At the time, MacDonald Steel was engaged in the fabrication of components for many well-known mobile equipment manufacturers. However, owner and CEO Ken MacDonald envisioned the creation of a new company that would build upon MacDonald Steel’s fabricating expertise, a company that would design and manufacture purpose-built forestry equipment. It was a gamble because at the time there were many large and established companies competing in a crowded forestry equipment market.
The original team members performed exhaustive field research in the southeastern US, one of the world’s great wood producing regions. This on-the-ground experience with logging contractors determined that even with four manufacturers competing for market share, drive-to-tree feller bunchers were falling well below the expectations of the customer base, foremost in terms of mechanical reliability and longevity.
Focusing on the input and reactions of southeastern US loggers, Tigercat set out to design a technically superior alternative. The result was the 726 feller buncher, quickly recognized as a more durable, reliable machine capable of achieving greater production. The 726 also proved to deliver a longer useful life with significantly higher uptime than competing machines.
The immediate success of the 726, coupled with Tigercat’s high regard for customer feedback and satisfaction, set a high standard early in the game which the company constantly aims to surpass.
The Prototype 726
Pulled off a north Florida highway in 1992 was a Mack truck hauling a strange looking feller buncher. Two guys stood armed with a punch and die set and a ball-peen hammer: a truck driver called Don Snively and a tradesman named Jim Wood. Both worked for MacDonald Steel. Serial numbers and paperwork were minor details that no one thought of during the rush to get the prototype Tigercat 726 feller buncher built — until the prospect of jail loomed that is.
When it came time to build the prototype Tigercat in 1992, Wood was the obvious choice. As a licensed electrician, millwright and automotive mechanic, he had the skills and talent to deal with the complications and uncertainties that were sure to accompany the assembly of a new machine in the back corner of a steel fabrication plant.
The clock was ticking and Wood recalls being questioned by Tigercat president Tony Iarocci regarding the machine’s state of readiness. He answered, “We can ship it now or wait three more weeks. Tony said ‘ship it tomorrow.’ We had the batteries bungee corded into the belly pan.”
Snively climbed into the old Mack truck bound for Expo Southeast in Tifton, Georgia. Wood followed in a pick-up. They worked on the machine at rest stops in the evening. By the time they reached Georgia, it was acceptably finished. After the show the two of them, often accompanied by Iarocci and company owner and CEO, Ken MacDonald, toured the southeast with the machine.
Recalling Expo Southeast and the representatives of another equipment manufacturer who brought them, Williston Timber co-owner Eddie Hodge says, “They were rushing us through the show to get us to [their] machines and we wanted to stop and look at this new Tigercat. The damn engine was turned around the wrong way… Besides it was a catchy name.”
Shortly after the show the Eddie and his operator flew to Louisiana where the machine was being demonstrated and met up with Iarocci, MacDonald, Snively and Wood. There were not many trees left on the site but they made do. “We cut some stumps and drove it around on some hills and found a few standing trees,” explains Eddie. Then he proposed the one-month trial.
Eddie recalls, “I said to Tony, ‘If you want to you can bring that thing to Florida. We don’t know anything about it, so you’ll have to leave the mechanic with it. If it stays together for a month, we’ll buy it.’ So that was the deal. It didn’t even have a serial number on it. Don gets stopped by the Florida DOT. They’re calling us. He calls Canada and he’s down for like half a day. You know stolen equipment moves like that, you grind the serial numbers off… They’re from Canada. They don’t have any paper work. They’ve got a day cab truck. And all they wanted was to get rid of that thing and go home.” By the time Snively dropped the machine to the Hodges and headed for home, he had been away 40 days.