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When venturing off for the Russian Far East, as with a visit to any remote locale to train operators or consult with forestry companies, one always knows that it will be an adventure.

– Gary MacDonald, Tigercat product support

Being from Canada, a country that spans six time zones, I am no stranger to large expanses of land with long distances between towns. But Russia takes it all to the next level. It is a massive country with eleven time zones, varying climates and a sparse population density in large rural areas with challenging road infrastructure.

Tigercat 860C harvester with 20,000 hours.

Tigercat 860C harvester with 20,000 hours.

The primary forest in Russia is a part of one of the largest biomes in the world, the boreal forest, which makes up one fifth of the world’s forest cover. Known in Russia as Taiga, it is larger than the Amazon. It contains many of the same species as Canada and Alaska – larch, pine, spruce, balsam fir, birch and aspen. The area we travelled was primarily in the far east of Russia known to most North Americans as Siberia. The Siberian boreal forest contains 55% of the world’s coniferous trees. The pine, spruce, tamarack and balsam fir is valued for dimensional lumber used domestically but mainly exported. Pine, the main species sought after in the east, ranges from 0,2-1 m³ per tree. (One cubic metre equates to approximately one US ton.)

A group of operators and Tigercat employees on a job site, several of the men are giving the "thumbs up"Travelling from Toronto to Bratsk, the forestry capital in eastern Russia, requires seventeen hours of flying time, with eleven hours of connecting time in airports, crossing twelve time zones. From Bratsk, a five hour, 300 km (186 mi) drive follows leading to a place called Novaya (New) Igirma, population 11,000. The company RFG asked Tigercat to provide operator instruction based on the assessed skill level of its feller buncher operators. RFG owns three sawmills and 80 Tigercat forestry machines. Two of the sawmills are in New Igirma consuming 1,33 million m3 per year with 80% being cut by Tigercat machines. A third mill in UST-Kut consumes 1,1 million m³ per year.

The plan was to train four sets of operators in three day blocks with a total of sixteen operators trained overall. Day one would be in the classroom with Artem Shilov, my travelling partner and the Tigercat The crew in front of the 860C feller buncher. factory sales and support representative for Russia. Artem would do theoretical training on best practices and reviewing operator’s manuals. The last two days was for infield training where a time study would be conducted to determine how to improve the felling operation. A second time study would measure the degree to which the desired goals were actualized. Unfortunately due to weather and logistics we had to modify the plan on the fly. One thing learned in Russia due to the ever-changing logistics of moving machines and unpredictable weather, is that if there is a plan, it will change soon.

The first site was 120 km (75 mi) from Novaya Igirma. The drive to the camp was nearly four hours followed by another 40 minutes to the job site in a Kamaz 6×6 truck with an enclosure accommodating 28 passengers. The Russian-built Kamaz has won a record 13 Dakar Rally races. I was very glad our driver did not believe the truck should go as fast as a Dakar truck as I’m sure no one rode in the back of a Kamaz for the Dakar!

The machines at this job consisted of an 860C feller buncher (8,000 hours), one L870C feller buncher (14,000 hours), two 630D skidders (13,000 hours) and four H250B processors with 622B harvesting heads (14,000 hours). Training was done using the 860C feller buncher. Piece size on this job was 0,2-0,3 m³ per tree and the trees were cut into 4 m (13 ft) lengths. Production from the feller bencher was 90-110 m3 per hour depending on the operator.

Aerial view of a small cut block with a typical logging camp in the background.

A small cut block with a typical logging camp in the background.

The site for the second round of training on the same machines was accessed in a Gazele delivery vehicle built in Russia. Our driver certainly seemed as though he was out to prove his vehicle was faster than a Kamaz or anything else on the road. We tried to do practical training but rain stopped the machines from being moved. Overall, the logging blocks are very small by North American standards, sometimes as small as 10 hectares (25 acres) with leave strips of regeneration and residual trees which makes it so the machines must move blocks faster than roads can be built.

The second site was a two hour flight in a R44 helicopter, avoiding a long and arduous drive to a camp in the Kerensky region. Upon arriving, we were picked up in a Russian built UAZ and driven to camp before going to the logging site 20 km (12 miles) away. The drive to the logging site was a unique experience, as we forded many rivers and creeks in the Kamaz crew transport vehicle, then rode atop an old army transport tank to get to the machines.

The machines at that site were two 20,000 hour 860C carriers with equipped with newer 622B harvesting heads, one 630D skidder (11,570 hours) and one 860C feller buncher (3,600 hours). Again, training focused on the 860C feller buncher. The piece size in this area was quite a bit larger ranging from 0,6-0,8 m3 per tree with much less deciduous species mixed in. The lengths cut in both tamarack and pine were 6 m (20 ft).

The second day consisted of theoretical training for eight operators followed immediately by practical training in the forest. We were lucky Employees on a job siteenough to be carrying quite heavy backpacks so the horseflies could not carry us away. Being born and raised in eastern Canada, then living 22 years in British Columbia, I thought I had seen biting insects before. It goes to show that you will forever experience new things throughout your life if you keep your eyes open and your skin exposed.

Unfortunately the helicopter was unavailable so the return trip was to be land based, consisting of a barge crossing of the River Lena, a ferry ride back across the same river, then a 500 km (310 mi) drive back to Novaya Igirma. The ride was broken up by frequent stops transferring fuel and trying different fuel filters to keep the UAZ pickup running during the twelve hour trip.

Two men sit on the top of a Russian transport tank.

Russian transport tank.

Overall, Russian camps are quite Spartan – two to four men in a bunk trailer with a table, sink and wood stove. The campers are set up in a horseshoe shape giving the effect of a subdivision cul-de-sac. The workers stay in camp for one month, sometimes traveling as long as twenty hours to get there. The food is a very acceptable set menu of traditional courses.

The crews working at these camps were overwhelmingly receptive to Tigercat’s efforts to help them perform better, with the ultimate goal to make the machines last longer with less breakdowns. Each adventure visiting Tigercat customers is a unique and memorable experience and the Russian visit was no different. The people we met in the remote areas of Siberia were hardworking, rugged and proud, possessing a great sense of humour. I look forward to my next adventure to Russia.

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