Triple W Logging equipped with all Cat forestry equipment.
BUTNER, North Carolina — It’s a clear blue sky, finally. Triple W Logging is back to work after Hurricane Joaquin brushed the southeastern coast and another weather system not related to the storm delivered more rain to the Eastern Seaboard at about the same time.
The sunny conditions are a welcome sight, and the crew of Triple W Logging is busy working its collection of Cat forestry equipment on a job right off Interstate 85 less than 15 miles north of Durham, N.C. Although the area has had a lot of rain lately, the deck is atop a knoll and is relatively dry. The tract where the company is working is 105 acres of mixed hardwoods and pine.
A log truck is being loaded at the landing, parked between two Cat knuckleboom loaders, each drawing wood from its own deck. One loader fills the front half of the trailer with big hardwood logs while the other fills the rear. While they work, a new Cat 535D skidder pulls another hitch of logs to the landing. In minutes the log truck is filled and ready to go. Nearby, a Prentice loader is feeding limbs and small material into a chipper that is blowing the chips into a trailer van.
Nearly half the timber on the 105-acre tract has been harvested, and two Cat wheel cutters are working some distance away. Plans are being made to move the landing.
It is almost time to break for lunch. Owner and president David Wilbourne, 61, is preparing to drive to a nearby pizzeria to bring back some lunch. His son, Dan, 36, who operates the business with him, is spending a few minutes with John Brewer, a representative of their local Cat dealer, Carter Machinery Company.
The Wilbournes hail from a little hamlet in Virginia by the name of Skipwith. It is located about 50 miles north in a region known as Southside Virginia, between South Hill on Interstate 85 and South Boston further west.
David started the business in 1992. He farmed tobacco and also had a construction company, Triple W Construction, mainly building ponds and doing other work with a bulldozer. In clearing land and building ponds for other farmers, David pushed over a lot of timber and formed piles that were left to rot or later burned. He realized he had access to free wood and decided to buy an old cable skidder and a self-loading log truck to harvest the timber and get it to market. Soon, friends and acquaintances were asking him to cut timber. “So I started logging,” he recalled. He launched the business with about $1,500, hired a couple of men to help him, and soon invested in additional equipment. They cut timber in Virginia and North Carolina. Dan still does some farming, mainly cattle and hay.
Dan essentially went to work for his father right out of high school. There is another Wilbourne behind the name Triple W, David’s other son, Adam. The three men worked together for about 15 years before Adam elected to start his own logging business in 2013, Wilbourne Land & Timber. He left on good terms and with the blessing of his father and brother. “Adam put a lot of work into building the company,” said Dan. “We could not have done that without my brother.”
David and Dan are on the job each day. Although they oversee the operations of the crew, they have hands-on duties, too, such as dealing with problems and helping with repairs. David is frequently on one of the company’s bulldozers, building or repairing access roads. He also lends a hand scouting new tracts, determining creek crossings and other aspects of a timber harvest.
Triple W Logging is equipped with all Cat logging equipment. For felling the company relies on a pair of Cat 563C wheel cutters; one has a bunching head used for thinning small timber, and the other has a Hydro-Ax side cutting head for felling big trees. For getting the wood to the landing the company has three Cat skidders, the new Cat 535D just purchased weeks ago and two 525C models. For handling wood at the landing – delimbing, bucking, stacking, and loading trucks — Triple W Logging has a Cat 559C knuckleboom loader and a Cat 559B knuckleboom loader. The company is also equipped with a Trelan 21 whole tree chipper; it is fed by a model 384 Prentice knuckleboom loader. For building the access roads it needs, the company has a John Deere 750K bulldozer and a John Deere 700K bulldozer. In addition to the men operating the equipment, one worker is on the ground with a chain saw, cleaning up big logs.
Triple W Logging now has 11 employees doing the logging work, including father and son, plus six truck drivers in two affiliated trucking businesses, David’s Wilbourne Trucking and Dan’s Hollywood Hauling. Although they have enough equipment and employees to operate two crews, the Wilbournes normally keep everyone working on the same job.
Triple W Logging works solely for North Carolina-based Louisburg Hardwood, doing mainly clear-cut harvesting in hardwood forests and mixed stands in both North Carolina and Virginia, a region with abundant forest resources. The company has been contracting to Louisburg Hardwood for more than 15 years. “We’ve got a good relationship with Louisburg,” said Dan, and David alluded to a bond of trust between the two companies.
Louisburg Hardwood has an affiliated business, Smoke House Lumber Company, and most saw logs go to the Smoke House sawmill in Inez, North Carolina. The sawmill, located about 20 miles east of Henderson and Interstate 85, cuts everything from pallet lumber to grade lumber. Hauls to the sawmill from the current job site in Butner are about 50-60 miles one-way. Chips are mainly supplied to Novec Energy, a power plant in South Boston, Virginia for boiler fuel. Weekly production for Triple W Logging averages about 75-100 loads of round wood and 25 loads of chips.
