Wisconsin Logger Shifts Gears Brian Olby Logging Adds New Cat 501HD Track Harvester

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Wisconsin Logger Shifts Gears, Adds New Cat Harvester


ASHLAND, Wisconsin – Brian Olby wasn’t planning on buying any new logging equipment this year, but he couldn’t pass up a good thing.

He took advantage of an opportune time to trade in and buy a new version of the machine that already had proven itself for him: a Cat® 501HD track harvester.

“It wasn’t necessary to update, but the pricing worked out, so we just traded on a new one,” said Brian, who made the investment in January  – his first purchase of a new machine since 2006. He previously had bought a used 2011 Cat 501HD and ran it a little over a year, so he knew the potential of what he was getting. When he traded the machine it had 4,500 hours on it.

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Brian’s business, Brian Olby Logging, operates in the northern reaches of Wisconsin. His home office and shop are in Ashland, which is located on the south shore of Lake Superior about 70 miles east of Duluth, Minnesota.

It is a small, three-man business: Brian, 43, his son, Brian Jr., 24, and a subcontractor who operates his own forwarder, plus Brian’s companion, Laura, who handles all of the office work. They cut mainly pulpwood, supplying several different mills in the region. Brian’s business shifts between buying private stumpage and selling it to the mills and subcontracting directly to the mills to harvest their timber.

The business had been operating for some time with only three pieces of equipment: the used – now new – Cat 501HD harvester, set up with a cut-to-length head to fell and process, and two forwarders. Brian owned one forwarder, operated by his son; he sold a second to friend who subcontracts to him.

But Brian, who operated the Cat machine, recently made another change. He traded in his forwarder for a John Deere feller buncher that is working ahead of the Cat 501HD. He made the change because he is currently working on a federal timber sale on the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest that requires the tops to be chipped for biomass markets. “We don’t do that very often,” said Brian, but it is required on the federal sale. The feller buncher harvests and bunches the non-merchantable wood. When the Cat 501HD follows, processing the merchantable timber, it puts the tops with the other wood that will be chipped by another contractor.

Brian has one truck that he uses with a bunk trailer and a lowboy trailer for moving equipment, so he contracts for hauling wood.

The addition of the feller buncher has worked out well so far, because it helps keep the other machines busy. “It helps with the Cat 501HD, it helps with the forwarder, and it helps with the biomass stuff,” said Brian, who is in his 20th year of business.

Since he will not be using the feller buncher in some select cuts and thins, the decision to invest in the machine was somewhat difficult to justify, Brian noted. “I’m hoping to use it 50 percent of the time,” he said.

The company does a lot of select cuts and thinning, and the Cat 501HD has proven to be effective and profitable.

Prior to owning the 2011 Cat 501HD, Brian owned a similar Fabtek machine, but when he switched to the Cat product, he noticed a big difference in fuel efficiency. “The fuel economy on the Cat really surprised me,” he said.

“Fuel economy and the Cat service have been very good,” added Brian, as well as parts availability.

He also complimented the sales representative for Fabick Cat, Cory Vrolijk. “He would rather tell you this machine is not good for you than sell you something you don’t need,” said Brian.

“I’ve known Cory for a while,” added Brian. “When he told me this Cat 501HD would be an improvement over the Fabtek…It did what he said it would do, and we’re very impressed with it, very happy with it.”

“The Cat has everything we need,” said Brian, referring to the new Cat 501HD, and was priced affordably.

Brian’s Cat 501HD is equipped with a Cat PF-48 harvesting head. The PF-48 is a fixed harvester attachment that allows the operator to cut and position trees during select thinning of hardwoods without damaging the residual stand. The four-roller design has been field proven in tough hardwood applications for over 15 years.

A fixed attachment has some application limitations, noted Brian. Nevertheless, the Cat PF-48 is effective, he indicated. “It’s not perfect in every job, but it’s very good in every job,” he emphasized. It cuts fast, and the head is not prone to throwing chains off in brushy material. “It’s steady and a lot more consistent than a dangle head…I can count on the production week after week.”

The Cat 501HD is a zero tail swing machine that is easy to maneuver in select cut operations and well balanced for stability in final felling applications. The 163-hp Cat C6.6 Tier 3 Stage IIIA engine with ACERT technology is mounted in the rear, and the cab sits forward of the boom, providing excellent visibility for the operator. The engine also helps with stability and is an effective counter balance for better lift at full reach.

Due to the engine and hydraulic technology on the machine, higher hydraulic flow is maintained under load for faster processing. The engine also includes cold mode start strategy, automatic altitude compensation, and electronic diagnostics and fault monitoring.

A side-by-side radiator, hydraulic and charge air cooling package efficiently prevents heat build-up. The cooling package is away from the front of the carrier to minimize exposure to debris and dust so less cleaning is needed. Designed for efficient and reliable operation, the harvester’s axial piston hydraulic pump meets stringent requirements for noise reduction, efficiency, controllability and durability.

Caterpillar offers a number of other options to loggers for timber harvesting operations.

Cat track harvesters and feller bunchers are designed with the best combination of lift capacity, swing torque and tractive effort ratios to enable loggers to boost production.

The Cat 541 Series 2 and the Cat 552 Series 2 are full tail swing machines designed for high-production clear-cutting or final felling in rough terrain; the 552 is a leveling machine for improved operation on steep terrain.

