Robin A. Crawford & Son Woods Company, Inc. Likes Track Power of Cat 521B Feller Buncher

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Tree-length logger in Maine recently added two Cat 521B machines.

LINCOLN, Maine – To log across the length and breadth of Maine requires meeting the challenge of a hilly terrain punctuated with 1,600 lakes. Mt. Katahdin, the highest point in the Pine Tree State, has an elevation just short of a mile and less than one-third of the state is at an elevation lower than 800 feet.

Maine is not the Rockies. Yet its terrain is rugged.

Robin A. Crawford & Son Woods Company, Inc. runs as a predominantly tree-length operation that harvests trees throughout Maine. “We only run track machines,” said Robin A. Crawford, Jr., the president of the company. “It just makes it easier.”

In August 2014, Crawford added two Cat® 521B feller bunchers to its operation. The Cat 521B gets high marks from Robin. “It’s got very, very strong track power,” he said. “And it’s good on fuel consumption.”

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The Cat 521B also gets good marks from those who maintain it. “It’s easy to work on,” said Robin. “The mechanics love it.”

As it happens, the two Cat 521B machines are being operated by brothers, Ron McGary and Larry McGary. Larry was available to talk with us.

“I love it – everything about it,” said Larry of the Cat 521B he runs. “It’s a nice machine. It’s got all kinds of track power. Twenty-inch trees are no problem.”

Larry has 20 years of experience running feller bunchers. He has seen a lot of changes in the machines and in the industry. And he was happy to have had the opportunity to share his opinion about the machine with Robin prior to its purchase.

Both Cat 521B machines at Crawford are fitted with Quadco hot saws. They were purchased through Milton Cat, which has dealerships in the Maine towns of Brewer and Scarborough, as well as a total of 13 locations across New York State (Buffalo) and New England states. Crawford worked with Peter Collins, the forest industry manager at Milton Cat.

Milton Cat works closely with its customers to help them find the best fit of equipment, which for Robin was a Cat 521B paired with a 360-degree rotation Quadco 21SC. “We work with Mike Van Rassel at Quadco” on the heads, said Peter, whose own ties to the industry go back more than 30 years and include a degree in forestry.

“We have a long-standing relationship with Robin Crawford,” said Peter. “It goes back more than 20 years.” The choice of the Cat carrier and the Quadco head was a natural fit for operation at Crawford. “The system gives them a lot of advantages in moving the wood. And it’s productive and fuel efficient.”

Caterpillar Forest Products is headquartered in LaGrange, Ga. Its B series feller bunchers are near-zero tail swing machines.

Robin explained that his company has long relied on Cat machines.

In choosing equipment, the focus is on keeping it straightforward and simple. “We just look for production, safety and the least amount of breakdowns,” said Robin.

Crawford has approximately 100 employees. Species cut split roughly 50:50 between hardwood and softwood species. Cedar, spruce, fir, hemlock, maple and birch are among the species cut.

The large roster of equipment at Crawford includes several harvesters, nine delimbers, some 12 grapple skidders, 10 log loaders and two chippers. The newer chipper is a Morbark 40/36 whole tree micro-chipper. There is also a Morbark 5048 whole tree chipper.

In recent years, the market for chips both for fuel at pulp and paper mills and for fuel in bio-generation power plants has been growing, said Kenneth Crawford, a foreman at the company. Kenneth has been working with his father, Robin, since he was 15 years old and still in high school.

“I just look after the crews, the trucks – make sure everything is going the way it should,” said Kenneth of his day-to-day core responsibilities. Robin Crawford III, Kenneth’s brother, also works at the company as a foreman, driving a truck and helping manage trucking operations.

Robin A. Crawford & Son Woods Company was founded by Robin A. Crawford Sr., Robin’s father, who hauled wood from the 1960s until he turned to logging in the 1980s. And the Robin A. Crawford in the name of the company refers to the father, who is still involved in the day to day operations. The “son” in the name refers to Robin, now company president, who spoke with us.

