Winch-Assist Approach Makes Its Way To East

by | Mar 1, 2023 | 2023, Harvesting, March/April, New Technology, TimberWest Magazine

LEWISBURG, WEST VIRGINIA

Zach Hubbard had to rely on chainsaws and felling by hand on steep ground where his feller buncher could not function safely. That changed a few months ago when he invested in a new TimberMax T20HD traction-winch package.

Hubbard, who owns and operates Zach Hubbard Logging Inc., reports that in the first couple of months of use the TimberMAX T20HD winch enabled him to significantly increase production, improve safety for his crew, and lower his worker’s compensation insurance premiums. He just wishes he had bought it sooner.

West Virginia, the only state wholly within Appalachia, is nick-named the Mountain State, its highest peak at 4,800 feet. Its forests are 75 percent mixed hardwoods containing high value red and white oak, yellow poplar, maple, cherry, with a little bit of hemlock and spruce. Clearcutting is the primary harvest method.

Mike Moran, a lead forester for Weyerhaeuser, said that safety is a top priority for Weyerhaeuser. However, winch-assisted timber harvesting, with cutters tethered to an anchored or stable winch at the peak of a summit, has been slow to develop in the East, he noted.

TimberMAX Traction-Winch

From left, Zach Hubbard and Kelway Cox, president of TimberMax North America. Cox was on hand to lend Hubbard Logging a hand with the start-up of the company’s new TimberMax T20.

“Challenges in implementing traction assist technologies in West Virginia have a lot to do with our lower timber volumes and smaller contractors because that means less money per acre to spend on equipment,” said Moran. “But because safety is a core value for us, Weyerhaeuser is actively supporting the push toward traction-winch technology. We also appreciate the fact that the operators no longer must bulldoze skid trails to get equipment down to extract the timber, making the system better for environmentally sensitive areas.”

Hubbard, 28, was willing to consider the technology, which has come into its own in the West and in other countries.

“Change is always hard, and there are plenty of people who will tell you, ‘That won’t work here,’ ”observed Moran. “Zach was willing to look at the new technology as a challenge. Everyone said it wouldn’t work in their area. Zach stood up to them and said, ‘I think it will, and I’m going to try it.’ Zach is a good operator and a good example of the younger generation continuing in the business.”

When Hubbard expressed interest in a winching system, Moran arranged a meeting with Kelway Cox, president of TimberMAX North America, who flew from British Columbia to visit Zach’s job site. Hubbard wanted to try the equipment himself, so the three of them flew to British Columbia to visit a logging site that was using a TimberMax winch. Once Hubbard tried it, it didn’t take him long to see that it would work for his application in West Virginia.

Hubbard comes from a logging family. His father was a logger, as well as his paternal grandfather. He began helping his father as a boy and then worked for him until deciding to go into business for himself. He bought out his father in January and got his TimberMAX T20HD soon after.

Hubbard’s business is based in Lewisburg, which is in southern West Virginia, close to the state line with Virginia and near the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. He and his crew of nine cut exclusively for Weyerhaeuser. Conditions are not as favorable in the winter, which is rainy. However, the biggest challenge is the fluctuating hardwood markets, he said.

“It’s still logging, but it’s a different ball game over here,” Hubbard said. “Where the West’s market fluctuates some, the West pretty much cuts the same thing all year. Here, we have a much larger variety, and we only cut what is selling at the time. It may be wood for pulp one week, fine furniture next, and veneer the week after that.”

TimberMAX Traction-Winch

Trailer-mounted loaders, a Cat 559C in foreground and a John Deere 437E behind it, process hardwood logs at the landing with pull-through delimbers and slasher saws.

Hubbard supplies saw logs to the AFP sawmill in Buckhannon, West Virginia, peeler logs to the Columbia Forest Products plywood mill in Craigsville, West Virginia, and pulp to the WestRock paper mill in Covington, Virginia. The company has seven trucks to haul logs, three of them currently running full-time.

Beside the TimberMAX T20HD winch, which is attached to a John Deere 350G excavator, Hubbard’s company is equipped with a TimberPro TL 755D track harvester, a Tigercat 635H skidder, two John Deere 748L-II skidders, two trailer-mounted loaders (a John Deere 437E and a Cat 559C), and a John Deere 850K bulldozer.

TimberMax, based in Quebec, Canada, specializes in versatile traction winch attachments that enable logging machines to operate in steep terrain. Its winches can be attached directly to a harvester, feller buncher, skidder, or other machine. TimberMax traction winches improve production and safety while reducing ground disturbance.

TimberMAX offers a number of different models with varying capability. The TimberMAX T20HD is one of the most powerful, capable of pulling 20 tons. It comes complete with the winch unit, hydraulic components, and an iWinch Control system. It features a built-in spooling device and remote control for easy rig-ups. TimberMAX also offers a self-propelled traction winch.

(For more information about TimberMAX, visit www.timbermax.ca.)

His crew “thought I was crazy” for buying the winch, said Hubbard, but it has provided a big boost in production. “Before, on the steep ground that the cutter wouldn’t cut, we had to hand cut, and it knocked production down to probably three or four loads, maybe five loads a day. Now, with the T20HD, we are up to 12, 13, 15 loads a day, and there is not much difference in cutting on flat or steep ground.”

TimberMAX Traction-Winch

TimberPro TL 755D track harvester working in hardwood. On steep ground it is tethered to the TimberMax T20HD winch.

Using the TimberMax T20HD winch on the excavator, tethering the TimberPro so it can work on steep ground, also improves safety, noted Hubbard. “Equipment is expensive, but I don’t think anybody’s life has a price tag on it. So if I can keep men off the ground, it’s worth it to me.”

The men in his crew have changed their mind about the TimberMAX T20 winch.

“First, they said they would quit before they had to run it,” noted Hubbard. “Then they were OK as long as I was running it. Now they can see it is going to work.” His father didn’t think the technology would work, either, but now he’s a believer, too.

Only one other logger in the area is using a winch-assist system to tether machines so they can work on steep ground, according to Hubbard. “But I expect tethering will pick up,” he added.

One of the biggest challenges for Hubbard going forward is labor. He has a good crew of workers with a lot of history with each other, but he is looking to add a couple more.

Hubbard and his wife have four children. When asked what he did for fun, he was quick to say travel.

“We have two girls and two boys ranging in age from a year-and-a-half, 3, 6 and 8, so travel for me right now is me and my wife hanging out on the beach, playing with the kids. If they’re happy, then I am, too.”

Jan Jackson

Author

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