Triple W Logging has come to rely heavily on Cat logging equipment over the years. One reason is the service and support the company receives from Carter Machinery, which has almost two dozen locations in Virginia and West Virginia and has a presence in nearby LaCrosse, less than 30 miles from where the Wilbournes call home. “The service we get from our local dealer has a lot to do with why we have stuck with Caterpillar over the years,” said Dan. “We get great service from them.”
“We pride ourselves on maintaining our equipment and keeping it serviced,” added Dan. “We probably do 90 percent of our (maintenance) work.”
The company has a 40×70 maintenance shop in Skipwith and also employs a part-time mechanic, Gray Talley, whom Dan called “a super big help to us.”
The Cat machines have stood the company well. In the past five years, only one machine has gone to the dealer shop, according to David. That was a skidder that needed some pins on the grapple replaced. “That’s the only time we sent a machine to Carter,” said David.
That’s a good track record for Caterpillar, Dan acknowledged. “That’s one of the main reasons we deal with them. They have very little downtime on their machines.” They normally trade in equipment on new machines about every four or five years.
The Prentice 384 knuckleboom loader is another striking example of that Cat durability and reliability. The loader, which feeds limbs and other small material to the company’s Trelan 21 whole tree chipper, is a 2006 model with nearly 15,000 hours of service and still running the original engine. Dan expects it to keep running a while longer. “I feel like we’ll run that loader at least a couple more years,” he said. He has heard of some loggers who have gotten 20,000 hours from the machines. The company has owned three other Prentice loaders in the past and normally traded them in on new machines after about 14,000 hours. “It’s done us a good job,” noted Dan.
Dan has participated in a group of loggers that is providing feedback to Caterpillar in the development of a new loader. He recently toured the company’s factory in LaGrange, Ga., and attended meetings to give input to Caterpillar personnel, who did a walk-around of a prototype machine. “They were very receptive to everybody that was there,” said Dan, taking notes as the loggers gave feedback. In the tour of the factory, he and other loggers watched as skidders and feller bunchers were built and assembled from start to finish.
As the new Cat 535D skidder neared, headed to the woods to retrieve another hitch of logs, the engine was a gentle purr, and Dan pointed out how quiet the new machine was. “Sometimes it sneaks up on me,” he said.
Cat introduced the D Series Wheel Skidder last year. The skidders increase productivity yet have lower operating costs. Major improvements from the C Series include a six-speed transmission with more gears in the working zone, lock-up torque converter and independent front and rear differentials for more pulling power and control, high capacity cooling system and reversing fan, a roomy, quiet and cool operator station and tilting cab for servicing.
The D Series is equipped with the Cat C7. 1 ACERT™ engine, which meets U.S. EPA Tier 4 Final emission standards and is designed to deliver more power than ever before while still achieving the highest levels of total fluid efficiency, reliability and durability.
The line has four models to provide loggers with options to match their application and business needs: the 203 hp (151 kW) Cat 525D, 225 hp (168 kW) Cat 535D, 250 hp (186 kW) Cat 545D, and the 275 hp (205 kW) Cat 555D.
The D Series is easy to maneuver even in dense woods and slippery or steep conditions. In normal operation, all four wheels move independently. In poor ground conditions, the independent front and rear differential locks can be engaged separately for better pulling and maneuverability; the locks are hydraulically actuated and can be engaged on the go. The new hydraulic system gives the D Series faster multifunctioning capability and greater lift capacity. (For more information about the D Series skidder or other Cat equipment, visit www.cat.com/forestry.)
Communication on the job is important, noted Dan, and all the machines are equipped with CB radios so the men can easily talk to one another.
Triple W Logging, a member of the Virginia Loggers Association and the Carolina Loggers Association, gives employees a week of paid vacation and a slate of paid holidays.
Employees are guaranteed four days’ pay each week, even if they get rained out. “We’ve got some good employees,” said Dan. “They need to know what they’re going to make each week.” Although production suffers if they get a spate of wet weather, the pay policy has “been beneficial to keeping good employees,” he added. Other logging contractors in the region have been following the policy for several years, according to Dan.
The company has a fleet of three crew-cab service trucks, and employees meet at the shop each day and travel together to work in the service trucks.
The company has worked steadily through the recession that began when the economy tanked in 2009. “We’ve been doing real good ever since we’ve been with Louisburg Hardwood,” said David. In fact, he said the 2008-09 period was “one of the best years we ever had.”
“Business is going good right now,” said Dan. “Wood’s moving.”
“Faith in the good Lord has led us to where we are today,” said Dan, who brought his wife, Melissa, and their four children to Georgia for the plant tour and meeting with Caterpillar officials. He is a member of Boydton Baptist Church, and his father is a member of Mecklenburg Baptist Church.
“I feel real strong about our Christian faith,” said Dan, who enjoys coaching softball for his daughters and also likes to hunt. “We are where we are today because of the good Lord. I can’t mention that enough.”