Simmons Logging Field Tests New Caterpillar C Series Loader

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Vic Simmons, owner of Simmons Logging in South Hill, Vir., almost closed his company and went back to work for someone else. But then a chance contract with Arbor Tech got him started down the road to a successful business. Now he is cutting full time for Arbor Tech and hopes to expand his business in the near future. Because of his long standing relationship with Caterpillar, Simmons recently had an opportunity to help Caterpillar develop a new loader. He has enjoyed field testing the new C Series prototype Caterpillar loader.

Vic Simmons, owner of Simmons Logging in South Hill, VA, knew from an early age that he wanted to work in the woods. When he started his own company in 2002, however, times were so tough that he almost went back to work for someone else. A fortuitous contract with Arbor Tech Forest Products, however, gave Simmons Logging a kick-start, and Simmons has been running hard ever since.
“I started working in the woods as soon as I got out of high school in June, 1993,” Simmons said. “I worked for several different companies for several years, logging and running equipment in the woods.”
In 2000, Simmons went to work for Arbor Tech Forest Products, a sawmill in Blackstone, VA. He worked there for about 18 months, but found that he wasn’t nearly as well suited to working in a sawmill as he was to working in the woods.
“So I took a chance and went out on my own,” he said. “I started cutting for Squires Timber out of North Carolina, and I cut for them for about six months.” Simmons was handicapped by a number of issues at the time, including wet weather that prevented him from getting into the woods to cut, a lack of contract trucks to haul logs, and other challenges.
“I really thought about going back to work in the sawmill,” he said. “But then one of the owners of Arbor Tech, Tim Stevenson, called me to see how I was doing. I told him I was getting ready to call him to see if I could get my job back at the sawmill, and he asked me if I would be interested in cutting a tract of timber for Arbor Tech.”
Simmons jumped at the opportunity, and his business took off.
“I’ve been cutting for them for ten years now,” he said. “I started with a used skidder, a used loader, a used cutter, and a sawbuck and delimber. I didn’t have any trucks or tractors of my own. From there I’ve grown to 15 log trailers, two lowboys, five skidders, three cutters, five loaders, 2 bulldozers, and 11 trucks that my father, Wayne Simmons, owns. I have three service trucks and a 60 by 80 foot shop where we do all our maintenance.”
The area he works in, Simmons said, has a good sized forest industry.
“There are a lot of loggers within a 40-mile radius of where I am,” he said.
Simmons cuts exclusively pines for Arbor Tech’s chip and saw operation.
“We primarily cut planted loblolly pines,” he said. “They’re anywhere from 30 years to 50 years old. There’s a little pulpwood in the trees we cut, but Arbor Tech is a saw log mill. They provide dimension lumber for Lowe’s, Home Depot, and other big lumber sellers.”
Simmons logs both land that belongs to Arbor Tech, and property owned by other people.
“I’m strictly a contract cutter for Arbor Tech right how,” he said. He is running two crews right now, and they cut timber on property owned by a number of corporate entities as well as on property that’s privately owned.
“We move about 150 loads of wood each week,” Simmons said.
As Simmons added equipment to his operation over the years, he relied on one company almost exclusively: Caterpillar Forest Products.
“Everything I have is from Caterpillar,” he said. “I also have a Hydro-Ax, but that became part of Caterpillar several years ago.”
Simmons said his reliance on Caterpillar has stemmed from the excellent service he’s gotten from both the equipment and the staff of the local dealership, the South Hill branch of Carter Machinery.
“The Cat store here where I’m located is 11 miles from my shop,” he said. “I went to school with a lot of the guys who work there and I’m on a first name basis with them. If I need them, I can call them in the middle of the night. And I’m friends with the head salesman there. It’s just easier to talk to someone that you know than a stranger. All of them go out of their way to get something done for me when I need it. They’re a bunch of good guys, and they’ve been good to me.”
At this point, Simmons’s children are too young to take part in the running of the company. “My little girl is 10 years old, and I have a son who is 8 years old,” he said. “My son loves logging. I’m going to try to get him to go get at least one semester of college and if he doesn’t like it, then I’ll give him a power saw!”
