Plumley Contracting Co. Inc. Likes the Heft and Durability of Caterpillar® Forestry Equipment

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Cat® 522B feller buncher proves a good fit for a Pacific Northwest mechanical logging operation.

WHITE CITY, Oregon – Yes, it’s a logging operation in the Pacific Northwest. But helicopters and yarders are not in this picture.

“We do all mechanical logging – no helicopters, no yarders,” said Ralph Hite, the operations manager and one of the owners at Plumley Contracting Co. Inc. In fact, one of the most recent additions to the equipment roster is a Cat® 522B Track Feller Buncher.

It’s not the first feller buncher that Plumley Contracting has owned, explained Ralph. But it is the first feller buncher from Caterpillar® Forest Products.

Plumley Contracting has a deep history with products from Caterpillar. The tree-length logging company has long relied on Cat 525 Skidders and Cat 527 Track Skidders.

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Ralph was involved in the decision to purchase the Cat 522B, which Plumley Contracting bought in spring 2013. “I like Cat products,” he said. “They’re durable. They hold their value.”

Plumley Contracting cuts pine, white pine and Douglas fir. “We use the Cat 522B on all three species. “The new Cat 522B can cut a 26-inch tree. The area we work in is second cuts, so there are similar sized trees. We cut four to five acres a day.”

The Cat 522B has a single operator. “He likes the machine,” said Ralph. “It’s fast. It has a lot of boom lift.”

The Cat 522B at Plumley is equipped with a Quadco 26 hot saw. And it has the lift to support the big head.

Ralph has been with Plumley for 28 years, since 1986. He has been the operations manager for the company for 24 years. In that capacity, he begins his day by assessing and planning layout of a job site. “I usually go to the woods in early morning,” he explained. Later in the day, he works at procuring jobs and other near-term and longer-term planning.

“I grew up in a logging family,” said Ralph. “We were in big timber, [which was] a completely different type of logging.”

The timber might be smaller on the tracts where Plumley Contracting works in 2014, but the land is no less steep. The Cat 522B is a track machine, which makes it a good match for a terrain that varies.

“We never have wheels,” said Ralph. Equipment must be adept at traversing inclined areas, even if such steep challenges are not present on every part of every job site. And when steep is the descriptor that applies, the “leveling capacity” of the Cat 522B gets high marks, said Ralph.

Once felled, tree lengths are skidded to a landing to be processed. Three Waratah processors are in use. Two 2800 Madill and one Cat 320 FM are the carriers for the Waratah heads. A fleet of 12 log trucks – Kenworth tractors, all – transport logs to mills.

With so many machines to maintain, anything that simplifies maintenance is appreciated. “The Cat 522B has easy accessibility to the hydraulics,” said Ralph. “The hood opens” for a clear view.

“We do work for government and private landowners,” said Ralph. Among the familiar names of firms for which Plumley Contracting works are Boise Cascade, Hancock Timber and Lone Rock Timber – and their foresters take care of meeting all environmental regulations.

We wondered how Plumley Contracting got started. Ralph explained the longest root of the company actually dates to 1949. That’s when Doug Plumley, who had no experience in wood products, established it. “He was just a young man who wanted to start a wood products business,” explained Ralph.

Plumley Contracting began to mechanize in 1988. By 1994, it was fully mechanized. Throughout its history, one philosophy has guided the company and all members of the team. That is “quality work,” explained Ralph.

Today, Plumley Contracting has 45 employees. The company is based in White City, Ore. White City is part of Jackson County. The town is in the southwestern part of the state, near Medford. And Medford is the city known for being the point of entry to Crater Lake National Park.

Medford is also home to Peterson Cat, the dealer from which Plumley Contracting purchased the Cat 522B Feller Buncher. Ralph worked with sales representative Brett Crosier. Peterson Cat serves customers in a 100,000-square-mile territory that extends from Santa Cruz County in the Golden State to Pacific County in Washington State. Its offerings include forestry and agricultural equipment, parts, service and rentals.

