Nov Dec, 2002






Jack Brown Logging Snags Forest Management Jobs With His Slashbusters®

By Morley Young

When John Brown described his Slashbuster® on the phone, he called it “a big rotary saw blade.” A closeup look at the machine confirmed John’s description. It also confirmed the fact that my mental picture was a little off-target. The Slashbuster® is a saw, but just as fencing rapiers and two-handed broadswords are both swords, there are saws, and then there are saws. The Slashbuster® is definitely in the broadsword class.

The 48-inch diameter head weighs 1,000 pounds and turns at 400-500 rpm. Anything that big doesn’t have to turn very fast to get the job done. When I visited John Brown on a jobsite for the Oregon State Forestry Division, I actually heard the machine before I saw it. There were a few medium-sized crashes, the grinding sound of wood being ripped to shreds, and behind it all, the muted purr of a diesel. Down a slope was a 320C CAT excavator with its boom shrouded by a cloud of dust. John Brown, seeing me, shut down the machine. He strolled up the hill with more ease than you’d expect of a man his size, and extended a thick, working-man’s hand in greeting. While we sat on the tailgate of my pickup, John explained that he had been in the woods all his working life, at first working for his father, Jack Brown, in tree planting preparation, then thinning Douglas fir plantations with a smaller Slashbuster®. “We saw these young plantations coming along, and we knew they’d have to be thinned. We tried to figure out a way where you could mechanically do that,” he says. “We settled on the Slashbuster® for the job. We could take out anything up to eight inches.” Today John Brown’s fleet consists of three HD 480 Slashbusters® mounted on 320C Caterpillar excavators, one on an older EL200, and one on a John Deere 200LC. John has settled on Caterpillars.

John Brown stands next to a sizable rotary blade.

The Business of Slash Disposal
And as forest management has taken on more importance, John, his son John, and his daughter Jenny, together with a few employees, have moved into the slash disposal business. The team goes into tracts that have been logged and, with the help of their “rotary saws,” chew up slash at an amazing rate. John calculates that on a job such as the present one, each machine can clear about two acres a day. This is all done without the high danger of accidental fires that burning entails. Although sparks occasionally fly in rocky ground, Jenny or someone like her is always there, vigilant for the slightest trace of smoke. John is well satisfied with the Slashbuster®: “I’ve looked around at different makes and this seems to be the best one for us. We’ve had real good experience with it.” With all the brute force associated with this machine, you’d think the maintenance would be fairly high. Not so. John says that the earlier models went through a hydraulic pump about once a year, but he’s been assured that the new pumps will last at least three times as long. “We make a living at this, and it seems to be a growing market,” John says, nodding toward the cleared land. “Sometimes a land owner will have to have the slash cleaned up right away, but it’s too dry to burn.” He pauses, and smiles a little. “That’s where we shine.”

Evolving Uses
The Slashbuster® was originally invented by David Milbourn and developed by D & M Machine Division Inc. as a tool to clear cross-country rights-of-way for utility companies. Now it’s coming into its own as an ecologically friendly, safe and selective method of treating a tract after the marketable trees have been harvested. In a selective logging operation, unmarketable trees are inevitably left standing. The Slashbuster® can take them down, although Dick Goldy of D & M Machine emphasizes that it is definitely not designed to be a tree faller. “The wood is heavily damaged in the cutting, and the only way you can direct the tree’s fall is with a good, deep notch and a hard nudge,” says Goldy. “The log can have big chunks of wood torn out of it in the cutting process. This is not a gentle machine. It’s designed to break the wood up, and it does just that.” Goldy adds that their recommended method of taking down a small tree is to go at it from the top down. That way, there is some resistance, which gives the teeth something to bite into. In a matter of minutes, the unwanted tree is a pile of chips.

New Era
The ill wind that blew fires across the West over the past few summers has blown Slashbuster® quite a bit of good. The disastrous wildfires have caused foresters to take a long, hard look at their methods. The conclusions seem so obvious now, we wonder why we didn’t see it all before. When the first loggers put their misery whips on their shoulders and went into the woods of the West, they entered an open, park-like forest, with huge trees safely separated from each other. John remembers talking to an old timer who could remember riding between the widely spaced trees in a farm wagon. Many western Indians helped the forests along by setting fire to the grasslands in late summer.

Rotary saw chew up the underbrush, and substantially reduce fire hazards.

The fires continued through the big trees, if there was enough fuel to support them. The result was a low-intensity fire that sometimes left harmless scars on the bark of the big trees, while it got rid of the underbrush. After almost a hundred years of trying to bend the laws of nature to fit our idea of what’s right, we have finally come full circle. Today’s foresters and loggers agree that sustained growth, selective cutting and keeping the undergrowth down will ensure a steady yield through succeeding centuries. Today, after a logging contractor has taken the marketable trees, as often as not, a Slashbuster® moves in. Trees that will never have any market value are taken down and chewed up along with the slash. The result is an open, sunlit forest of straight young trees. And people like John Brown and his crew will have had a hand in making this happen.


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