Northwest Loggers Move to Cut-to-Length;

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Vaughn Bay Lumber Relies on Valmet Processing Head and Forwarder to Thin Forest for Simpson Timber

CENTRALIA, Wash. — East of Interstate 5, somewhere in the vicinity of Centralia, Wash., the roads get suddenly smaller. But Jim Wark, territory manager at Kelso-based PBI Machinery, seems to know his way around. The white pick-up makes a few turns, and shortly we find ourselves on a man-made trail deep into the woods.

Just a couple of months ago, there was no way to drive around here. When Vaughn Bay Lumber Co. began this harvesting project in the middle of a forest for Simpson Timber, a big local sawmill company, it started by concentrating on the daily commute. Modern loggers need to be adaptive, even taking up road construction tasks every once in a while.

Speaking of adaptive loggers, Vaughn Bay’s operations are different compared to the long wood being hauled by trucks on the Interstate. Vaughn Bay is utilizing cut-to-length harvesting in this particular job. As Simpson Timber evaluated the thinning job — removing the smaller trees and leaving the largest — they came to the conclusion that cut-to-length would be the best alternative for the forest as well as the loggers.

Companies such as Vaughn Bay Lumber are willing to consider new opportunities. After all, the keys to success in modern logging are similar to any other business. Efficiency and the ability to adapt to new technologies are commonly required. At the same time, comfort and sustainability are appreciated, too. When Simpson Timber suggested cut-to-length to Vaughn Bay’s owners, Dale and Tom Van Slyke, the brothers were all set and ready to go in practically no time.

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Vaughn Bay needed machinery that would most efficiently fit the job of thinning a large area for Simpson. After considering several alternatives, Vaughn Bay chose the Timbco-Valmet combination suggested by Jim: a Timbco T-425D track feller-buncher paired with a Valmet 965 harvesting head, and a Valmet 860 forwarder.

The Timbco T-425D is equipped with a 2-foot main boom extension and an 8-foot hydraulic squirt stick boom, providing a reach of about 31 feet. It has a patented two cylinder, four-way hydraulic leveling device that enables the machine to operate on a level even in slopes up to 55 degrees. The Valmet 965 harvesting head utilizes the Maxi Head computer system. The Valmet 860 forwarder is an eight-wheel machine equipped with 700mm tires and Eco-Tracks on both front and rear sets of drive tires, providing high flotation with minimal ground disturbance.

“This combination has all the elements for successful cut-to-length harvesting in Washington’s tough conditions,” said Jim. “The Timbco harvester is not afraid of even the steepest slopes, and along with Valmet’s top-notch head and agile forwarder, I believe both the loggers and the forest are in the best of hands.”

Arriving at a point where the narrow road just about ends, it is time to step out and start looking — or listening — for the Vaughn Bay machinery. A muffled roar can be heard from a distance, so into the woods we go.

In a short while, the white harvester can be seen through the trees, moving swiftly from side to side with admirable accuracy. Jim Stennett is operating Vaughn Bay’s Timbco T-425D, cutting with a surgeon’s touch, it seems. The machine and the Valmet head leave practically no trace of their presence. Despite the rugged terrain, the Timbco seemingly has no trouble maneuvering and moves swiftly and smoothly to each tree.

A few hundred feet behind, the red forwarder is following the harvester. Dale is running the Valmet 860 forwarder, picking up the wood that Jim has processed. Thanks to the eight wheels and Eco-Tracks, the Valmet 860 forwarder can move heavy loads through the forest while reducing soil disturbance and conserving the forest floor. Besides being an efficient way of harvesting, cut-to-length also helps loggers to conserve forest resources.

The woods are thick with mosquitos, although Dale and Jim have survived almost until noon without insect repellant. The machines provide them with all the comfort one could ask for. For the sake of the visitors, though, Dale retrieves the repellant from his truck so they can take a closer look at the job on which he and Jim are working.

“This is actually quite a challenging task,” said Jim. “We cut down only small trees, leaving the rest of the forest as untouched as humanly possible. The Timbco’s long boom reach and good lift really help. The terrain is wet and slippery, which puts even more pressure on the agility and torque of the machinery.”

These kind of circumstances are also where cut-to-length harvesting is at its best. The machines enable the loggers to cut and harvest selectively and to conserve natural resources. Even in the steep slopes of Washington and Oregon, the cut-to-length machines prove their ability to operate and perform well under difficult conditions. For both the loggers and the forest, it is the right application for this job.

