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BTB 20: Tigercat Marches Across Siberia

On a February trip to start-up a new H860C harvester and provide initial operator training, I was fortunate enough to follow up with two of Tigercat’s first customers in Siberian. The companies purchased the Tigercat systems nearly one year ago.

– Matt Roberts, international sales

After a grueling 16 hours of flying time from Toronto, via Frankfurt, St. Petersburg and Moscow, we arrive early morning in Bratsk, the second largest city in the Irkutsk region of Siberia. We are met by Viktor Mishurov, general director and Nikita Mikhaylov, service manager for Husqvarna Siberia. The company is under contract with Tigercat’s Russian distributor, Canadian Forestry Machines Ltd. to service Tigercat machines in Siberia. With no time for rest we pile into Viktor’s Land Cruiser and drive six hours south to Ust-Uda.

A Tigercat H860C track base machine in snowy conditions.

The H860C during start-up and operator training. Together, Tigercat and Canadian Forestry Machines are making a significant investment in training and support.

Upon arriving, we head out onto the Uda River for the 60 km (40 mi) journey to the harvesting operations of Angarsky Les. In the winter months river travel is by far the most efficient means of reaching the cut blocks. There is nothing quite like driving at speeds approaching 160 km/hr (100 mph) over a frozen river in Siberia. In the flat overcast light, it is difficult to distinguish between the road’s edge and the banks of snow piled on each side. There are more than a few collective gasps as Viktor either under of over steers the Land Cruiser while navigating the many curves arbitrarily inserted in a vain attempt to lower the speed of the local traffic.

An L870C feller buncher is barely noticeable amongst the trees in a snowy forest.

The L870C is becoming the felling machine of choice in Siberia.

Along the way, we pass Siberian pine and larch stacked at the river’s edge awaiting the spring thaw. Yuriy Torokhov, general director of Canadian Forestry Machines explains that each winter month 20 000 m3 (5,500 cords) is transported 300 km (185 mi) by truck over the frozen river to the paper and saw mills further south. The Angarsky Les harvest crew is currently producing 30 000 m3 (8,275 cords) in 20 days, so the excess is stockpiled. It will be floated to the mill over the summer to ensure a steady wood supply when soft ground conditions limit harvesting capacity.

We are met at the cut block by Vladimir Konstantinov and Igor Pervokhov, general and deputy directors of Angarsky Les. The first thing that strikes me is that this is neither a true clear fell or a selective cut operation but something in between. Vladimir explains that the feller buncher clears 4-5 m (13-16 ft) wide corridors spaced about 5 m (16 ft) apart. The large trees between the corridors are also felled, leaving the younger growth to regenerate the block. According to the forestry engineers from Bratsk State University, this is the most effective means of natural forest regeneration and looking at some of the areas harvested in past years, it seems to work well.

Angarsky Les is felling with a Tigercat L870C equipped with a 5702 saw and 110 degree wrist. At the time of the visit the machine has just over 3,000 operating hours and Vladimir comments favorably on the performance and production rates. The L870C is cutting up to 1,2 m3 (0.33 cord) pine and larch with butt diameters approaching 80 cm (32 in) and the operator is quite pleased with its ability to handle the large timber.

The corridor system works very well for transporting. Each of the two 630C skidders runs up and down its own corridor; the two machines do not interfere with each other. Both skidders have worked without issue over eight months of operation.

At roadside, a Tigercat T240B equipped with a Rotobec 6606HD grapple and a dead heel handles the loading duties. This configuration coupled with 30 m (100 ft) log lengths presented the operator with a bit of a learning curve. The typical loading method used in the southern US where the stem is hooked around the rear bolster and dragged up the trailer cannot be used with these extremely large logs due to the damage caused to the bolster. Instead the loader operator places the butt of the tree into position against the headache rack of the trailer, then picks it up closer to the tip to lift and clear the bolsters for placement onto the trailer.

A 630C skidder transporting a load of wood.

Each system utilizes to 630C skidders for transporting

The T240B is currently loading a truck with approximately 25-30 tonnes of wood in 10-15 minutes. The next loader purchased by Angarsky Les will use a Butt N’ Top grapple configuration to give the operator more control of the larger trees. Igor expects loading time to decrease dramatically with the extra control of a Butt N’ Top grapple.

Darkness falls and we head back to Ust-Uda where Vladimir and Igor treat us to a traditional Russian meal complete with the mandatory vodka (for more on vodka, Russian style, see side bar.) After an excellent meal, we pour ourselves back into Viktor’s truck and head back to Bratsk for a few hours sleep before the next leg of our journey.

The next day we drive northeast to Ust-Kut, the location of a new sawmill being constructed by Trans-Siberian Forestry Company (TSFC). Although the mill is not scheduled for completion until fall, TSFC has already started harvesting operations using three sets of Tigercat machines. Each system consists of an L870C feller buncher with 5702 felling saw feeding two 630C skidders, two H860C harvesters at roadside and a T240B loader. Recently TSFC added more to its Tigercat machine stable. An L870C equipped with a Pierce Pacific PSB3440 bar saw head is slated for the few areas with trees over 1,5 m (4.9 ft) in diameter. Five new T250B loaders with Rotobec 8806 1 m2 (10.7 ft2) grapples will assist in the mill yard and the forest. Finally, we have come to start-up and provide initial operator training for the new H860C equipped with Tigercat’s TH575 harvesting head.