The Cat 521 and 522 B Series machines are near-zero tail swing machines, which are more attractive for felling and bunching in select cut and thinning applications because they help reduce damage to the residual stand. The 521B is a non-leveling model best suited for plantation thinning, biomass harvesting, and medium-production select or clear-cut applications; the 522B is a leveling machine for select or clear-cut logging.

The above machines are equipped with the 303-hp Cat C9 ACERT engine, making them considerably more powerful than the Cat 501HD.

Cat track Forest Machines are available in four models and are configurable for a wide range of applications. A General Forestry version is for use in site prep, forestry road building, and heavy-duty harvesting and processor applications; a Log Loader version is for grapple (log loading), grapple saw, and light-duty processor applications.

And Caterpillar also offers three options for loggers who require a wheel feller buncher in their operations.

(For more information on Cat machines, visit www.cat.com/forestry.)

The excellent visibility in the cab of the Cat 501HD is an important factor, noted Brian. “Visibility is a big deal, especially in select cuts.”

“”It’s a pretty solid, fuel efficient, reliable machine,” he summed up.

His son has been running the Cat 501HD since Brian added and began operating the feller buncher. Brian Jr. has been working for him two years and previously ran the forwarder.

With an uncle and other relatives who worked as mechanics, he grew up in a shop where he received a good hands-on education in mechanical work. He got a job as a mechanic when he came out of high school, doing engine and transmission overhauls. His passion then and still today is building race motors.

As a mechanic, “The biggest thing I like about the Cat 501HD is that it’s a very good, common-sense type of a machine. It’s not something where you need a degree in computer science to understand. It’s more simple…It’s got what it needs to do the job.”

“I like the simplicity…It cuts a lot of wood, and I’m not nervous to start it in the morning…It’s something that the average logger can get…and maintain on his own quite easily.”

In addition to being favorably impressed with Cat machines, Brian has noticed a difference interacting with Cat personnel. “I was impressed with Caterpillar…For a big company, they’re pretty personable to deal with and they listen to the end user.”

“They listen to the loggers,” he added. “When it comes to details and little things and you give them input, it matters to them, and that’s nice.”

Brian had an early connection to the forest products industry that proved beneficial. He had a grandfather who worked for a power company and also ran a small sawmill, cutting logs for neighbors and making fencing, rough lumber and other material. As a youngster Brian helped his grandfather a bit with the sawmill.

While still in high school he worked part-time at a sawmill. He was hired to perform maintenance, and when he turned 18 he began operating some of the equipment. He ran a log loader, scaling incoming trucks and unloading logs, and loading finished lumber onto trucks for deliveries. When the mill was shorthanded on the head saw, Brian told the owner of his prior experience helping his grandfather, and he was put to work running the head rig.

“I enjoyed it,” recalled Brian. Although it would seem the sawyer performs the same routine over and over, “Every log’s different when you’re cutting for grade,” said Brian. That experience has helped him as a logger in processing trees, he noted.

His introduction to logging equipment and logging came through a neighbor who had purchased one of the first cut-to-length Fabtek harvesters that were introduced to the Great Lakes region. “He was having trouble with it,” recalled Brian, and his neighbor and his equipment dealer asked him to take a try at running the machine and giving them his feedback. “The cut-to-length system was what intrigued me about it.”

“That’s what I like about cut-to-length,” said Brian. “It’s more than cutting a tree…You can cut the crooks and defects out and get good grade out of a tree.”

Before going into business for himself, Brian worked for another logging company – a neighbor – operating a slasher for about six months. The slasher, built on a self-propelled six-wheel carrier, was used to buck tree-length wood into pieces 100 inches long. The operator, who drives the machine from one log pile to another, picks up a delimbed stem with a knuckleboom grapple, sets it on a saw table with a butt plate, and bucks it to length with the slasher saw. “Now only a few guys do that,” said Brian. “There aren’t many pole skidding operations left up here.”

About 80-85% of production is pulpwood and the remainder logs and bolts. Over the years most of his pulpwood has gone either to the Sappi (formerly Potlatch Corp.) paper mill in Cloquet, the Verso paper mill in Wisconsin Rapids, about 200 miles south, and the Louisiana-Pacific mill in Hayward, about 60 miles southwest. The Louisiana-Pacific plant manufactures oriented strand board and also SmartSide siding, an engineered wood product.

Saw logs and veneer logs are supplied to a handful of mills in the region. Another business in Ashland ,  Ashland Mat, buys 16-foot and 18-foot hardwood logs that it cuts into timbers to make road mats for power companies and other industries.

The most dominant species in the region are aspen, poplar, soft maple and hard maple, and red oak. The company also cuts some birch, ash, and basswood.

Average production is about 200 cords weekly, depending on markets. “If mills are paying bonuses and we can buy better stumpage, 300 is no problem,” said Brian. “Our markets dictate our production.”

Brian is a member of the Great Lakes Timber Producers Association. He participates in various training through the association, and it also helps him keep up with what’s going on in the industry, regulatory changes, road limits, and other matters.

“We always treated the land as if it were our own,” said Brian. That kind of service and stewardship put him in good standing with neighboring landowners when he was cutting on a tract. Once they got into an area and began a job and other landowners saw their work, those neighbors would ask Brian to look at their property and give them a price for their timber.

He’s always strived to do a good job when cutting for mills, too. Maintaining good business relationships with mills helps to get a preferential quota when mills have to cut back on log volume.