Cat Feller Buncher Powers Up: Cat 522B Feller Buncher a Nice Addition for Michigan’s Belmas Logging

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When their track feller buncher caught fire the company needed a replacement machine — fast. The decision to buy the Cat 522B track feller buncher was partly a marriage of convenience.

 

RAMSAY, Michigan — Brad Belmas wasn’t thinking of buying a new feller buncher six months ago, but an accident changed that. His company’s feller buncher caught fire and was destroyed.

The turn of events led Brad and his father, Ron, to purchase their first piece of logging equipment from Caterpillar. The Cat® 522B track feller buncher already has proved itself a valuable addition to the small business.

Belmas Logging Inc., a partnership between father and son, is based in Ramsay, Michigan, an unincorporated community of about 1,200 people in Bessemer Township, which is located in the far western portion of the Upper Peninsula. The business employs six, including Brad, 31, and Ron, 58, and works within a radius of about 100 miles.

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The logging operations revolve around three pieces of equipment. The Cat 522B track feller buncher is matched with a Quadco Series C disk saw head attachment for felling. It is followed by a TimberPro carrier with a Risley harvester attachment that processes the stems. The third machine is a Ponsse forwarder that picks up the wood and transports it to the landing.

Belmas Logging works on private, state, and federal land, including the nearby Ottawa National Forest. It cuts mainly hardwood, the dominant species being maple and aspen. Brad prefers to work on tracts that will yield at least 1,500 cords of wood, which is approximately 80 acres; the company also operates on parcels as big as 640 acres.

Belmas Logging contracted for Plum Creek Timber for about eight years but six months ago began subcontracting for another logging company, Minerick Logging, which is taking care of the trucking logistics.

When their track feller buncher caught fire and burned up six months ago, Brad and his father needed a replacement machine — fast. The decision to buy the Cat 522B track feller buncher was partly a marriage of convenience. The Cat dealer — FABCO, now known as Fabick Cat — was the only dealer in the region that had a machine in stock. “I needed it right away,” recalled Brad. Other dealers would have been able to supply a machine in about a month. “But I liked the machine,” said Brad, so there was no need to wait.

Cat track feller bunchers and track harvesters, designed with the best combination of lift capacity, swing torque and track power, have been upgraded to boost efficiency, performance and productivity in the woods. Four models, which can be configured as feller bunchers or harvesters, are available to suit diverse logging applications and conditions. The machine line consists of two near-zero tail swing machines, the Cat 521B and 522B, and two full tail swing machines, the Cat 541 Series 2 and Cat 552 Series 2. (The 522B and 552 Series 2 are leveling machines.) The 522B, designed for medium to high production in clear cut or select cut on rough terrain, is suited for a variety of applications in small and large timber.

The Series 2 and B Series machines are equipped with the 303 hp Cat C9 ACERT™ engine, a common engine design with a proven record of reliability and durability in the woods. A high capacity cooling system and on-demand reversing fan help to optimize performance, durability and fuel efficiency. Two or three hydraulic pumps, depending on the configuration, power the hydraulics to give loggers the performance they need. The strong hydraulics and the combination of swing and lift capacity help increase production.

The new Cat B Series machines feature smoother hydraulic performance, increased engine horsepower, a more comfortable operator station, and better right side operator visibility. The unique boom design provides industry-leading lift capacity throughout full reach range, a benefit in large timber.

The machines have new enhanced power management software tailored for the unique engine-hydraulic interactions in a forestry application; the software delivers a higher level of machine performance. Large structures such as swing bearings and booms have been designed for longer life and durability. The tracks and all undercarriage rolling components are high-grade to extend track life, cut repair costs and increase stability.

(For more information on Caterpillar forestry equipment, visit www.cat.com/forestry.)

The dealership brought the Cat 522B to Brad to try it out, and he was quickly sold. “That was it,” he said.

The Cat 522B is comparable to other feller bunchers he has run before in terms of fuel consumption, but it is more powerful, said Brad. “I can cut more wood with it,” he said, with the same amount of fuel. “Usually fuel and power go hand in hand,” he added.

Brad has been very pleased with the performance of the Cat 522B. “Good. Real good. I like it. Fast and powerful.” In fact, it is more powerful than any machine he has owned in the past, he said.

The Cat 522B already was equipped with the Quadco felling head, which has a 22-inch cutting capacity.

It is the first Cat logging machine that Brad has owned, but not the first Cat machine. He owned a Cat skid steer in the past.

Brad did not have much of a history with Fabco other than his previous purchase of the Cat skid-steer. He also has rented Cat excavators from the company. The limited experience with the dealership still left a positive impression, however. “They’re the easiest company to work with,” said Brad. “Real nice people and quick service.”

