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Specialty Equipment Fits Special Jobs

Rayco compact crawlers, forestry mowers are used in pipeline, forest health projects

By Jack Petree
Date Posted: 4/1/2004

      Much of the growth in forest industries in recent years has come as the result of innovative efforts by contractors and manufacturers to develop and apply specialized equipment. The common goal has been to utilizing forest resources in a way that conserves and improves natural resources. Improving forest health and growth have become as important to contractors as logging production and manufacturing wood products.

      Two North American companies, Bob Fine’s Tractor Service in California and Command Equipment Ltd of Alberta, Canada, use Rayco Manufacturing Inc. compact crawlers and forestry mowers to operate effectively in environmentally sensitive areas. In Bob Fine’s case, the company’s efforts result in an improved forest and reduced potential for catastrophic fire. For Command Equipment, Rayco’s machinery has provided the ability to perform a necessary service in a way that dramatically reduces impact on the forests of northern Alberta and British Columbia.

      Rayco’s careful engineering and attention to detail in developing specialized equipment for the forest products industry have been important factors in accomplishing their goals, according to the two companies.

      In the northern California town of Pioneer, located in the Sierra foothills, Bob Fine, the owner of Fine’s Tractor Service, has been working for the past two years with his area’s Fire Safety Council. He has come up with a promising new technique for reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire in the forests near his home. Utilizing a Rayco C85FM forestry mower, Bob has learned how to significantly reduce the danger posed by the enormous build-up of fuel loads on and near rural property and residences within the fire-prone habitat surrounding Pioneer.

      Rayco’s C87FM Compact Crawler with a forestry mower attachment is a compact machine capable of shredding 4-inch diameter trees and underbrush, and converting the trees and brush to mulch. With a cutting width of 52 inches, the compact size allows the machine to work in areas not normally accessible to larger heavy equipment. A drum-style cutting head projects debris downward, reducing the risk of flying debris. The 12,000-pound machine can be loaded onto a trailer and easily towed behind a 1-ton pick-up truck, greatly reducing transportation costs.  Options include winch, skidder winch, cab enclosure, dozer blade, and ripper.

      “The beauty of the Rayco forestry mower,” said Bob, “is that even as fire hazards are reduced, both the environmental and economic benefits that a healthy forest brings to the community are enhanced.”

      In the past, fire played a major role in the evolution and ecology of forest ecosystems, especially throughout the interior West. Frequent, low intensity fires cleared out small trees, underbrush and dead or dying vegetation. This reduced the amount of fuel on the ground, reducing the incidence of large, severe forest fires. The result was a mosaic of forest with widely spaced large trees and expanses of open grassy areas.

      However, decades of fire suppression policies along with varying land-use management practices have led to a dramatic change in Western forests. Tree densities are many times those seen in pre-settlement forests, and fuel loads have built up enormously. Today’s forests, especially during time of drought, are plagued by more severe, hotter burning wildfires then were generally experienced in the past.

      Western farms, ranches, and rural residential areas with overgrown forests of their own are at the interface with overgrown federal, state and locally managed forests. If managed and maintained properly, the forests on these farms, ranches, and residential areas can play a major role as buffers, reducing the danger of wildfires to communities even as the economic value of the forests are enhanced. Reducing fuel loads is the primary option that foresters and regulators are promoting in order to reduce the risk of wildfire. This may involve some small timber harvests and also, as Bob Fine is showing, mechanical treatment of forests to mimic the effect of forest fires. As U.S. Forest Service scientists have noted, cuttings and mechanical treatments of forests generally are better for changing stand structure than fire in a deteriorated forest.

      When his company removes ladder fuels underneath the trees using the Rayco forestry mower, any subsequent fires will tend to stay on the ground rather than burn upwards into tree crowns, Bob noted. This allows for a forest fire to be fought more safely and efficiently on the ground instead of battling a blaze that races out of control through the forest canopy. It also allows the creation of effective defensible zones with low fuel densities around structures. The resulting forest conditions allow low intensity fires — and the benefits they provide — instead of devastating wildfire.

      The technique Bob uses to reduce massive ground fuel build-up is to mulch the standing underbrush and very small trees that form fire ladders into larger trees and force the nutrient rich chips back into the ground. The compact Rayco C87FM forestry mower is well suited for the job, according to Bob. “It additionally creates an anti-erosion mat that prevents water run-off problems,” he said. “The removal of the fuel load from the land does more than just protect buildings from the risk of forest fire,” Bob added. “What we do also provides watershed and timber protection.”

      Bob’s innovative approach to improving forest health and productivity has been very successful. “We are swamped with work right now,” said Jackie Vaughn, office manager for Bob Fine’s Tractor Service. “Every time we take that piece of machinery out on a piece of property, all the neighbors come over and ask if we can do their property next. All the customers seem to be extremely happy with the results.”

      “We live in an extremely high fire danger area,” Jackie continued, “And Rayco’s forestry mower is superb for fitting in with fire suppression management controls and local environmental issues, such as air quality regulations. We have to operate under burn bans is this area, and possibly by 2008 there will be no burning allowed at all. With this machine’s mulching capability, we are helping to meet air quality control standards and are additionally protecting water tables by reducing run-off.”