“My dad, Wayne Simmons, however, is involved with our logging business,” Simmons continued, “He owns Simmons Hauling, Inc., and provides the trucks that haul our trailers for us. I also have an uncle—my father’s brother—who hauls timber for me. And one of my second cousins runs a loader for me.”
Because of his long-standing relationship with Caterpillar, Simmons recently had an opportunity to help Caterpillar develop a new loader. When the company was getting ready to field test the new C Series loader, Simmons said, someone called him and asked him if he would like to use the prototype in his operation.
“We usually get about 45 to 50 hours a week on each piece of equipment,” Simmons said. “Caterpillar liked the number of hours we get on each piece of equipment, and they like the maintenance that we do. We keep everything well serviced, and Caterpillar already gets good feedback from my operators. We’re also not real far from the Richmond store, so factory reps from Richmond could come down and look at the loader in our operation and gather data on it from my operators so they had a good source of feedback.”
Caterpillar delivered a C Series prototype loader in September 2011. Simmons said that the C Series prototype was a solid machine from the beginning, with no real issues.
One thing Simmons really liked about the C Series loader was how quietly it ran. He also liked the low fuel consumption. “With that being said, it still has the power of a machine that’s loud and that drinks a lot more fuel,” he said. “In fact, it has more power than a lot of the older machines.”
Then in the spring of 2012, Caterpillar brought him the Cat 579C loader for testing. Caterpillar made only a few tweaks to the design of the 579C based on feedback from Simmons and his operators on the prototype. “They didn’t make many changes going from the prototype to the 579C,” he said. “The two are very much alike.”
Simmons said the new loaders helped make his business more efficient.
“If you compare the new loaders to the old loaders I have, you’re talking $15,000 a year in fuel savings,” he said. “Or maybe it’s even more, depending on how many hours a week I put on them. The old loaders use eight to nine gallons of diesel fuel an hour, but the new ones are using about three gallons an hour. At $4 a gallon, do the math.”
Simmons also likes how quietly both new loaders run.
“I have a hard time hearing over the noise of most of the equipment,” he said. “But these machines are much quieter and more efficient.”
The new loaders also are easier to work on than some of the old equipment, Simmons said.
“The compartment areas around the motor and the hydraulics are so easy to get into so you can change filters and drain the oil,” he said. “There’s really good access on them.”
Simmons is very grateful for everything that Caterpillar has done for him in the past few years.
“I really appreciate them letting me use the prototype equipment,” he said. “I really appreciate them thinking enough of me that they wanted me to be a part of it.”
According to Caterpillar, the new C Series knuckleboom loader, which will be produced as both Cat and Prentice models, is powered by an engine that burns less fuel than other similar pieces of equipment an upgraded hydraulic system and significantly more lift at full reach than previous models. Three operating modes give operators the flexibility to match hydraulic power to the job requirements, from thinning small pine to clear cutting big tracts. Most of the time the economy mode provides fast cycle times and runs with the most fuel economy. The run mode allows more hydraulic power for more demanding jobs and the power mode provides the most muscle for heavy duty delimbing, slashing and loading applications.
Since Simmons is only in his late 30s, he still has many years to grow his business. In the next few years, he said, he wants to increase the number of sawmills for whom he’s cutting timber.
“I’d like to expand what we’re doing, because there are a lot of new mills opening up around here, within a 50- to 60 mile radius of my location,” he said. “There are going to be a bunch of new opportunities opening up in the area. I have 22 employees right now, and I’m not sure I want to add any more, but I’d like for us to start moving more wood. In another five years I’d like to average 200 loads of wood a week.”
Regardless of what kinds of sawmills open in the area, Simmons said, he will stick with cutting pines.
“If you’re going to cut hardwoods, you have to have some special people as employees,” he said. “A lot of the hardwoods are really big, and are good quality. You can’t be messing up a hardwood log that’s worth $3000. You can go in the hole right quick doing that.”
Simmons said working for himself as a logger is hard, honest work.
“I like that,” he said. “If you can make it out here logging, you’ve done something. You work in all kinds of elements: snow, sleet, dust and 100 degrees. When it’s time to go to work, you’ve got to go.”

New C Series Knuckleboom Loaders Boast Fuel-Efficient Engines, New Hydraulics and More Lift
The new Cat® 579C and Prentice™ 2484C knuckleboom loaders from Caterpillar Forest Products feature an engine that burns less fuel, an upgraded hydraulic system and 35% more lift at full reach than previous models. The new loaders also have a right-side operator’s cab with a walk-up platform and enlarged doorway for safe access to the cab.
