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Tilman Logging Unleashes Tigercat (Southern Loggin’ Times, May 1993)

There’s a new breed of cat roaming the woods of south central Virginia and according to Ed Tilman, owner of Tilman Logging Inc., based here, the Tigercat 726 harvester cuts no corners when it comes to quality.

This article originally appeared in Southern Loggin’ Times, May 1993. Reprinted with permission.

– Jennifer McCary

POWHATAN, Va – “It’s a precision made machine,” Tilman states with conviction. “Quick steering is what sells it,” he adds, comparing its lever steering to that of a Caterpillar skidder. But the mechanically inclined logger’s list of machinery attributes doesn’t stop there. “It’s got more engine power; it’s geared lower; and it’s heavier built.”

The harvester, introduced in 1992, is engineered and designed primarily for the Southeastern market by Tigercat Equipment, Inc., Cambridge, Ontario, Can. Fabrication of the steel components is subcontracted to MacDonald Steel, Ltd., which fabricated Caterpillar equipment for many years. The design also incorporates readily accessible off-the-shelf components rather than proprietary parts.

Tilman, who studied the machine’s inner working thoroughly before purchasing it in January, cites a few that are indicative of the quality built into the machine. These include Rexroth pumps – a hydrostatic pump on the carrier and a dedicated pump on the saw system; John Deere axles; a Caterpillar 3116TA (turbocharged, aftercooled) engine; and Timkin tapered roller bearings in center section (instead of standard bushings).

Of the Timkin component which has slave bushings, Tilman says, “It (center joint) doesn’t wear. All you have to do is take a couple of shims out of it and fix it. It’s one of these things that will run 25,000 hours and you don’t have to do anything to it.” Center section repairs, he points out, are an expensive proposition.

The 3116 engine delivers 195 HP at 2,200 RPM, 3,000 RPM less than the 177 HP Cummins engine on a feller-buncher the Tigercat replaced. As a result, fuel consumption is 10 gallons less per day, the operator reports. Lower gearing provides for lower reduction in the axle, so that the machine maintains ground speed, “without snatching and jerking,” Tilman says, even on hills or in wet conditions. Tires are 28×126 Firestones.

Lift arms are closer to the front axle, which makes the unit more stable. Identical tilt and lift arm cylinders are beefier for lifting and forwarding larger stems. Hefty 2 ½ in. pins secure the lift arms while 3 ¼ in. pins are used in the articulated center section.

In addition to the Tigercat, which is equipped with a Koehring sawhead, Tilman also operates a ’91 Valmet tri-wheel feller-buncher. This combination is ideal for performing thinnings and clearing cuts, he notes. On a clear-cut, both machines work independently to harvest the tract. When working a thinning job, the larger Tigercat cuts the rows out and nimble tri-wheeler follows behind to thin the rows.

A ’90 model 667 Ranger and a Cat 518 skidder pull logs to the landing where a model 27 Morbark chipper equipped with a cat 750 engine processes chips into waiting vans. Skidders are equipped with bunching style grapples – a 104 in. Esco on the Ranger and 100 in. Young on the Cat.

“For our application,” Tilman says, “an ice tong (bunching) type works the best because we pull mostly small wood. You can get them up easier because they align themselves as the grapple comes down. The other (basket type) just folds up and if you get a big stem over in a corner it won’t tighten up on it.” Net result is more cordage per drag. A new F67G Valmet Ranger is slated for a July delivery to replace the older model Cat.

A high drive Cat D5H dozer for roadbuilding rounds out the ironworks. Tilman points out the dozer’s power angle and tilt blade can almost grade a road like a motor-grader.

Lifelong Logger

A product of the timber industry, Tilman started helping out at his dad’s sawmill as a teenager, then worked into logging the mill and hauling the mill’s chips to Virginia Fibers, Riverville, Va. IN the mid-‘80’s he purchased a tract that had too much “wood” (pulpwood) on it. So he purchased a used chipper and began producing chips as well as logs. When his father retired and sold the sawmill in 1988, Tilman began supplying fuelwood and pine pulp chips to Stone Container Corp., Hopewell, Va.

“When I went to work for Stone, that’s when it really took off,” he remarks. Today, product mix has reversed. The majority is chips rather than sawlogs.

Tilman is pleased with the excellent relationship he enjoys with Stone’s Eastern Div. “You can’t beat the Woodlands Div. here,” he says enthusiastically. “They’ll help their loggers instead of trying to make them cut only theirs (tracts)” He points out that pulpwood off tracts he purchases is treated the same and Stone foresters will help market the logs when needed. If he locates a tract but doesn’t want to buy it for some reason, quite often the company will, giving him first option to harvest it.

Virginia Fibers buys paper quality hardwood chips. Pine sawlogs now go to Flippo Lumber Co., Ashland, Va., hardwood sawlogs to Hairfield Lumber Co., Louisa, Va.

