Lafoe Logging Turns to Waratah Attachment: John Deere 703GG Track Carrier, Paired with Waratah HTH622B, Shows Impressive Fuel Economy

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John Deere-Waratah Combination Impresses with Fuel Economy

ORLEANS, Vermont — Twenty-seven years ago, Brian Lafoe sought a change of pace. At the time, he was working as a mechanic. He decided to become a logger.
Today, Lafoe Logging LLC takes a focused approach with Brian finding ways to maximize his return on every investment. “We work in the woods for a living, harvesting trees,” explained Brian.
The company employs two other men besides Brian, so he strives to get the most out of his equipment and personnel.
Running a compact logging operation has long been a goal for Brian, and he buys new equipment with care. “I’ve always had track feller-bunchers with a high speed saw head,” he said. Track carriers are a must, he explained, because the machines exert less pressure on the ground.
In late 2006, Brian purchased a new John Deere 703G track carriage with a cutting head that was new to him. The John Deere was equipped with a Waratah harvesting head, the first combination of its type in New England.
Brian settled on the John Deere 703G and Waratah HTH622B combination. His goal was to cut fuel costs and reduce labor. The Waratah harvesting head marks a departure for Brian because it utilizes a bar saw for felling. The head completely
processes the tree — felling, delimbing and bucking. It eliminates the need for delimbers and slashers and enabled Brian to reduce the size of his crew from three to two.
John Deere has been an important supplier to Brian over the years. “I bought my first John Deere 648 skidder in 1989,” he said. “In 1998, I bought two John Deere 648 grapple skidders.”
Waratah was a new supplier for Brian. In addition, the Waratah HTH622B harvesting head uses three knives for delimbing; through his years in mechanized logging, Brian had not really embraced a knife-bar arrangement.
The John Deere-Waratah combination may be new to New England, but John Deere timber harvesting systems have a long history in the region. John Deere’s construction and forestry division, based in Moline, Ill, has a network of more than 400 dealers to serve loggers throughout the U.S., including the Northeast. Waratah Forestry Attachments, now part of John Deere, has been making equipment for the global forestry industry for more than 30 years.
The combination of a track John Deere carriage and a versatile harvesting head from Waratah has proven valuable in multiple ways, explained Brian. “I’m very, very happy with it,” he said.
Fuel consumption was reduced dramatically in the new John Deere 703G. The machine it replaced used about 10-20
gallons of fuel per hour just to fell, Brian estimated. “We cut way back on fuel,” he said. The John Deere 703G uses only about six gallons per hour although the attachment performs both felling and processing functions.
The Waratah head is fast, according to Brian. His son-in-law operates the new machine combination and is averaging 50 cords per day.
The first job with the new machine combination was a large area of blow-down timber. “The landowner was recovering 98 percent of the wood from a November (2006) wind storm,” said Brian. “It worked very well in that.”
When Brian spoke with TimberLine at the end of February, the John Deere 703G and the Waratah HTH622B had been performing select cuts. He was pleased with those results, too.
With the spring thaw and mud season approaching, Brian was looking forward to gaining another advantage with the John Deere 703G track machine. The muddy conditions that accompany the spring in the past have forced Brian to cease operating for eight to 12 weeks. With a carrier that exerts less ground pressure, “We’re hoping to work right through spring with the new equipment,” he said. At the same time, he fully expects to meet the requirements of the companies for which he works and to be in compliance with state regulations.
The John Deere 703G has almost no tail swing, which allows it to maneuver easily in select cuts. With its small footprint, reduced weight and other features, it is designed to tread lightly on the substrate.
Waratah manufactures forestry attachments in many sizes for various types and sizes of timber. The concept is to provide loggers with a felling or harvesting head that precisely matches power with the weight and diameter of trees and limbs they typically encounter.
For example, the Waratah HTH622B is designed and built to perform optimally in stands where 80% of stems are 16-22 inches in diameter or less. The attachment easily removes a 22.5-inch-diameter limb at its upper limit of recommended use. The head, which weighs 4,673 pounds, can fell trees up to 30 inches in diameter.
The Waratah 600 series attachments are made for felling, delimbing and bucking. They are intended to be turnkey equipment solutions for loggers who want to consolidate equipment and labor yet still maximize production.
Waratah offers attachments in two other series, 200 and 400, and continues to develop more equipment options. For example, the new Waratah FL85 directional felling head is designed to work hard for a logging operation that tackles a great variety of jobs. It can fell large trees and can perform in select cuts or regeneration harvesting. It fells, piles, cross-cuts, trims, tops and shovels. It can be mounted on an excavator or shovel logger.
Moving to an attachment that could perform both felling and processing was important to Brian. In order to match the right attachment and carrier, he sought advice from other loggers.
