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Southern Processing

BTB went on a tour to visit customers in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana who have made the switch from pull-through delimbers to a Tigercat processing head. We wanted to understand the motivation for the change, the challenges involved and what benefits have accrued. We discovered that three different contractors are looking at it three different ways.

Clint Bradford, CB Timber

H250D processor with 575 harvesting head

Based in Helena, Alabama, Clint Bradford grew up in the logging industry. He started his career as a project manager for a communications company during the initial manic build-out of digital infrastructure that occurred around the turn of the millennium. When the market crashed, Clint pivoted and went to the sector he knew best. In 2001, he purchased his first log truck and soon expanded to five trucks. By 2003, he owned a logging crew and in 2008 he started buying his own timber.
Today, Clint has three crews. Of his two high production crews, one is a traditional operation with two trailer mounted loaders and pull-through delimbers. The other has a Tigercat H250D processor paired with a T234B track loader. A small clean-up crew is deployed to smaller tracts or to jobs that are nearing completion after one of the main crews have moved on to the next tract.

Clint markets several products to several different mills. The higher grade that he can achieve, the more revenue he can earn per tree. For Clint, better merchandising pays. He explains that depending on the tract, he might have two different poles, two or three logs, a chip-n-saw log and pulpwood. It is not uncommon to have six different products. Market conditions and quotas add additional complications. Optimal merchandising is critical in achieving the best possible value from the tracts he purchases.
“It was 2010 when I first started thinking about processors. I wasn’t quite ready at that point. Eventually I did demo one and kept it for about two or three weeks. I saw what it could do and the efficiency of it. The demo let me know what type of timber I needed, and what I needed to do to get to that point. Once we had enough timber bought up and I knew we could move it, I took the plunge.” With thousands of hours of data to back up his assertions, Clint says that roadside processing is more productive than pull-through delimbing. More important is upgrading the product. The value of his products has increased by fifteen to eighteen percent. “The thing is, it takes the guesswork out of it, because you’re not looking 40 feet ahead and guessing at a six or seven inch top. It’s exact and everything is precise.”

The flexibility of the roadside processing system adds consistency to Clint’s operation. It is easier to manage trucking flow when the system is consistently hitting the weekly load target – in this case, 120 loads. Separating the loading and merchandising function allows the loader to focus on turning trucks around quickly and efficiently. It adds flexibility when transitioning to a new tract. Clint can leave the track loader to load out the remainder of the wood while the rest of the system moves to the new tract. The processor is producing logs right away on the new tract and once the last load is gone, the loader moves to the new site and seamlessly loads the next truck. “You’ve got trucks coming back from the mill that just loaded off the other job. There’s really no downtime.”

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of the loader operator on a pull-through delimbing jobsite. His judgment affects the success of the whole operation. The product upgrading ability of the processing head rivals even the most seasoned loader operator. “You’re looking at it and your eye is telling you it’s pulpwood.” He gestures to the 575 head. “Well that thing is telling you that you are getting a chip-n- saw log. So you’re upgrading your product by knowing the size.” As mill tolerances and specs for logs and poles have become more precise, roadside processing becomes even more advantageous.

Clint’s operator, Tony Crocker, came off a knuckleboom loader and since the H250D is based on a track loader, he was already familiar with the base machine. He already knew how to merchandise and make a product. He also has a two-year forestry designation. The only new part was actually running a processing head. “The training went pretty well, and he caught on quickly,” says Clint. “It was really just getting used to the head.”

Jim Ard, Jim Ard Timber Inc.

H250D processor with 575 harvesting head

Jim Ard is a contract cutter for a timber management company. He did not negotiate a rate bump when he transitioned from pull-through delimbing to processing and he looks at his operation through a different lens compared to a logger with a timber buyer on staff.

Like Clint, Jim buys his Tigercat gear from B & G Equipment. Before transitioning to processing, Jim ran one 726G buncher, two 620E skidders and two knuckleboom loaders equipped with pull-through delimbers. Today, he runs the same size cutter with a single six-wheel skidder pulling to the H250D processor. A T234B is dedicated to truck loading. For Jim it is all about maintaining a balanced system and looking at capital cost expenditures over several buying cycles.

Even though the majority of Jim’s production is long logs, the processor system still makes the most sense. “When I went to the processor, we were cutting a lot of wood up and having a hard time keeping up with all the different sorts,” Jim explains. “We don’t cut much up anymore but the processor is still faster than running two pull through delimbers.”
Jim discovered he could balance his harvesting system by running a large Tigercat six-wheel skidder. “One regular skidder is not enough for the processor and two is too many. If we went back to two regular trailer loaders, one skidder is not going to be enough – there is no way he can feed two loaders and keep the delimbers clean. So, yeah, I went to a more expensive bogey but it’s still cheaper than two 620s plus one extra operator. And one more fuel and maintenance bill.”

Jim says that although the initial investment is bigger, the savings come by looking at it over a longer time frame. Jim based his analysis on the assumption that his replacement cycle for the loaders and pull-through delimbers is three years and with the processor and track loader, he can extend the interval to five years. (Jim is on his second H250D after selling his initial machine with just over 9,000 hours after five years of operation. At that time the 575 still had all the original pins.) By year nine, the capital cost expenditure for the processor system is looking much more favourable in comparison. “And I’m doing it all with one less skidder,” says Jim. “In the overall big picture, the processor saves me money.”

