C-T–L Equipment Helps Contractor to Adapt

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Valmet equipment put R.J. Cobb Land Clearing on new path to recove more value from wood.

BELLINGHAM, Mass. — Creative thinkers find a solution to every challenge. Consider the experience of Russ Cobb, the owner of R. J. Cobb Land Clearing Inc. Russ saw a market changing and devised a way to keep pace with it.

Three years ago, the needs of regular chip customers in northern New England began to decrease. Russ made the decision to switch revenue paths, sending the material harvested by his well-established land clearing company elsewhere. Wood salvaging became the focus. Until the changeover, or for 23 years of the firm’s 26-year history, most of the wood taken from cleared sites went to chips.

Thanks to advances in mechanized harvesting technology, which extracts the most useable wood from small trees, Russ envisioned a new method and a new product line. His goal, he said, became to “salvage everything possible” from trees at a site. In doing so, however, he did not want to be slowed down. In the land-clearing business contractors “try to get on and off the job as fast as possible,” he explained.

Looking for versatility, efficiency and speed, Russ added a Valmet 911 harvester and a Valmet 860 forwarder to his business. Both machines “fit in very well” with his revised approach, he said. As a result, R. J. Cobb Land Clearing, which prepares tracts for new shopping centers, roads, subdivisions and golf courses, now produces a steady stream of round wood. Depending on the quality of the logs, they are sold to sawmills to be turned into grade lumber or pallet lumber, or sold to other companies in order to be processed into firewood. Some harvested material still gets chipped.

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Partek Forest in Sweden, the manufacturer of the Valmet equipment, has a U.S. factory in Gladstone, Mich. Partek puts an emphasis on designing equipment that minimizes disturbance to forest resources. In fact, some conservation organizations that own forest lands use Valmet machines for select cutting, and they promote Valmet machines.

Mechanization with the use of cut-to-length equipment reduces logging trails and eliminates skidding. And the relatively light, agile machines, equipped with floatation tires, can operate with little impact to the ground surface. They leave a ‘clean’ job site that pleases customers.

The responsiveness of the Valmet equipment is a characteristic that was quick to get the attention of Russ.

Valmet offers an array of options for most of the major components of the harvester. For example, it is available in both four-wheel and six-wheel models. The company also offers various choices for equipping the crane on the harvester. The forwarder is an eight-wheel machine and may be fitted with ‘bogie’ tracks when ground conditions warrant.

Steep terrain is no problem for the Valmet machines. “You’ll go up and down steep slopes like nothing,” said Russ. The harvester “just crawls right up” hills as though the ground were flat, he said. In fact, the Valmet harvester and the forwarder can negotiate slopes that have as much as a 45% grade.

The Valmet harvester owned by Russ has a telescoping boom with a reach of 30 feet. The long reach reduces the need to move the machine, which speeds up production and also further minimizes disturbance of the substrate.

Russ bought his Valmet machines from Tom Barry, owner of Barry Equipment Inc. in Webster, Mass. Tom was not surprised that Russ saw an opportunity for adapting his business to cut-to-length equipment and acted on it because he had long known Russ to be “open-minded and innovative in approach.”

In addition to distributing Partek machines, Tom’s company also sells Peterson Pacific, Jonsered, LogLift, Prentice and Hydro-Ax lines. Tom has been in business since 1985, and he logged part-time in college while studying engineering.

Tom has a theory about why Russ has been so successful in reconfiguring his way of dealing with material removed during land clearing. “Probably the heart and soul of it,” said Tom, is Russ’s receptiveness to “innovation.” Russ is “willing to listen” to others, Tom explained.

In fact, Russ said he listens keenly to his son, David Cobb. David, who now runs the Valmet 911 harvester, did significant research on the capabilities of the machine. What David turned up, including testimonials and specifications, sold Russ on the equipment.

The sophisticated technology incorporated in the Valmet harvester and Valmet forwarder translates to a noticeable learning curve. But Russ said, “Once we got used to the machines, they’re unbelievable.” And he added, operators “can do more with them” the more they use the machines. David is “one of the best” Valmet operators in the country, said Russ, and collaborates regularly with Valmet about the ways that he is able to use the machine.

David started working with his father on Saturdays when he was old enough. He is both an employee and a technological expert on whom Russ often relies for advice and recommendations.

The Valmet harvester has a Valmet MaxiHarvester computer-based control system. The MaxiHarvester allows marking for cross-cutting. It also can track production and can be linked to an external computer system. The MaxiHarvester is offered in several versions, each with different features.

The Valmet 911 harvester weighs in between 33,000 and 37,000 pounds, depending on which components are selected. Russ continues to be impressed by its agility and maneuverability. “It’s incredible where it will go,” he said. “It’s very good in snow, on wet ground and on rocks.” Rocky terrain is common in New England, along with the snow and wet ground conditions.

The cab on the Valmet harvester can rotate through 315 degrees. This gives the operator a wide vantage from one position of the machine, especially because the cab and the crane both tilt in all directions. The forwarder has a rotating cab seat.

The Valmet machines are paired on job sites. The processing head on the harvester cuts the tree at the stump, and then feeds it through the head for delimbing and bucking. The forwarder follows in tandem, picking up the wood and moving it to trucks.