“Like previous models, the new C Series models are fast and smooth with superior multifunction capability. With the new hydraulics, they’re more reliable, and with the new engine, more fuel efficient, too,” said Blake Vaughn, Caterpillar Forest Products product performance engineer.
The 579C amd 2484C loaders, the first models in the C Series line to be introduced, are powered by the 129.5 kW (174 hp) Cat C6.6 ACERT™ engine. In designing the engine to meet U.S. Tier 4 Interim emissions regulations, new technology was incorporated to ensure that changes would not reduce the life of the system, increase operating costs or reduce productive uptime. The new engine burns at least 5% less fuel than the previous C6.6. The automatic engine idle down feature and the variable speed engine fan that cools only as required, further reduce fuel consumption.
Three operating modes give operators the flexibility to match hydraulic power to the job requirements, from thinning small pine to clear cutting big hardwoods. For normal loading operations, the Economy Mode provides fast cycle times and the most fuel economy. The Run Mode allows more hydraulic power for more demanding jobs and the Power Mode provides the most muscle for heavy duty delimbing, slashing and loading applications.
These loaders lift 4572 kg (10,079 lb.) at full reach, compared to 3375 kg (7,441 lb.) with the previous models. “The boost in lift capacity is right where the operator can use it most — at full reach,” Vaughn said. “The lift capacity in the previous models was already strong throughout the rest of the range of motion, so with the increase in lift at full reach, it gives operators that much more capability.”
The C Series has an excavator-style Negicon piston pump hydraulic system, a robust, reliable system with a simple valve design and big spools to allow fluid to pass through easily. The increase in hydraulic line size also accelerates grapple opening and closing. “This hydraulic system is field proven. It’s been a reliable platform for Caterpillar in other knuckleboom loader models, other forestry machines and excavators,” Vaughn said. “This means more uptime, longer life and better performance.”
A large side-by-side radiator, hydraulic and charge air cooling package efficiently expels heat. The individual cores are mounted separately on rubber isolators. This increases durability and also makes the cooling package easier to service. “When the cores are bolted tightly together, you will get some fatigue because they are cooling or warming at different rates,” Vaughn explained. “This design eliminates that so the cooling package lasts longer.”
Other improvements to increase the loaders’ reliability include: solid state controls, Cat ToughGuard™ hoses and O-ring face seals, and beefed up boom tube clamps. “Loggers can just go out every day, turn the key and run the machine,” Vaughn said.
A number of design changes improve serviceability. The filters for fuel, hydraulic oil, engine oil, pilot and case drain are all accessed and serviced standing safely on the ground. The hydraulic return filter is mounted on the outside of the hydraulic reservoir, a design widely used in excavators. “The capsule has a separate chamber that essentially locks in all the contamination that surrounds the filter. This eliminates contamination backflow during filter changes and completely removes any debris from the system,” Vaughn explained.
Eco-valves, rather than plugs, are used throughout the machine so fluids can be drained without spilling. “Instead of just letting fluids fall into a pan and splashing on the machine or the ground, operators can connect a hose and run fluids into a container. It’s a lot more convenient and cleaner because you don’t have to clean up spilt fluids once you get done changing the oil,” Vaughn said.
Other changes improve serviceability and also enhance durability. A new design makes it easier to lubricate the gear teeth on the outside of the main bearing between the upper deck and the sub-frame. “The area is easier to maintain and lubrication of the gear teeth is improved so they will last longer,” Vaughn said.
The loaders feature upgraded electronics and diagnostics. “Operators have significant control of the speed of the attachments, and they also have diagnostics beyond what I’ve seen in any other knuckleboom,” Vaughn said. If there is an issue with the machine, a specific diagnosis will pop up on the monitor in the cab — not just a warning light.
The condenser is larger, so the air conditioning is more reliable and the cab cools more quickly. “A loader operator has to open the cab door frequently in the course of a work shift. We improved the AC so that the cab will cool down quickly after each time he has to open the door,” Vaughn said. “Operators will also notice how quiet the cab is. The noise level both from inside and outside the cab is greatly reduced.”
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