At the mill site we are greeted warmly by Anatoly Yakimov, general director of TSFC. Construction is well underway and Anatoly gives us a tour of the main buildings, in-feed and sorting systems and drying kilns. Ust-Kut is far removed from the urban areas of Irkutsk and Bratsk, bringing a unique set of challenges to a construction project of this magnitude. Concrete is made on site using local aggregates. The outer mill structure has been imported from China complete with the labour. The in-feed and sorting systems are of Anatoly’s own design using components from Europe and Canada. TSFC has even gone to the extent of building a hotel on site to house the many European workers and specialists that will come to install and commission the wood processing equipment. The mill will be the most advanced of its kind in Russia with wood consumption estimated at nearly 5 million cubic metres (5 million tons) of round wood per year.

A Tigercat skidder in motion as it transports a load of wood.

Each skidder travels within it own corridor.

After the tour we head 160 km (100 mi) north to the main camp where the machines have been harvesting Siberian pine and larch at a rate of 30 000 m3 (8,275 cords) per month per machine set. We meet with Pavel Tribunsky, director of forestry operations and make our way to the new H860C. After an initial inspection and orientation, the excited operators take it for a spin while we await the arrival of Tigercat operator trainer Pierre Fortin.

While the H860C is out for its test drive, I take the opportunity to watch the other machines work. The L870C has no difficulty handling the 1 tonne trees, laying them in neat bunches ready for the 630C to transport 200-300 m (650-1,000 ft) to roadside. There, the older H860C equipped with an AFM 80 Magnum harvesting head is quickly processing the trees into 5 m (16 ft) lengths. The T240B loaders can be seen over the hill working on the timber stacks already processed by the H860C. The site is as well run as any I’ve seen. Pavel has done an excellent job training the Russian operators for this new corridor-type harvesting technique previously unused in Siberia.

Canadian Forestry Machines Ltd.

Yuriy and Yana Torkhov are the owners of Russian Tigercat distributor, Canadian Forestry Machines Ltd. They initially conducted extensive research into what makes a successful dealership in the Canadian forestry market and emulated this business model in Russia. Only three years into the forestry game, Yuriy and Yana have built a highly successful business and an entirely new concept of a Russian equipment dealership.

Canadian Forestry Machines’ central office is located in Perm, just west of the Ural mountain range and well positioned to service the region’s forestry areas. After successfully launching operations in Perm, the company quickly focused on the Irkutsk region of Siberia, one of the largest forestry sectors in Russia with a current allowable cut of 90 million m3 (25 million cords) per year, about 55% of Russia’s total volume.

To support the Irkutsk, Canadian Forestry Machines partnered with Viktor Mishurov of Husqvarna Siberia which has eight service facilities in the region. Service coverage for Tigercat machines in Siberia is now three times more extensive than any other major harvesting equipment supplier. In addition, Canadian Forestry Machines has invested heavily in a spare parts stock valued at two million (US) dollars for the Tigercat machines working in Siberia. Aside from normal consumable items like filters, saw teeth, bars and chains, this stock includes complete axles, gearboxes, cylinders and other large items that will prevent costly down time. Response from contractors and mills in Siberia has been very positive, proving that Yuriy and Yana have found a winning approach to supplying equipment to the Russian forestry industry.

A view of the corridors from roadside.

A view of the corridors from roadside.

Vodka, Russian Style

Vodka is well known throughout the world for it’s Russian roots. Lesser known are the three Russian rules governing the spirit: Vodka must be Russian, it must be cold and it must not be mixed with anything. Russians cringe at the thought of us poor, uninformed saps in the rest of the world drinking non-Russian vodka mixed with tomato juice, orange juice or heaven forbid, Red Bull. And saints preserve us if we should happen to toss in an ice cube! No, vodka drinking is a fine art and if you find yourself at a dinner party in Russia where vodka is being served, here are a few helpful tips to make the experience an enjoyable one.

First, the vodka will be served in a bottle or carafe that has come straight from the fridge, or better yet, the freezer. It will be poured into shot glasses, one for each guest. Do not drink yet. The dinner host will initiate the first round by picking up his glass. This is a signal that a toast is about to occur and you should also pick up your glass. If you don’t like vodka, tough, you should not have sat down at the table in the first place.

Second, you shouldn’t drink Vodka without something to follow it, so while preparing for the toast be sure to grab a piece of bread or pickled herring. Don’t worry there will be lots of both on the table in front of you and Russian bread is made for the express purpose of drinking vodka.

Third. The host will proceed with the toast, the content of which will be undecipherable to you. However, this is just a means to an end so the content is not really important.

After the toast there will probably be discussion amongst the guests about the toast. As the lone English-speaking person you will not be expected to join this conversation. Eventually the talk will end and everyone will drink their vodka. Watch for the tell-tale raising of the shot glasses and follow suit. Now, this is where those with good poker faces will really benefit. Try not to make a face, contract your neck muscles or worse, fall to the ground gasping for breath. Remember that piece of bread or pickled herring you obtained earlier? Eat it now.

Fourth. It is customary that the time between the first and second glass of vodka can be no longer than a gun shot, so while you are trying to recover from the first drink, your glass will be magically refilled. Again, don’t drink your vodka yet as another toast is coming. This time somebody else will do the honours, most likely not you so don’t get concerned yet. Have more bread or pickled herring in hand and drink with the rest of the guests.

Fifth, sixth, seventh, ninth… This process will repeat itself many times over the course of the dinner. Eventually everyone will look to you to make a toast. Don’t panic! By this point you should be vocally well lubricated. Just keep it short and simple. A nice thank you to your hosts and a toast to everyone’s continued success will suffice. If you have managed to get yourself into the delicate situation of speaking fluent drunkenese, don’t worry your interpreter will sort it out for you. за ваше здоровье! (Cheers!).