Growing up the son of a second generation lumberman, the 43-year-old operator has spend a lifetime honing his skills. Along the way, he developed a few tricks of the trade. “It’s those little things that make the difference between making the job run and just kinda working yourself to death,” he says with a knowing smile.

As testimony, Tilman points to his small but productive five man crew that averages 19-20 loads per day, which is equivalent to the output of a typical 12 man whole-tree chipping crew, boasts Tilman. Last year’s totals reached 3,300 loads of pulpwood and sawlogs. Such productivity can be attributed to good planning, maintaining a steady production flow and experienced crew.

Crew members William Marks, Bobby Washington and Frank Henshaw have been with the company 18, 17, and 12 years, respectively. Joe Massenburg, the newest man on the team, has been on board for two years.

Before beginning a new tract, Tilman examines ground conditions, estimates skid distances and determines what needs to be done with regard to Best Management Practices (BMPs), Streamside Management Zones (SMZs) and roadbuilding.

His goal is to keep some timber close in and some farther out to ensure a steady pace. For crossing streams, the crew carries a 20 ft. long, ¾ in. diameter gas line pipe that is placed in the stream and covered with brush. Afterward, a grapple removes the brush and pulls the temporary “culvert” back out.

To ensure chip quality, the chipper operator shuts down several times during the day to touch up chipper knife edges with a hand grinder. Knife sets are changed every two or three days for a thorough sharpening. Care is taken to keep as much dirt and grit off the logs as possible. Skid Trails are covered with brush and moved regularly to keep dirt accumulation to a minimum.

When it rains, the operation simply shuts down or moves to a sandy tract to allow time for the ground time to dry out. And finally a separator on the chipper helps eliminate what dirt does accumulate. “If you stick dirty wood in the chipper, it won’t cut it,” says Tilman. “It just beats the wood up and the chips are so bad, they’re not useable.”

Green leaves and needles, called “tag” in these parts, is kept to a minimum by removing pine limbs and bushier hardwood tops prior to processing. Bark content is not a problem for Virginia Fibers, which manufacturers kraft paper, nor for Stone Container which mixes the whole-tree chips with clean chips in its furnish.


Haul fleet consists of four Mack trucks and one Kenworth. Trailers include 12 chip vans, one pole and four bolster trailers. A six wheel drive Mack tractor, used to position vans under the chipper, had been a life saver, the operator says. Its all-wheel drive can maneuver in some very muddy conditions, preventing wear and tear on haul tractors and keeping hauling operations going even when woods operations are shut down.

Tire preference is Michelin 722.5s, which Tilman says hold a recap better and are easier to change. New tires are used on trucks, then recapped for trailers.

Truck drivers are Floyd Henshaw, Edward Johnson Jr., Melvin Goode, and Richard White.

“The secret to running a van trailer is keeping the roof in it,” Tilman says. “All your stress keeps that top rail in line with the bottom rail and carries the load across the whole van. If you let the roof go, you don’t have any support which puts too much weight against the bottom rail and makes it break.”

Keeping roofs in good repair used to be an ongoing challenge until three years ago. That’s when Tilman installed Kimlight in the ceilings of all his chip vans.

The slick fiberglass reinforced resin material is normally used on refrigerated van walls to keep from tearing or scratching the insulation. “I’m still using the same trailers and except for a few stress cracks in the top where they flex, I haven’t had a minute’s trouble,” he proudly reports.

A Ford F350 four wheel drive crew cab is equipped with Hanchett knife grinders, acetylene torches, and hydraulic hose crimper. The service van carries spare parts, oil, fuel thanks, trailer tires, chipper parts, nuts and bolts, welders and an air compressor.

Equipment is greased and refueled at the end of the day to give it a chance to cool down and eliminate potential fire hazards. Oil and filter changes are scheduled at 250 hours on Cat engines and 150 hours on the Cummins engine (on the Clark Ranger) because it has a smaller oil reservoir. Trucks are serviced at 20,000 miles rather than the recommended 25,000 miles. This is because traveling rural miles which the logger says actually puts more hours on them than the mileage indicates.

Although the crew moves high volumes of wood, the emphasis is not on a volume as much as it is on a quality performance and keeping a safe, steady pace. In fact, Bituminous Insurance has presented Tilman Logging an award for no lost time accidents in three years running.

Spouse Connie is the unseen “man” on the job, but holds the key position, according to Tilman. “A logger doesn’t have to be too smart,” he quips, “If he’s got a smart wife who will look after the paperwork and run after parts, he can generally make it.”

In fact, he says, his CPA jokes that he needs to give him a refund at tax time because of Connie’s thorough and meticulously kept books. It’s not a job she relishes, Tilman admits, but he’s convinced, “You can’t pay somebody to do what she does. I’m telling you, without her, I couldn’t run this thing and that’s the truth.”


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