Washington Contractor Specializes in Tethered Logging Operations

by | Sep 1, 2023 | 2023, September/October, TimberWest Magazine

INCHELIUM, Washington – Mark Gronlund was raised in a logging family, but he took an occupational detour before returning to the industry just a few years ago. Specializing in timber harvesting on steep terrain with tethered equipment, he purchased the first Ecoforst T-Winch 30.2 in Washington earlier this year.

Gronlund’s father was a logger for 48 years. (He had an uncle who logged for 50 years.) Gronlund worked for local contractors during summers while attending Spokane Community College, where he earned an associate degree in diesel and heavy equipment technology. “I bumped knots and was just a ground guy,” he recalled, referring to the manual work of delimbing and bucking with a chainsaw.

Gronlund moved to North Dakota when he was 22 to work as a mechanic and was there about 15 years, eventually owning his own shop. When the local economy started going downhill in 2019, he moved back to Washington and started S&G Industrial to do excavator piling – using excavators to form piles of logging slash. He got a taste of tethered excavator piling and saw an opportunity to do tethered logging because there weren’t many contractors in the region doing it. “So, I decided to just jump in and try it out, and it turned out to be very successful.” He’s been doing tethered timber harvesting since 2021.

Gronlund’s company is based in Inchelium, which is located on the edge of the Colville Indian Reservation in northeast Washington, about 80-plus miles northwest of Spokane. S&G Industrial has 22 employees, which includes four who do excavator piling. The company’s main customer is the Colville Tribal Federal Corporation, a business entity of the confederation of 12 tribes.

The confederation has 1.4 million acres of timbered land that it owns and manages. Most of the work performed by S&G Industrial involves thinning, and the tribe replants land to maintain sustainable forests. Gronlund’s company has been working on the reservation since late 2019, and he expects the work to continue into the foreseeable future. His wife, Lori, is a member of the tribe and assists with the business.

From left, Mark Gronlund, owner of S&G Industrial, and Jason Newton, owner of NEWTEC, an equipment dealer in Kettle Falls, Washington, for Ecoforst.

While the reservation land keeps his team busy most of the time, Gronlund occasionally works on private land and does post-logging cleanup work for Vaagen Brothers Timber.

S&G Industrial usually operates two crews of five people each. Two employees are mechanics working in the shop, and there are two dedicated truck drivers. The rest of the hauling is contracted to other trucking companies. The crews average a combined 100 loads per week.

Beside the Ecoforst T-Winch 30.2, S&G Industrial is equipped with two more Ecoforst T-Winch units, the smaller 10.2 models. For felling the company uses a Tigercat 830 feller buncher and a Tigercat 855 harvester with a directional felling head. A pair of Cat 538LL machines with Satco attachments do the processing work, and loading is done with two Cat 538LL log loaders. The company has four skidders: John Deere 848LL-II, 748L-II and 768 machines, and a Tigercat 625. Five Kobelco excavators – three model 170, a 130 and a 120 – are used for piling slash and brush.

The Ecoforst T-Winches are used to tether machines both for felling and skidding. They tether the Tigercat feller buncher and harvester and typically tether the John Deere 768 six-wheel drive bogie skidder or the Tigercat 625 bogie skidder.

Gronlund, 34, explained why he invested in a third Ecoforst T-Winch. “I went with the T-Winch because of the ease of use and setup,” he said. “It takes up a much smaller footprint. Other tether systems, like the excavator-mounted ones, you’ve got the length of the excavator, then the boom, the lead, plus your tethered machine. The T-Winch eliminates a lot of that distance. And since it’s remotely operated, one person can run both machines.”

The winch’s production can’t be beat, according to Gronlund. “We produce as much or more than a lot of conventional tractor systems. We do work long hours, but for the amount of production you get, it’s well worth the purchase price.” He also appreciates the speed, capacity, and fuel economy, which has helped keep production costs low.

Ecoforst 30.2 T-Winch, shown with skidder, can tether machines up to 176,000 pounds. It has a line speed of 5 mph, making it suitable for fast-paced skidding operations.

Ecoforst T-Winch machines do not require any electronics or hydraulics integrated into the tethered forestry machine. It can be operated via remote control from the tethered logging machine. This saves time when loggers need to tether to multiple machines to be winched. The operator of the logging machine also operates the T-Winch, which can be driven and anchored in place via the remote controls.

The smaller Ecoforst 10.3 T-Winch is capable of tethering machines up to 100,000 pounds; the new 30.2 model can tether machines up to 176,000 pounds. The 10.3 unit has a line speed of 2.5 mph; the 30.2 has a line speed of 5 mph, which makes it suitable for fast-paced skidding operations.

Ecoforst is an Austrian company. (For more information on Ecoforst and its T-Winch products, visit www.ecoforst.at.) Ecoforst T-Winch products are distributed in North America by Wisconsin-based LMS Equipment. (For more information on LMS Equipment or to contact the company, visit www.lmsjcb.com.)

S&G Industrial’s new Ecoforst 30.2 T-Winch recently was working on a 170-acre site that had multiple finger ridges. The ridges would not allow moving the skidder straight down the hillside.

Tigercat 625H skidder gets an assist from one of S&G Industrial’s two Ecoforst T-Winch machines. S&G specializes in logging on steep terrain with tethered equipment. The company bought the first Ecoforst T-Winch 30.2 in Washington earlier this year.

“We had to do a lot of double tethering,” said Gronlund. “We’d move one T-Winch down on the ridge and tether up to the top of that ridge. Then we’d hook another skidder to the small T-Winch and tether up to the top where the road is.”

The confederation provides its own forest management services and sells its wood products. Gronlund and his team harvest, process, and truck the timber to the appropriate mills. The current harvest is approximately 75 percent Douglas fir. Other species are Douglas or ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine, and some cedar and spruce. Logs are delivered to the three Boise Cascade mills in the region as well as Vaagen Bros. in Colville and Idaho Forest Group in Laclede, Idaho. Gronlund also delivers wood to Western Forest Products in Cle Elum in eastern Washington.

Throughout the four years Gronlund has been in business, the biggest challenge has been hiring workers, specifically equipment operators. He believes in hiring local employees as a way to give back to the community.

Gronlund has a very high standard for equipment maintenance. Besides employing two full-time mechanics, he also relies on NEWTEC in Kettle Falls for parts and factory service.

S&G Industrial follows a ‘no trash’ policy when it comes to finishing the job and leaving the site. Everything that’s hauled in has to be hauled out. “I’ve been to logging sites and seen buckets and grease tubes and other debris, and that’s a big no-no with our business,” said Gronlund. “We believe that if it wasn’t supposed to be there, it shouldn’t be there.”

Dawn Killough

Author

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