Mitchell Logging Moves to Full Mechanization

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Mechanization adds 40% production boost for New York logging company.

Timberline SDL2a Stroke Boom Delimber-Processor Easily Handles Hardwoods in New York’s Adirondack Mts.

TUPPER LAKE, New York — The Adirondack Mountains in northeastern New York are 500 million years old. They have been cut and scraped by glaciers and eroded by water. Still, they boast a fair share of peaks, such as Mt. Marcy at 5,344 feet and several others with tops above 3,000 feet.

Paul Mitchell has logged in the Adirondacks for 25 years, ever since he graduated from high school. Seventeen years ago, he established his own logging and excavation company. In 1998, he incorporated the successful business as Paul J. Mitchell Logging Inc.

Until this spring, Mitchell Logging relied on crews that used Husquvarna chainsaws to manually fell timber and remove limbs. Skidding was done with Timberjack and Caterpillar machines. By early summer, however, Paul had converted his logging operation to a fully mechanized one. Increased production and enhanced safety were among the outcomes Paul wanted to achieve with the change.

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Decades of experience with hardwoods tempered Paul’s expectations for mechanized logging. Being realistic, he never thought he would retire his chainsaws completely. “I anticipated using them two hours a day to clear limbs,” he said; instead, it has been more like two hours per week since the switch to mechanized logging.

The machine that has nearly supplanted the Husquvarna chainsaws is a Timberline SDL2a stroke boom delimber-processor. Paul, had many reasons for choosing the Timberline, which he purchased from CJ Logging Equipment, but the size of the limbs it can handle was one important consideration.

“We process 80 percent [or more] hardwoods — maple, birch, cherry, beech,” explained Paul. “I needed a delimber that would handle [trees] up to 30 inches diameter.” He got it, thanks to the powerful hydraulic cylinders that actuate the delimber’s grapple link mechanism with 3,650 psi of pressure.

Paul’s hopes for the performance of the Timberline have been met, and then some. He said, “It has been great so far. It can cut off a 10-inch diameter hardwood limb. It does a better job delimbing [than the chainsaw].”

What makes the Timberline delimber so good at removing hefty branches is its ability to cut “flush with the trunk better than the chainsaw,” said Paul. A grapple pressure-reducing system is standard on the SDL2a. It enables the grapple to closely follow the taper of the stem so the machine can remove limbs efficiently.

The thorough integration of the parts of the delimber also got Paul’s attention. “We looked at [other machines],” he said. “The Timberline is built from the ground up to go into the woods. [It isn’t] a conversion machine.”

A native of the Adirondack region, Paul takes the slopes of the mountains in stride. He needed a machine that could do the same. “We very seldom work on level terrain,” he said. The delimber has a 42-foot boom. Even with a reach that long, the Timberline’s stability is excellent, Paul reported.

Because of the mountainous terrain, Paul wanted superior leveling capability, a machine equally stable in the steep slopes of the woods as well as at the landing. He said he got it with the Timberline. The carriage is equipped with two cylinders to achieve four-way leveling, and the platform for the mount is part of the basic design.

In a word, Paul labeled the Timberline delimber-processor as “rugged.” He described it as “cleaner, not a lot of exposed parts.” The hoses to the grapple are contained in recesses or covered, reducing the potential for snagging.

Paul’s studied selection of equipment included testing demonstration models and having his employees try them out. “Long-time employees are key to my success,” he said. One employee has been with him for 17 years, two others more than 10 years. Several other workers are fast approaching a decade of service.

“I’ve been very fortunate [with employees],” said Paul. “[Their] input was crucial” in the choices of machines. In addition to helping Paul make the decision to purchase the Timberline, the employee field trials also explain why he bought a Timbco 445 feller-buncher and two Tigercat 630B grapple skidders.

Ask Paul about the Timbco feller-buncher and he responds with a quick list of attributes that make the machine a winner with him, including “leveling capabilities, zero tail swing, and the Quadco 2800 intermittent saw.” The length of time Timbco has been operating also helped to sell Paul. “It had been around the longest,” he said.

“It has worked out super great for us,” he said of the Timbco 445 feller-buncher. The machine’s Quadco saw head can cut trees at any angle, and it makes the Timbco even more versatile. For example, the flexibility in the tilt of the saw head means the feller-buncher does not have to keep moving into a new position. That translates into less fatigue for the operator and the machine. It also reduces the number of times the substrate is traversed and limits wear on the land, which helps keep ground disturbance to a minimum.

The Tigercat 630B grapple skidders got the nod from Paul because “operator comfort is superior.” He cited greater payload capabilities as another reason why he chose Tigercat. And prior experience with Tigercat persuaded him that he would continue to receive “excellent product support.”

Customer preferences dictate that most of the saw logs felled by Mitchell Logging must be cut to 8-foot to 16-foot lengths and pulpwood cut to 4-foot and 8-foot lengths before they are delivered. That means a lot of processing. Paul uses two Hood 24000 slashers with 60-inch circle saws, and he gave Hood Logging Equipment high marks for its equipment.

When Paul assesses the gains he has achieved with mechanization, he is extremely pleased. “I believe the quality of the work we can do is better,” he said. “There is a nicer look after we are done…and less damage to residual stands. [And there is] added production. So far we’ve gained probably 40% over what we were doing before. Our goal is 60%.”

The number of employees did not change with the shift to machines. However, even as employees were able to increase production with the machines, they trimmed a half-day off their schedule and now work just five days each week.