For instance, Brian knew from other loggers that John Deere was making great strides in improving fuel efficiency in its new machines. The fuel economy demonstrated in the new John Deere 1110 forwarder particularly interested him. A subcontractor was running the machine on one of Brian’s jobs. “He used to run a grapple skidder,” said Brian. “He cut his fuel in half” with the John Deere forwarder.
There were many other things that Brian liked about the direction in which John Deere was going with its forestry equipment. All of them pointed to an understanding the company has about the realities of 21st century logging.
“It’s getting harder and harder to find help,” noted Brian, which makes cut-to-length logging equipment more attractive because it only requires two machines and two operators. “It’s the weather, too,” Brian added. “With grapple skidders, you can’t work on certain days.” Wet conditions make it extremely difficult to use grapples skidders in steep terrain.
Orleans, a picturesque Vermont village in a valley formed by the confluence of Barton River and Willoughby River, is home to Brian’s company. The town is situated in the northern part of the Green Mountain State, 25 miles south of Canada. About 825 people call Orleans home.
Lafoe Logging works within a 120-mile radius of Orleans. Jobs take the team into upstate New York and New Hampshire. “I work for a variety of companies,” said Brian, including large forest products companies such as Plum Creek and private landowners.
One customer is Essex Timber Co. in Concord, Vt., an exemplar of the can-do spirit of New England. It was founded in 1999 with the intention to become a model of conservation, one that melds land and resource use with principles of good stewardship. Essex Timber was granted forest management certification under the Forest Stewardship Council in 2003 and also participates in the SmartWood program of the Rainforest Alliance.
Essex Timber supplies veneer logs, saw logs, firewood logs and pulp logs that carry the SmartWood certification. Species include beech, balsam fir, red maple, red spruce, sugar maple, white birch and yellow birch.
Essex Timber was formed because federal, state and private entities worked together to develop a way to divide land formerly owned by Champion International. It took a diligent and dedicated effort to pull the many interested parties together. Some Essex Timber land will be held as reserve areas; some land may not be suitable to harvest again for many years. Still, the committed parties were not deterred from forming the company. In the meantime, Essex Timber has tallied more than 200 species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians making their homes on its forestland.
Working on or around forestland that is being held to foster regeneration and future logging opportunities requires an exacting approach. When Lafoe Logging takes on any job, the restrictions on the company are many. Above all, the bottom line must stay black. Jim Petelle, territory manager for equipment dealer Nortrax in Springfield, Vt., understands the competing demands on Brian and other New England loggers.
Jim was quite candid about the “skeptical” view that Brian had of using a bar saw for felling. “We involved Mike Giles from Waratah on his lot,” said Jim. Mike went to Vermont to demonstrate the capability of the Waratah attachment with a John Deere 703G track carrier.
Once Brian decided to purchase the equipment combination, Jim arranged for a factory representative to be on site for a week to instruct the operator in the use of the new equipment. After only two or three days, said Jim, the operator had picked it up very well. In fact, the factory representative remarked on how fast he became accustomed to the new equipment.
Jim has worked in equipment sales since 1971 and has a good understanding of the needs of loggers. He views his role as helping them decide what equipment will best match the kind of work they do.
Whatever it takes to make the correct match — the best match for the customer — is what guides Jim and his colleagues at Nortrax. Once the sale is made, the bridge between distributor and customer grows even stronger as Nortrax backs all of its equipment 24/365.
Nortrax, which has nine locations in New England, is the largest John Deere dealership in the world. Part of the company vision is to help customers reduce operating costs.
Brian owns a number of other machines so he can pick and choose the best set of machines for a particular job. He has a Cat 320 track carrier with a ProPac stroke boom delimber, a John Deere 200 LC track carrier with another ProPac stroke boom delimber, a Clark Ranger 673 grapple skidder, a Tigercat 220 loader, a Prentice 180 loader and two John Deere 550 dozers.
All trucking for Lafoe Logging is subcontracted. That includes hiring lowboy trailers to move equipment to a job.
Brian occasionally taps his expertise as a mechanic to work on some of the older equipment, but his main focus is on the
actual logging and all the various aspects of a given job. “Seeing how good a job turns out” is always a gratifying experience, he said.
No one in Brian’s family previously worked in logging. He cannot quite explain the desire that motivated him to switch from being a mechanic to becoming a logging contractor.
The work of logging suits him. “I pretty much keep to myself,” Brian said. “I do my own thing. I’m not a person who talks much.”
When Brian takes time away from work, he enjoys processing firewood. He produces 300-400 cords of firewood annually, selling it by the cord, although he thinks of it as a hobby. Brian uses a Bru firewood processor.