When Robin and his father began logging, and incorporated the company in 1986, they were felling timber with chain saws. The company has grown by changing to meet the demands of the markets and adjusting to the ups and downs that occur.

One of the greatest fluctuations to be built into the business model has been that of fuel prices, which just a few years ago pushed to as high as $4 per gallon for diesel. With fuel prices down (and perhaps still falling), it’s not possible to become complacent and assume they will stay there. Crawford remains successful by being ready for what comes.

Approximately 90 percent of logging done at Crawford is whole tree. In 2013, the company added one cut-to-length crew. That crew uses a TimberPro 735 track carrier with a Log Max 7000 XT fixed head and a TimberPro forwarder.

There are many important members of the Crawford team, said Robin. “We have three foresters – Bill Dye, Ryan Worster and Mitch Folsom, who help us manage our jobs. They do the layout and help manage our crews.”

Having foresters on staff makes it easier to meet the exacting requirements for bidding on jobs. For instance, many owners of timberland require loggers who bid to buy stumpage to have certain kinds of equipment. They want to see controlled felling, or felling that depends on a fixed head for cut-to-length.

The expectations for logging companies are high. Meeting them is part of the challenge of being a successful company. Robin A. Crawford & Son Woods Company is just one year from marking 30 years in business, which is a strong statement about the commitment the company has had to changing and adapting.

We were lucky to persuade Robin, Kenneth and Larry to talk with us some. “We’re kind of a private company,” said Robin. “We don’t do many of these interviews.”

Yet, he explained that he was willing to share his positive reaction to the Cat 521 feller bunchers. He particularly welcomed that his operators and his mechanics were very happy with the machines, which had been in service for almost six months. The machine Larry was running had just reached 1200 hours of service.

Crawford still uses hand-cutting crews. Some of the pine is so big that there is no attempt to use mechanized harvesting, said Robin.

For trucking, Crawford uses 25 of its own tractors and one hired tractor. The company produces about 300 loads of wood products per week, said Kenneth.

The two Cat 521B feller bunchers equip Crawford for a variety of jobs. They can be used for clear cutting or select cutting. They can also handle a range of tree sizes from small to large, all while yielding medium to high production. The undercarriage of the Cat 521B is specifically designed to meet the demands of rough terrain.

Home base for Crawford is Lincoln, Maine. Lincoln is in Penobscot County in the east-central part of the state. The town has approximately 5,600 residents.

At its base, Crawford has an office, one garage for servicing trucks – a mix of Kenworth, Western Star and Peterbilt and one garage for servicing equipment. To facilitate maintenance and quick repairs, Crawford also has service trucks that travel to the woods with mechanics.

Procurement of timber is done in several ways. Crawford buys timberland and then harvests. It also bids on jobs on state land. And it does contract cutting for H.C. Haynes, Inc., which is headquartered in Winn, Maine.

H.C. Haynes dates to 1963. The company manages timber land, acts as a broker and does transportation of wood products.

Crawford sells all its wood through H.C. Haynes. It was the desire that Haynes had to have cut-to-length equipment on some of its lands that initially got Robin and his team interested in adding a cut-to-length crew.

Robin A. Crawford & Son Woods Company belongs to the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine. It also participates in the Northeast Master Logger Certification (NEMLC) program.

PLC has represented independent loggers since 1995. It is headquartered in Augusta, Maine. The board of PLC includes only loggers, which gives it the perspective of those who are doing, or loggers for loggers. The concept built into the organization is that by working together loggers can capitalize on innovative techniques, thereby improving outcomes for all loggers.

The PLC aims to get out the word that logging results in good for everyone. As such, it strives to communicate its message to legislators in Maine and in Washington, D.C.

NEMLC provides third-party certification of a logger’s practices in harvesting. Participants contribute to the overall goal of forest stewardship by documenting activities such as planning of harvest, protection of waterways, and so on – all components of health forest ecosystems.

In his free time, Robin has a very definite interest that he shares with his sons. “We’ve got a camp on a lake and a party boat,” he said.