MASSENA, New York – Build a system of locks, canals and dams. Make a river navigable for deep-draft vessels, such as those carrying grain and iron ore. That’s the concept behind the St. Lawrence Seaway (constructed between 1954 and 1959), an engineering feat that showcases creativity and industriousness.
Therein is the poetic tie-in to Seaway Timber Harvesting, Inc., which has its home base along the St. Lawrence. Seaway Timber is a perfect example of a creative, can-do spirit in the wood products industry.
“Basically, we’re a timber-harvesting operation with an arm that’s in the aggregate side,” said Pat Curran, president of Seaway Timber Harvesting. Pat and two brothers, Tim Curran and Lee Curran, incorporated the company in 1990, but the history of the business goes back to the early 1970s along with name changes and reconfigurations.
“I started the business out of my shirt pocket,” explained Pat. “As a youngster, I worked on dairy farms.”
Pat was 17 years old when he started logging. He liked working on dairy farms as a teen. And he likes logging. What he most appreciates is the challenge of doing, producing – products and jobs. Several years ago, Pat purchased a CBI stump shear. CBI, which is headquartered in Newton, N.H, is a Terex brand. Pleased with the performance of the shear, Pat made a second match with CBI in 2016 when he added a CBI 6800BT horizontal grinder to the Seaway Timber equipment roster.
“Over the years, the CBI sales team would invite us to some of their demonstrations,” said Pat. “I was always impressed by what [the CBI machines] could do.”
Yet it was not until Pat was about to start a big right-of-way project that he saw a perfect fit for a CBI horizontal grinder. For one, he wanted a machine on tracks.
When Pat appraised the CBI 6800BT, he grew confident it would be a great track machine and more. “The machine has so much ease of operation – and horsepower,” said Pat. The grinder moves along a right-of-way with remarkable agility, he explained. And it’s not difficult to move the CBI grinder on and off a low-boy carrier.
The 6800BT is specifically designed for land clearing companies and yard waste processors who demand high-volume throughput and maximum reliability. It is capable of processing land clearing debris, pallets, clean industrial waste, stumps, and logs as quickly as it can be loaded. It’s well suited to produce highly-marketable mulch through its regrinding capability. Powered by a CAT C-27, 1050 HP engine with production capacity of up to 200 tons per hour, it’s a mobile wood processing juggernaut.
Well before purchasing the CBI 6800BT horizontal track grinder, Pat had gotten to know Aaron Benway, a sales representative with CBI. “He’s a very knowledgeable man,” said Pat of Aaron. “He’s a very decent man.”
CBI knows a customer must have a machine that is a precise match to the task. And Pat appreciates that. “We tried a flail chipper on tracks,” he said. “It just didn’t work for us.” CBI understood.
The connection to the sales team at CBI added to Pat’s confidence in his choice of equipment. Seaway Timber purchased the CBI 6800 from Emerald Equipment Systems, Inc. in Syracuse, NY. Emerald Equipment is a dealer for Terex. And it is the distributor to which Seaway Timber turns for all its crushing and screening tools used on the aggregate side of the business.
Five 522 Caterpillar and one 521 Caterpillar machines handle the harvesting and felling at Seaway Timber. Seaway uses no forwarders. Instead it skids lengths to a landing. Every saw log is pulled first. Every softwood log is also pulled. Softwood species are only used for pellet manufacturing at a sister company, Curran Renewable Energy, LLC.
All logs are stripped with stroke-boom delimbers and debarked with chain flail debarkers. For processing small wood, such as cedar and balsam species, Seaway Timber relies on a 324 Caterpillar with a Keto head from Quadco.
“Clean fiber is a must for pellets,” said Pat. The pellet-producing plant that works in conjunction with Seaway Timber has five Andritz-Sprout pellet mills. Four of the mills run at one time with the fifth being held in reserve in case one of the other four goes down. The plant has a pellet-producing capacity of 120,000 tons per year and it has been in place since 2009.
Pellets are packaged with a Hamer-Fischbein bagging system. Some pellets are delivered bulk to homes. “We have a truck that can deliver to homes,” explained Pat. “There’s a weigh-scale on the truck.”
Expanding the market for pellets is one of Pat’s goals. “We have been trying to work with offshore markets for pellets,” he said. “I do believe the [offshore] market for pellets exists.” A weaker dollar, for example, is making it more attractive for buyers based in European nations to look to the United States for pellets.
