually industrial logging. But they always try to leave the properties in better shape than when they arrived, he noted.

Valemount’s mountain valley setting has resulted in a growing year-round visitor industry. For forest planners and loggers, there are concerns about visual impacts of industrial activity. For example, leaving higher stumps in sensitive areas has been stipulated.

Logging systems and practices are changing. One of the results of that is the requirement for loggers to harvest smaller patches and do more stand thinning. That, in turn can lead to the necessity of moving equipment around more frequently. Mikelson was considering investment in his own low-bed to facilitate the growing trend. And have it available to rent for others around town.

AAA Logging’s fleet of equipment is typically found working in the Valemount Community Forest. AAA Logging is the go-to contractor for the community forest’s AAC of 100,000 cubic metres. It includes a mix of species reflecting the diverse biogeoclimatic zones of the region, and supports spruce, Douglas fir, balsam, hemlock and cedar growth.

The challenge of how to incorporate artificial intelligence into the forest harvesting sector fascinates many. In the meantime, finding qualified people to perform the necessary jobs or train them is a continuing challenge. Mikelson looks for common sense and a good work ethic in his employees. And when he finds it, he rewards them. “I expect them to work hard and I reward them when they do,” he said. Keeping equipment in sound mechanical shape helps, he added. It doesn’t make an operator’s day, having to cajole a tired machine through every shift. And it doesn’t do much for productivity.

Uncertainty has become the dominant mood clouding B.C.’s forest industry. The provincial government has compounded the situation with everything from the tardy issue of cutting permits and the offering of Crown timber through BC Timber Sales to the political determination of issues like the forest industry’s access to “old growth” forests in B.C. “The old growth deferrals took up to 20 per cent of the Valemount Community Forest’s gross area,” says Mikelson. “It’s nine per cent out of our timber harvest land base.” They are volumes which cannot be easily replaced.

The current set of uncertainties are particularly daunting but they are something the log harvesting sector has traditionally managed to accommodate. In AAA Logging’s case, that means looking ahead, investing in new harvesting equipment and planning for a better future.

Jim Stirling

Author

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