Like Clint, Jim sees a big advantage in decoupling loading and processing. He also tends to leave the loader behind while he starts the next job, allowing the H250D a head start along with the rest of the system. Especially when working on wet ground, Jim appreciates the mobility of a track loader. “It’s easier than moving a trailer loader around.” Jim says there is less waste and although the merchandizing doesn’t impact his bottom line directly, it does contribute to a happier landowner customer.

Jim has had two different operators on the processor in addition to himself. Neither had prior experience and Jim estimates that two weeks of operation is sufficient to start to become productive. “I told them which buttons to use and put them in it. But there were only five functions I wanted them to do when they first started running: your feed trigger for your feed wheel, the open and close for your knives, your saw button, the button to switch from top saw to main saw, and your find end. That’s the only buttons I showed them. Once they got better with those buttons, I would start telling them what the other buttons would do instead of trying to overload them all at once.”

Jim says that the similarities to a loader – the option to have foot pedal swing control for instance – seemed to ease the transition. “I like the joystick swing, but I also like to stay busy. With joystick swing, if I want something to drink, I’ve got to turn my joysticks loose to open my water bottle and drink it. With the foot swing, if I drop a log over here and I’m going back to my pile I can get my water bottle while I’m swinging back over without having to stop. It made me more productive.”

Norman Ratzloff, Ratzloff Logging Inc.

H250D and 850 processors with 575 harvesting heads

Norman Ratzloff has been logging in Louisiana for over 30 years, starting out with his father at age eighteen. He and his brother Glen are partners in Ratzloff Logging Inc. They bought out their father seven years ago. The brothers were early adopters of the roadside processing system. Since purchasing a used H822C in 2017, Norman has been running the harvesting operation with a single feller buncher, one skidder and one processor. To respond quickly to weather and soil conditions, the company always keeps both track and wheel feller bunchers in the stable. “We’ve got two bogey skidders, but we normally only run one. One Tigercat can skid 20 to 25 loads a day for us.”

Norman keeps the second skidder as a spare in case of a sudden breakdown, or in case the company encounters a site layout that necessitates very long skid distances. “We do a lot of mat logging, and so in the wintertime we’ll pull everything to one corner. We’ll build roads over the whole tract, extending skid distances. The last job we came off, it was a half mile to the far end of the tract.”

Aside from the harvesting equipment, the company owns five haul trucks and employs four drivers. With Norman as the primary processor operator and Glen driving a log truck most of the time, both men were always tied up with day-to-day work tasks.
With the company’s second H250D approaching 5,000 hours, the two brothers decided they wanted to run the machine longer than three years. An additional processor would allow this, and a second machine and operator would take pressure off Norman allowing him to attend to other business during the workday. Tigercat dealer, Patrick-Miller Tractor Company happened to have a Tigercat 850 processor available, and Norman was willing to try it. “Our main reason was thinking that maybe we’d be able to run it longer because it’s a purpose-built machine for processing.”

Norman doesn’t feel that the loader-style carrier is much of an advantage for training new operators. “I don’t think it is going to make any difference. To me they operate almost the same; except the big difference I see is the swing. It is just a lot quicker on that 850.”

Ratzloff Logging cuts for Louisiana Timber Procurement. Any product upgrading that has resulted from his move from pull-through delimbing to processing has benefited the landowner. The rationale for the system switch was to increase production with the same employee count. “Yeah, they’re more expensive, but you can do twice the work as you can with a knuckleboom loader. Even in the small diameter trees, it’s still way quicker than the loader.”
Norman says they tend to get a better quality log compared with a loader. “You’re right there looking at it. Every log passes right in front of you. Some of the other crews around here are doing tree-length. There’s no question they would get way more out of a processor because it measures the diameter. They need to know the end diameter. When you’re in a loader, you just guess, and most of the time, you’re going to err on the big side.”

Norman stresses that setting up at a new site is much easier. “When you unload it off the trailer, it doesn’t matter how wet it is or how unlevel, or how deep the ditch is. We just pull it up in the woods and decide where we are going to set it up. They’re just so versatile. You try to get a [trailer mount] loader off the road, through the ditch. A lot of times you end up using mats or something. It’s a lot easier with the processor. As my set gets full, if we are on a decent road, I can just move down and make another set. When you finish a tract, as soon as you get done processing, you can have the trailer there. You can walk out around your pile of wood. You don’t have to move wood around to get out. You just get on your trailer and go on to the next job.”
The processor does all the sorting on the landing. In fact, the company doesn’t even employ a loader operator. The drivers load their own trucks, and the wood is laid out to make it quick and easy. It’s a smart system that allows the company to produce the required volume with as little as three men. “It is just so much easier to merchandise and sort and stack wood versus the loaders. There is really no comparison, says Norman.”


All three contractors agreed that it was a great advantage to separate the loading and processing functions. It improves flow and the track loaders are versatile and mobile. It is a big advantage when moving to a new site to leave the loader on its own to load out the remainder of the wood while the rest of the crew gets started on the next tract.

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