White City lies approximately 10 miles northeast of Medford. Most of the logging that Plumley Contracting does is within a 100-mile radius of White City. Many of the features of the Cat 522B that Ralph cites as plusses for Plumley Contracting stem from the commitment Caterpillar Forestry Products, headquartered in LaGrange, Ga. has to continuous improvement.

The Cat B Series feller bunchers offer a hydraulic design with increased horsepower that enables the machine to multifunction, or move and fell at the same time. This multifunction capability allows operators to maintain a rhythm as they sequence the process of moving, felling and dumping trees . In the aggregate, a steady tempo maintained by an operator meaningfully contributes to a reduction in the amount of fuel consumed.

Jared Dunn, a product performance engineer at Caterpillar Forest Products, explained design changes in the Cat B series will not only provide loggers with faster cycle times, but they will also contribute to machine longevity.

With Plumley Contracting cutting as many as 15,000 trees in a single day, a feller buncher that contributes to high production by being reliable is a must. Reliability is something that Ralph has been able to verify through a long association with Caterpillar. “Caterpillar builds quality products,” he said.

The Cat 522B incorporates tracks and undercarriage components that are the same type as used in the Cat 330 excavator. Because the components — including track shoes, link assemblies, sprockets, idlers, track rollers and undercarriage frame structure — have been upsized, they are even more dependable in rough terrain. And the overall reconfiguration will boost longevity even more.

On steep slopes, the operator of a feller buncher is put to the test in many ways. Not inconsequential, there’s the matter of comfort. Because the Cat 522B has a three-cylinder leveling system with side-to-side tilting throughout the full range of motion, the design reduces stress on the lower structure. Also, the comfort provided to the machine operator is maximized.

In addition, the operator of the Cat 522B gets a clear view of work areas. The monitor of the feller buncher has been reduced a bit in size to improve the line of sight of the operator.

Cat B Series machines have a 35-inch ground clearance. “Strong drawbar pull, along with even better ground clearance and the open tunnel undercarriage design make for a highly maneuverable machine that easily climbs steep slopes,” said Jared Dunn, the aforementioned engineer from Caterpillar. The option of a high drawbar on the Cat B machines can boost drawbar performance 13 percent, he explained. That’s a useful boost in especially steep conditions.

With the Quadco head on it, the Cat 522B in service at Plumley Contracting is a weighty machine. So stability counts more than ever. Whether the machine is lifting, swinging or traveling, it is stable. An operator can swing big loads up the slopes because of the strong torque the Cat feller buncher provides.

Plumley Contracting belongs to the Associated Oregon Loggers, Inc., which is headquartered in Salem, Ore. The company has been recognized for its efforts on behalf of maintaining forests. For example, in 2008 it received a merit award from the Oregon Board of Forestry.

Despite its long-standing commitment to the wood products industry and forests, Plumley Contracting has had some trials along the way. In an April 27, 2003 story in the Mail Tribune newspaper (available via the Internet), there’s an account in which founder Doug Plumley recalled protests in 1983 over logging at Bald Mountain. Although his company was working on a federal contract, it was met with some quite contentious situations.

The story Doug recounted to the newspaper has many dimensions. Protestors tried to stop loggers by chaining themselves to gates or equipment. They also got up in trees. One thing the protestors did not do, according to Doug, was damage equipment by adding sugar to fuel or setting machines afire. As complex as the situation proved for the loggers, Doug aimed to set the record straight regarding the way the protestors avoided damaging property.

The Bald Mountain experience was a difficult time and it saddened Doug because of the impact on the economy. Doug was 77 when he gave the interview in 2003. Things had changed greatly from 1945 when industry was celebrated and when Doug had a photograph taken of himself next to a log truck, a photograph he shared with the newspaper.

Ralph enjoys everything about working as operations manager at Plumley Contracting. In his free time, he enjoys hunting and fishing.