Newcomer On The Block: 853E Feller Buncher
Published on: Tuesday 13th June 2017
— Allan Haig-Brown
“It’s not like it used to be,” says logging contractor Jerry Schwartz, meaning the days of big timber and easy terrain are long gone. The cut block he is working, high on a hill above an Okanagan Valley north of Vernon, includes a mix of cedar, spruce and fir, with a lot of snags and only a few good, big 150-foot trees on 25-inch butts. To make any money in this kind of wood, logging costs must be calculated with precision and carefully monitored. There isn’t a lot of room for error.
The major components of logging costs are labour and equipment. In a profitable equation these must be balanced with production. Over the past quarter century, Schwartz’ company, Blue Nose Logging, has built a reputation for keeping the equation profitable. He does this with highly skilled loggers and modern equipment. On this particular side they are working a 28-hectare cut block with a range of John Deere equipment including an 850B Dozer, 748E grapple skidders, a 540E line skidder, and 644 loaders. The only piece of equipment on the block that doesn’t have John Deere written on the side is the new feller buncher.
The Tigercat 853E Feller Buncher is manufactured by Tigercat industries of Brantford, Ontario. It is distributed in Canada by John Deere. Schwartz was asked by his John Deere distributor, Capital Tractors of Vernon, if he would like to test the prototype this past summer. That produced the manufacturer’s first satisfied customer , with the promise of many more to come. “We demonstrated it for three weeks and then we bought it,” Schwartz explains, adding that there were other local contractors waiting to buy the unit he had declined.
In a nutshell, he says he likes the Tigercat’s solid construction and speedy operation. With a fleet of John Deere machines and a long relationship with Capital, he isn’t worried about dealer support for the fledgling buncher.
The first block that they took the machine into had a fair percentage of big trees on slopes that ranged up to 50 percent. The second trial block, logged for Riverside Forest Products, was 28 hectares on somewhat gentler ground, but the mixed stands slowed production a little.
That, says Schwartz, is where the match of expert operator to the machine pays off. He describes operator Daryl Watts as “the best in the valley-he can consistently cut two and a half to three loads an hour.”
Using the new machine, Daryl had cut the 28-hectare, 4800-cubic-metre block in just over seven eight-hour days. This equaled about 150 truck loads. The machine was equipped with a Koehring Waterous 20” continuous rotation circular sawhead; it can accommodate various makes ane notes that the machine has a 4.5 km/h track speed, compared to just 2.0 km/h in some competitive bunchers. Under Watt’s deft touch everything else about the machine seems fast as well. Working in small wood he cuts and gathers three or four stems before closing the accumulating arms on the cutting head. But it is in big timber on steep slopes that the machine really impresses, says Watts.
“The way the boom and cylinders are mounted, you can tuck the head right back in between the tracks. That gives you more lifting power with the big trees.”
Watts, who has operated a number of feller-bunchers over the past seven years, was also pleased with the cab visibility and strength. “I’ve dropped some big ones on it,” he chuckles.
As Watts returns to work, Schwartz describes the next challenge for the new machine, a large blowdown of good timber that he expects will yield some 500 truckloads. He planned to use the Tigercat to cut a strip along the edge of the standing timber. Working from that strip, the Tigercat would be used to cut the stems free from the stumps. A pair of skidders would remove the first row two or three trees at a time, allowing the buncher to get at the next row.
The purpose-built Tigercat, as it will be sold in Canada, will come with a John Deere 6076AF, 7. 6-litre turbo charged and after-cooled diesel, generating 205 hp at 2200 rpm. Hydraulic cylinders are also by John Deere and are coupled with a load sensing ‘black box’ that automatically adjusts flow so that drive, swing and boom functions are maintained through a wide range of load situations. The machine is mounted on D6 size track and bottom rollers. The prototype has 24-inch (single grouser) tracks with square snow/mud relief holes.
Tony Iarocci, president of Tigercat Industries, explains that the machine is designed to take optimum advantage of engine horsepower. The 853E, at 52,800 lbs without a felling head, can be classed as a mid-size machine when compared to large machines at 85,000 lbs and some of the smaller models at 34,000 lbs.
“The big thing is the geometry of the machine,” says Iarocci. “The designers worked hard to bring the working weight (with felling head) in at 59,000 lbs.”
Achieving this required careful weight distribution-the idea being to come up with the smallest machine possible that can handle steep slopes, rugged terrain and the target wood size, he adds.
The 835E is very much a product of the 1990s, where loggers are often working in more marginal stands of timber, and require reliability and efficiency of operation. Many of the early machines were modified excavators. The 853E is a purpose built feller-buncher.
Tigercat is a designer’s company. Tony Iarocci and a number of others at the firm have had extensive design experience with other major logging machinery manufacturers. Tigercat was formed three years ago and until now the firm has specialized in building drive-through feller-bunchers for the southeastern U.S. market.
“We started the business in the middle of a recession, and things were a little stronger in the U.S.,” says Iarocci. “We designed our first machines for that market. Now the level of activity is picking up in Canada.”