FABCO recently combined with another Caterpillar dealership. Doug Fabick, dealer principal of John Fabick Tractor Company (Fabick Cat) in Fenton, Missouri, and Jeré Fabick, dealer principal of FABCO Equipment Inc. in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, finalized combining their two family-owned, independently-operated companies in July.

The expanded organization, operating as Fabick Cat and headquartered in St. Louis, is being led by Doug as CEO and dealer principal with Jeré serving as president and co-dealer principal. As the exclusive Cat dealer for major portions of Missouri, Illinois, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and the entire state of Wisconsin, Fabick Cat rents, sells and services Cat machines, trucks, engines and electric power generation equipment. It has a presence on the Upper Peninsula in Marquette, for example, and also has locations throughout neighboring Wisconsin. In addition to the other states, Fabick Cat also operates in portions of Kansas and Oklahoma.

Fabick Cat capabilities now include more than 1,100 employees, including 550 professional service technicians, in 37 locations with 200 service bays and a fleet of over 200 service vehicles.

The company has a three-pronged philosophy: treat people with respect, focus on building long-term relationships, and always provide superior value.

(For more information about Fabick Cat, visit www.fabickcat.com.)

Ron and his father, Ron Belmas Sr., started the company in 1984. They launched the business because the elder Belmas could not sustain his dairy farm, and Ron wanted to get off the road. At the time, Ron was working as an electronics technician, constantly crisscrossing the country as he did troubleshooting work. They began logging with a chain saw and a cable skidder and an initial investment of $25,000, buying timber, harvesting the wood, and marketing their production. The company has been doing cut-to-length logging and has been fully mechanized since 2000.

Ron has been a member of the Michigan Association of Timbermen, which is a participant in the Sustainable Forestry Initiative®. MAT has a self-insuring workers compensation fund, which strives to keep insurance costs down with several strategies.

The last eight years have been good for Belmas Logging, and business is going well, Brad reported. “It’s a good time to be a logger. The mills eat wood.”

The company was not impacted significantly by the recession, he said, although the economic downturn did negatively affect other loggers who worked on private land. During that period Belmas Logging was working steadily for Plum Creek, with most of its production supplied to paper mills in the region.

Plum Creek Timber, headquartered in Seattle, is among the largest and most geographically diverse private landowners in the nation with more than 6 million acres of timberlands in forest ecosystems across the northern and southeastern U.S., according to the company’s website. Prudent management of land is a hallmark of the company’s long-term plan for returning a profit on investment. Plum Creek, which sets high expectations for its contract loggers, also operates wood product mills in the Northwest.

Business has been even better the past two years, Brad said, because mill prices have been high. At the same time, fuel prices have stayed low. “Perfect,” said Brad.

Todd Gustafson, a forestry products specialist with Fabick Cat who works out of Marquette and covers the Upper Peninsula and Wisconsin, echoed Brad’s comments about the health of the forest products industry in the Great Lakes region. In talking to loggers, their business “couldn’t be better,” he said. “Everybody’s contracts are good.”

“The forestry division is doing very, very well for us,” said Todd. “We couldn’t be happier.”

Most logging in the region is cut-to-length, he acknowledged. “Our big seller,” he said, is the Cat 501HD track harvester with PF48 harvester attachment, both manufactured by Caterpillar in Wisconsin.

The Cat 501HD track harvester, a zero tail swing machine, is powered by a 163 hp C6.6 engine with ACERT™ technology for exceptional power and fuel efficiency; the engine generates more torque in the lower rpm ranges for greater power, maintaining higher hydraulic flow under load for faster processing. The forward-mounted cab and rear engine placement give the operator excellent visibility over the entire harvest area. The Cat 501HD is easy to maneuver in select cut operations and well balanced for stability in final felling applications.

The Cat PF48 is a fixed double-grip harvester attachment for complete control in felling and processing. The operator has the ability to cut and position trees during select thinning of hardwoods, the focal application for the PF-48, without damaging the residual stand. The one-of-a-kind four roller design has proven itself in tough hardwood applications for felling, delimbing, and bucking.

Belmas Logging recently was cutting timber that ranges from 4-25 inches in diameter, although the average size is about 10 inches, he said. About 75 percent of the timber would be harvested and processed for pulp wood, and the rest for saw logs.

Conditions are better during the winter for logging on the Upper Peninsula, noted Brad. “Winter’s the best time,” when the ground is frozen. April typically is a tough month to work because of the spring thaw, which usually results in some down time.

Brad enjoys hunting, fishing, and snowmobiling with friends in his free time.