In the past, Mitchell Logging had to halt operations about six weeks of the year, from late March to mid-May, because the ground usually was too soggy to work during the spring thaw. With mechanization in place, Paul believes he will trim the spring down-time to just four weeks.

Higher production means Mitchell Logging will have to make some changes in its trucking arrangements. “We are doing between 1,200 and 1,300 tons weekly,” said Paul. To keep up with future increases in production, he will have to contract for some hauling. For now, two Western Star trucks, a 1998 tractor-trailer and a 1999 tri-axle with loader, handle all loads. “They’ve been very good trucks,” Paul said, who purchased the rigs from Logger’s Equipment Sales.

Two of the biggest employers in the Adirondack region are Finch, Pruyn & Co. in Glens Falls with 896 employees and International Paper Company in Ticonderoga with 514 employees. They are among the pulp and paper mills that Mitchell Logging supplies with logs.

The company also sells to sawmills that manufacture grade lumber, usually cherry and maple for the furniture industry and flooring. The mills include Tupper Lake Hardwood and a local concentration mill for A. Johnson Company, which is based in Bristol, Vt.

Tupper Lake is a village with about 4,000 residents. The first European settlers arrived from France in the 17th century. Today, tourism and wood products coexist as the community’s most important industries. So significant is the logging heritage that it is played out in yearly events, such as Woodsmen’s Field Days.

Tourists visit the area year around. Thanks to the more than 200 lakes the glaciers carved out, canoeing, fishing, boating and swimming rank as popular summer sports. The mountains are known for winter skiing. Lake Placid, 40 miles northeast of Tupper Lake, was the venue for the winter Olympics in 1932 and again in 1980.

Of course, the same snow that delights the sports minded — and sometimes disappoints them, as it did in 1980 — demands fortitude from loggers. “There are three to four feet of snow on the ground through the course of the winter,” said Paul, and winter temperature often dips to “20 degrees below zero.”

The winter weather does not diminish Paul’s enthusiasm for logging. He is a third generation logger. His grandfather came from Canada and logged with a contingent of employees. His father also worked as a logger. For a time, Paul’s father, who retired about 10 years ago, worked for him.

Paul said one of the things he likes best about logging is “being outdoors.” It was not until a few years ago that he realized that logging is his career. At first, he saw the business as something he would do until he found an endeavor that interested him as much. Logging won.

Travel and hunting white-tail deer are two of the activities Paul enjoys when he takes time away from his work. His wife, Mary, also works in the business, serving as the bookkeeper.

Just over six months after establishing a mechanized logging operation, Paul assesses the results as good. In fact, he sees the benefits adding up to more work.

“I believe the quality of work we can do in the woods, the nicer look…less damage to residual trees, and added production,” said Paul “[will bring more work]. The better job you do, the more work you get.”

The more work available, the “more selective” Mitchell Logging can be, explained Paul. “Finding good timber” is a requirement Paul ranks on the tier with retaining “good employees” as the essential elements for a sound business.

Increases in production rate and efficiency add to revenue in obvious ways. But improvements in safety realized with mechanization might add to the bottom line, too. Paul obtains workmen’s compensation coverage from the New York Lumbermen’s Insurance Trust Fund. The Fund, which was established in 1981, is a self-insured program for the logging and sawmill industry in the Empire State. And it offers safety incentives as well as a loss prevention department, both of which look favorably on changes that reduce risk.

Mitchell Logging cuts primarily for private landowners and consulting forestry companies. The greatest portion of the logging takes place within a 50-mile radius of Tupper Lake, a locale that is sometimes pointed to as the ecological center of six million acres of Adirondack forest.

Five million acres of the region’s tree-bearing land has been named the Adirondack State Park. Within the park boundaries there are forest conservation (preserve), private land and recreational areas. Logging in or near the park comes under the watchful eye of state foresters.

The division of Lands and Forests, a branch of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), has three bureaus. One bureau manages the four million acres of land actually owned by the state. The other two bureaus assist private landowners with the management of the 14.6 million acres of forested land in New York that are privately held.

Even though it does not cut on public land, Mitchell Logging typically requires permits of many sorts. For example, New York loggers usually must have permits for stream crossings.

Moreover, the DEC has a long list of regulatory matters on which it should be consulted so that it can evaluate and approve plans. The activities include clear-cutting or road construction in a wetland, harvesting near wild, scenic or recreational rivers, and clear-cutting over 25 acres in the Adirondack Park.

Paul explained that because the Adirondack Park “regenerates thicker than it should,” reseeding is rarely part of the work his company does. Most of the excavation work Mitchell Logging engages in is “for logging roads and cleaning up when loggers are done with jobs.”

The contemporary harmony between tourism and logging interests in the Adirondacks has been in place for over 100 years. The earlier history of inhabitants in the region was a bit more discordant. Battles of the Colonial Wars, the French and Indian War, the American Revolution and the War of 1812 took place on Adirondack soil. Long before European settlers fought, the Native Americans in the area had their own patterns of disagreement.

There are several ‘spins’ on the origin of the word Adirondack. The Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce attributes it to an Algonquin word — altered by Dutch settlers — meaning “those who eat trees.” The Chamber reports the Algonquin Indians used the word to disparage their enemies, the Iroquois. Some etymologists do not see the reference to eating trees as being entirely unkind and suggest it might have signaled a tough and resourceful nature.

In any case, the heavy machinery that loggers use in the third millennium might surprise all the people who trekked through the Adirondacks in earlier centuries. Moreover, equipment such as the Timberline SDL2a boom delimber-processor contributes to an efficient, effective timber harvesting operation.