The harvester operator also makes hitches from the tops so skidders can move them to the chipper. For that reason, it is difficult to estimate production rates of the harvester, Russ noted. If there is one thing that can be said about land clearing, he added, it is that each job is unique.

Russ’s Valmet 911 and Valmet 860 have become integral parts of an efficient land clearing company that also removes stumps and grinds them, and prepares a loamy mixture to spread on job sites. Besides tops, trees that are not suitable for other wood products, small limbs and brush are chipped in the field. The company takes a Morbark 23 WCL Chiparvestor with cab and loader and a Peterson Pacific track grinder, a model 2410, to job sites.

The Morbark has been in service for 12 years. A LogLift loader is another machine with a relatively long history with the company. The Peterson Pacific track grinder was purchased one year ago. When TimberLine talked with Russ in early April, he and Tom Barry were working on a way to link a Jonsered loader to the Peterson Pacific track grinder, so the Peterson Pacific will essentially “load itself,” explained Russ.

Tom believes he and Russ will be successful in linking the two machines, which would make the land-clearing operations even more efficient.

Seven employees work for R. J. Cobb Land Clearing. All have commercial driver’s licenses in order to cross-over and drive log trucks. Most employees run most pieces of equipment, with the exception of the Valmet harvester and the Valmet forwarder, which have exclusive operators.

R.J. Cobb Land Clearing has its own vehicles, two Peterbilt tractors, six Freightliners and a Deloupe log trailer, for transporting logs. Russ contracts for chip hauling with Ingerson Transportation, a hauler that in this case is moving bark to Massachusetts and chips to New Hampshire. Chips are sold to customers in New Hampshire that use them for boiler fuel.

Most land-clearing jobs are within a 50-mile radius of his location in Bellingham, a town of about 15,000 people that is roughly 50 miles southwest of Boston. The company will go farther when there is a job with a viable customer, sometimes traveling to Martha’s Vineyard off of Cape Cod.

Russ was born in Maine and grew up on a dairy farm. He later moved to Massachusetts to live and work and met his wife, a native of Attleboro, Mass.

He learned the land-clearing business in the “school of hard knocks,” he said. He got into land clearing by doing right-of-way and highway site development work. “I started out in forest products as a sideline, cutting firewood to get through winter,” he said. Changing to meet changing customer needs has always been part of his business plan. In the not-distant future, he would like to stop producing chips entirely, he said.

As the on-site stump grinding and wood salvage components of his business become more and more sophisticated, Russ believes he will be able to eliminate chips. “We’re learning every day,” he said, referring to the best strategies for deploying equipment and selling products.

“We do all our stump grinding,” said Russ, explaining, the crews “pull up stumps” and “shear” and “strip” them. Using the Peterson Pacific track grinder, they pulverize the stumps to dimensions of one and one-half or two inches and mix the output with topsoil. “We try to leave as much of the product on the job-site as possible,” said Russ.

Two excavators, a John Deere 230 and a CAT 320 with a shear on it, are used in the shearing and spreading operation. The John Deere is used to mix grinder output with loam and spread it around.

“The Peterson Pacific has far exceeded our expectations,” said Russ. “Our goal was to make something we could give back to contractors in the form of loam.” And he emphasized he is repeatedly impressed with the way “you can throw stumps through” the track grinder and end up with grindings small enough for mixing with topsoil.

Although there is a great deal of variation in the type of work done by R.J. Cobb Land Clearing, one thing holds true for all sites. “Jobs have to be really clean when we finish,” said Russ.

Three Hydro-Ax 721 fellers are used. One removes trees for chipping, another is equipped with a Fecon mulching head, and the third is equipped with a Hydro-Ax rotary mower. Trees felled with the Hydro-Ax machines are skidded out with Ranger skidders, one an H67 and the other an F series. One-quarter of the company’s output is still in the form of chips.

Much of the work R. J. Cobb Land Clearing does is in “confined areas,” said Russ. “We do a lot of work with horse farms, clearing riding trails,” he explained. That means removing the trees, chipping the slash and preparing substrate cover while on site — and leaving residual trees intact.

“We can control the tree better with the dangle-head,” said Russ, referring to
the Valmet harvester. “We can handle bigger trees.”

Russ estimated the Valmet harvester is “three to four times as fast” as bigger, or heavier, machines with fixed heads. And
he likes what he sees in terms of fuel consumption, “only 18 to 20 gallons per day,” he said.

The flexible nature of the Valmet equipment is another good match for Russ’s company. “Today we might be in a pine stand, tomorrow in a hardwood stand,” said Russ. “It’s unbelievable what the equipment will do.”

The Valmet harvester will be “cutting up to 30 inches sometimes,” said Russ. “There is not much the Valmet can’t handle. We go months on end and never use a chainsaw.”

When chainsaws are needed, Husqvarna is the choice. Russ said that he and his son use and favor the model 394.

Russ’s company does most of its maintenance work in-house. Having purchased much of his line-up form Barry Equipment in Webster, Russ noted his good experience with the distributor. “Barry Equipment is super in terms of service,” he said.

As for the manufacturer of Valmet, Partek, Russ said, “They are unbelievable as back-up.” He cited the Partek training schools his operators have attended
and the on-site training provided by the manufacturer.

It is rare to have a break from work, said Russ, explaining that in reality, “I don’t have time away from the business.” But when he has simply taken a few days, he has much enjoyed a vacation on a cruise ship.