“This feels so much better than other methods,” said Dale, referring to the forwarder’s ability to maneuver in the thick woods. “It’s so much more efficient. This is clearly the most comfortable way of logging.”

Jim Wark gives Dale and Tom all the credit for being able and willing to see beyond the comfort zone. Being a frontrunner of a new system can be challenging at times, but the people at Vaughn Bay managed to adapt quickly.

Loggers who have been conducting tree-length harvesting for years are comfortable with it and may not even consider trying a different logging method, noted Jim Wark. “Up here,” he said, “loggers are simply so used to tree-length harvesting that often they just don’t even think about alternatives. Even on an uneven surface, though, cut-to-length is always worth considering.”

As far as Dale and Jim are concerned, they are happy to be able to show others the way. “Maintaining the forests is vital for every one of us,” said Jim. “Guys like us get our living from it, and all of us can enjoy it recreationally. The modern machinery really help us to preserve the forests. They leave practically no trail, and it is easy to perform all kinds of harvesting tasks with these — depending on the age of the forest, what kind of trees it has or what kind of trees we are specifically looking for.”

Bug repellent has been sprayed on, and the preliminaries of modern logging in Washington have been displayed. Next, it is time to see the advantages of cut-to-length harvesting from the logger’s point of view.

In the forwarder, there is surprisingly a lot of room for two people, and I climb in the back. Dale does not seem to make any adjustments to his work. Even though he is in nearly constant communication with Jim, who is operating the Timbco again, Dale manages to squeeze in a short interview as the work progresses. “Hey, during most days it is just the two of us in here,” he said. “It is nice to have visitors every once in a while. Besides, the mosquitos like newcomers. Guess they are getting tired of our blood,” he adds with a smile, maneuvering the boom to pick up another log.

Since Vaughn Bay began its work here, visitors have not been that uncommon. Students from local colleges have come to the site to watch and learn about cut-to-length logging. “Education is so important,” said Dale, “especially in this kind of business where equipment develops all the time. As people learn how the new machinery operates and find out about their advantages, many assumptions are replaced with real facts about how to better maintain our forests.”

Vaughn Bay has been operating in the area for a couple of months now, and there is still a lot of work left to do. As Dale steers the forwarder, he talks about the efficiency of cut-to-length harvesting and the comfortable working environment of the machines. The experience with cut-to-length has left him with little to complain about.

“With this machinery, everything has gone just great,” said Dale. “Obviously, getting used to an all-new system took some time, but as PBI was around to help us, it was no problem.”

As Jim Wark had pointed out on the way to the site, the training session was efficient but intense. The Vaughn Bay crew learned almost surprisingly quickly and was ready to start operating soon. PBI representatives made themselves available on site for another month afterward to help Vaughn Bay make a smooth transition to the new equipment.

There were only a few brief setbacks during the break-in period. “A couple of broken hoses, some minor electrical things — just those things that always happen every once in a while,” Dale recalled. “All in all, I am very satisfied — almost positively surprised — both with these machines and with cut-to-length harvesting in general.”

Watching Dale swiftly operate the Valmet forwarder, it is obvious that he knows what he is talking about. His experience from tree-length harvesting helps to put things in perspective.

Loggers in the Pacific Northwest tend to choose tree-length harvesting because they have done it for years and are used to it, Dale agreed. “Sure, it was a big step for Vaughn Bay as well. We did a lot of thinking and calculating, weighing the alternatives and options. Choosing the best possible machines for this project, as well as for the future, was a big task, and even more effort had to be put in switching to cut-to-length method. Simpson Timber was a huge factor in this. As a matter of fact, it was originally their idea. They came up with the project and suggested that we would carry it out using cut-to-length. This particular task really helped us in making this kind of a long-term commitment.”

Certainly, investing in new forest machines is not something that loggers want to do quickly, not to mention leaning on one project. Since the Vaughn Bay crew has learned how to use the equipment, they are a little more relaxed. The investment seems to be paying off very well. The work is going productively and efficiently, and the men like it.

In a short time, the forwarder has a full load to take to the road, where it will be transferred to a truck to be taken to Simpson’s sawmill. We head out of the forest, along the trails, and eventually reach the highway. The Timbco can be heard in the distance. The working day continues in the woods of Washington.