When we spoke with Pat in early September, he was in the process of obtaining certification from the Sustainable Biomass Partnership. The SBP designation is essentially a must-have to sell pellets to countries in Europe, he explained. A member of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Rainforest Alliance Smartwood Program, Seaway Timber is committed to environmentally sound approaches. Membership in the Empire State Forest Products Association allows Seaway to collaborate with colleagues at the regional level.
Seaway Timber harvests on all types of land. “Everything out there, we will bid on,” said Pat. “There’s a lot of low-grade timber available.”
In that low-grade timber, Pat sees an excellent source of wood fiber for varied products and opportunities for many enterprises in the Empire State and beyond. As with any product, the markets can fluctuate and manufacturers must be prepared. For instance, the last two winters were relatively warm in the Northeast. That resulted in the pellet plant in Pat’s operation functioning at 50 percent capacity.
Pellets are made from a 70:30 ratio of hardwood to softwood fiber. In addition to feeding the production of pellets, low-grade material harvested by Seaway Timber is used to make wood chips that head to paper mills, such as International Paper, Domtar and Fortress Paper. ReEnergy and Black Water buy fiber for biofuel, which they use at their electricity-producing plants. Mulch is made, too.
The CBI 6800BT has made a noticeable difference to his operation, said Pat. “The grinder has made life on the grinding side so much easier,” he explained. “The efficiency of it.”
The versatility is also noteworthy. “I will use [the CBI] grinder on mulch, use it for stumps,” said Pat. “It was designed well. It’s easy to work on.”
Complementing the clam shell opening that provides full access to screens, is the overall ruggedness of the CBI 6800BT. The machine has 100 percent continuous welds — a feature that besides adding strength maximizes resistance to corrosion. The 40″ x 60″ long upturn rotor has a forged, high-strength rotor core with 24 weld-on hammers that are protected by replaceable tip mounting faces arranged in a patented offset helix pattern. At 1440 revolutions per minute, the rotor’s offset helix pattern cuts the full width of the rotor in both directions to increase throughput and promote even wear. All the features are welcome at a busy company like Pat’s, where decisions about products and changeovers must be made quickly.
“Seaway Timber and Curran [Renewable Energy] work hand and hand,” said Pat. “Often inventory goes down to a day at the pellet plant. Paper mills have priority.”
Home to Seaway Timber Harvesting is Massena, N.Y., a city of 10,800 in St. Lawrence County. Massena is near the northernmost point in New York State. It lies just a few miles from the border with Canada. Seaway Timber generally takes jobs within an 80-mile radius of Massena. The company also owns 15,000 acres of timberland.
Thirty-five trucks, a mix of Western Star and Kenworth, make up the fleet at the company. “The last 13 trucks [purchased] all have an automatic transmission,” said Pat. “We did it to reduce maintenance. A year and a half [after the purchase] we haven’t pulled a transmission.”
Pat believes that with the automatic transmission and the braking power, drivers are not focused on the gear shift. The result is more alert drivers, as well as less maintenance on trucks.
“It’s not going to be for everyone,” said Pat of the automatic transmission. But he sees real plusses in his choice, including automatic transmission being easier on older drivers.
Log trucks are permitted to carry heavier loads in Upper New York State. Trucks must be absolutely reliable. “Stop-ability is everything,” said Pat.
Pat’s newest trucks, all Western Star, have Cummins engines, which he also likes very much. In all aspects of his business operations, Pat thinks about how to do what he is doing optimally and how to incorporate new ventures that are a good fit.
“There are so many good men, we want to keep them working,” said Pat of his employees. One hundred employees work at Seaway Timber and Curran Renewable.
Balancing and rebalancing are what a company must do, particularly in an interval when markets are not predictable, to keep everyone employed, said Pat. He explained that he very much enjoys being able to “create opportunities for people to work” and that he just enjoys the day-to-day of what he is doing.
“Accomplishing what you set out to do each day” is a very rewarding dimension of his profession said Pat. “I don’t ever plan to retire.” What he does plan to do is continue pursuing creative ways to make the most of wood fiber – and encouraging others to do the same.
When Pat finds time outside work, he relishes recreational activities on the St. Lawrence River.