      The devastating wildfires in the West in recent years are only the beginning if something is not done to treat forests in order to improve health and reduce fire risk, according to forestry scientists. Farmers and ranchers hoping to protect their lands as well as improve their economic value would do well to investigate the treatment methods that Bob Fine is applying in Amador County.

      Command Equipment Ltd., based in Edmonton, Alberta, is an oil field service company that specializes in land clearing operations related to new pipelines and related construction projects. “We do seismic line construction, land clearing for new oil fields and new residential developments, pipeline right way clearing,” said Rob Staples, general manager. “More recently we’ve begun to specialize in narrow seismic line construction.” The company works throughout Western Canada and in some areas of the U. S. An office in Denver, Col. is the headquarters for seismic line work in the U.S., but according to Rob, “The main bulk of our work, about 70%, is done in Alberta, with about 80% of that being oil field related and the remaining 20% being clearing work for new subdivisions and county roadside clearing projects.”

      Western Canada has tremendous oil and gas resources. Much of the exploration to locate these underground resources includes cutting paths through the forests to accommodate  equipment used for seismic mapping. Conserving forest resources and timber while at the same time minimizing road construction costs dictate that the seismic lines are as narrow as possible.

      Command Equipment uses five Rayco forestry mowers in its operations. “In working on the narrow seismic line construction projects, we are given parameters by the oil companies on where the line is to be placed,” Rob explained. “Utilizing GPS equipment we have mounted in each machine, we will go out and clear a path on that line through various types of terrain. Currently we are working on a 400 kilometer and 1,000 kilometer project. The aim of our work is to do minimal disturbance to the ground and to avoid merchantable timber. With the compact Raycos we can wiggle around  through the larger trees, taking out only undergrowth while still leaving a clear path for the seismic crews to come through.”

      One of the most important reasons for selecting the Rayco machines was cutting width. “We are allowed to cut up to 69 inches wide on different types of seismic lines in environmentally sensitive areas,” said Rob, “and this machine is precisely 69 inches wide overall. The norm in the past for seismic lines was a 20 foot wide strip where all the trees were just bulldozed over.”

      “Our biggest accomplishment in going with these machines has been reducing the damage to the environment and still getting the job done for the same cost as it was done in the past,” said Rob. “Safety was also increased by taking the man with the chain saw out of the picture.” Another important factor was that Rayco’s equipment has been designed to project debris down into the ground rather than to the side, as is often the case in mower applications. The downward discharge of debris is very important in eliminating damage to residual trees along the right of way.

      The forestry mowers have worked out so well for Command Equipment that it took the additional step of becoming a Rayco dealership so it may market and service the equipment in the Western Canadian region. “We are primarily selling at this time the forestry mulchers but expect to sell a large number of compact dozers, loaders and forestry mowers,” said Rob. “It tends to be a seasonal thing up here where a lot of the dozers sell in the spring and fall.”

            Bob Fine’s Tractor Service and Command Equipment Ltd. are examples of the new approach to forestry in recent years. They are demonstrating that improving both forest health and resource utilization can go hand in hand in the forest products industry.



Rayco Forestry Mowers Economical to Own, Operate

      Ohio-based Rayco Manufacturing Inc. was founded in 1978 as a one man business that built stump cutters. Today the company operates worldwide, distributing one of the industry’s most complete lines of high performance stump cutters, compact crawlers and site preparation equipment, according to J.R. Bowling, vice president of sales and marketing. Rayco Manufacturing has grown to employ about 150 employees in two plants.

      The company’s line of equipment has expanded to six product lines, including its Mini Work Force (handle bar stump cutters), Self Propelled, Tow Behind, Super Tooth Cutting Tools, Land Clearing, and Compact Crawlers.

      Rayco forestry mower machines are particularly designed and built for selective land clearing, trail building, line clearing, fuel reduction, and right-of-way mowing. The mulching capability of the equipment not only restores property by leaving a more attractive appearance, but it also introduces valuable nutrients back into the soil as the mulched vegetation decomposes.

      “Our forestry mowers are economical machines to own and operate,” said J.R. “They are easily transported from job to job, they are operator friendly and generate very little flying debris. This helps make for one of the safest work sites you can get in this business. The machines additionally use a fixed tooth cutting head, which lasts longer and makes it easy to change.”

      Rayco’s strong growth since 1978 has resulted in part from listening to customers and designing and building equipment to meet their requirements, said J.R. “Company personnel – from the president down to me, sales staff, and engineers — are constantly in the field, talking to our customers and evaluating the performance of our products,” he said. “Our engineers probably take more trips into the field to visit customers and develop prototypes than any other company in this business that I have encountered. Just last week, for example, I was on a trip up to Canada with one of our engineers to see how our forestry mowers were being applied by Command Equipment in seismic line work. This was my second trip up north with our engineers in two months. The knowledge we gained in those trips will be put to use to further improve our product in the future.”

            “Our company has developed a solid reputation and an engineering department that takes pride in the appearance and integrity of their machines,” said J.R.


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