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Ore. Logger Moves into Yarding Operations

Durable, Light-Weight ACME Carriages Keep Logs Moving for Precision Thinning Services

By Diane M. Calabrese
Date Posted: 2/1/2006

CORVALLIS, Oregon — Twenty-nine years after his first experience as a logging professional, Ben Stringham launched his own company, Precision Thinning Services, in July 2002. “We specialize in cable thinning operations,” he explained.

        Precision Thinning Services fills a niche between contractors who fell trees with chain saws and contract haulers who transport logs to market. It has nine employees and runs a yarder system.

        Yarder systems are common in logging operations in the West, particularly in mountainous terrain. They are used in lieu of skidders to move logs to a landing or yarding area.

        Yarders provide a support, or tower, for cables, and they power the winches that pull cables. In modern yarding systems, logs are attached by cables to carriages, which travel along the cables to the tower located at the landing. The carriages are technologically sophisticated and becoming even more so.

        Ben uses two carriages from ACME Manufacturing Inc. in Springfield, Ore. The carriages not only travel along the cables and bring the logs to the landing, they also have the ability to rein in or let out        slack. They have the capability to drop cable down to pick up logs along the route or some distance from the yarder.

        Ben owns two yarders. One is a Koller 501 trailer-mounted model A and the other is a Madill 071 track-mounted yarder.

        Each yarder is paired with a carriage to move logs to the landing site; at the landing the logs are sorted, delimbed and bucked before being trucked to their destination. The Koller yarder is paired with an Acme model 10 carriage while the Madill yarder is paired with an Acme model 22 carriage.

        Ben purchased the Koller yarder and ACME 10 carriage in August 2002 and added the Madill yarder and the ACME model 22 carriage three years later.

        The lighter weight of the ACME carriage is one of the first things Ben noticed. He figured he could move a bigger load on the same cable if significantly more of the weight was the logs, not the carriage.

        Ben looked at several brands of carriages before making a buying decision. “I had seen the ACME products” as well as others, he said.

        ACME offered him exactly the combination of equipment and features that he wanted in a carriage, and Ben also was impressed by the quality of the ACME carriages.

        “I liked the size and the weight — the small compact size of the ACME,” said Ben. The ACME model 10 carriage is 400 pounds lighter than similar carriages, according to Ben. However, it provides all the strength he needs. “It’ll handle anything we can pull with the 501 yarder,” he said.

        There was no question in Ben’s mind when he decided to invest in a second yarder that he would add a second carriage from ACME. The only choice was the carriage size. “The Madill is a bigger yarder, so we needed a bigger carriage,” he explained. “Because we thin, we didn’t consider the model 28, ACME’S largest model.”

        Ben bought the model 22, which is the second largest carriage that ACME manufactures.  The ACME model 22 weighs approximately 1,400 pounds. It has a 2,000 pound maximum line pull capacity and a 15,000 pound load capacity. (The ACME model 10 weighs 1,000 pounds and has a 12,000 pound load capacity and is designed to work with a small yarder, hydraulic shovel with winches, or line shovel.)

        Both the ACME model 10 and the ACME model 22 carriages are radio controlled. “They’re extremely easy to teach people to run,” said Ben, and especially easy to teach the radio controls.

        Ben has been very pleased with both of his ACME carriages. They have been true workhorses for the company. “I’ve always said to anyone that’s come out and watched our operation, we have the least amount of problems with the carriages,” he said.

        Precision Thinning Services is also equipped with a pair of loaders, a Link-Belt 210LX and a Kobelco 220 Mark IV.

        Precision Thinning Services normally works in rugged terrain. “Usually we work on steep ground, ground that isn’t conducive to skidders,” Ben observed. After the trees are felled, they are tethered to cables or chokers by a logger who is referred to as a choker setter. The yarding system drags the logs to the landing. The stationary machine that provides the power to wind the cables on a winch—generating pull—is usually called a yarder although it used to be referred to as a donkey.

        In yarder logging operations, there are several options for moving the logs to the landing or deck. The logs can be fully suspended from the main cable lines or partly suspended. The yarder can be used to retrieve logs and pull them uphill or downhill.

        “Most of the time we pull logs uphill,” said Ben. “Most of the time we partially suspend with the front end of the log up.”

        Yet, there are exceptions. “We just got off two jobs,” said Ben, in which small logs were transported downhill. “Downhill jobs are trickier because the yarder is behind the cable, and the cable must be kept appropriately taut—not too taut and, conversely, without too much slack.” The ACME carriages are very good at pulling out the slack, he added.

        Support from ACME is nearby ready to respond if needed. “If we have a problem, we call,” said Ben. “If you need a part, you can basically pick it up.”

        Precision Thinning Services is based in Corvallis, Ore., a town of 45,000. The headquarters of ACME is just 40 miles southeast.

        Precision Thinning Services normally contracts for work within about 100 miles of Corvallis. Sometimes the company works on two different jobs at the same time, but usually both yarders and all the crew are on the same site.

        Ben’s company does considerable work on land owned by the U.S. Forest Service or U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Most contract logging work on private lands is for final harvest.

        Timber sales for the federal government take Precision Thinning into the Coast Range Mountains in western Oregon. Mary’s Peak, at 4,000 feet elevation, is the highest mountain in the range, a good indicator of the rugged topography.

        Douglas fir predominates on most tracts where Ben and his company work, but not always. “The job we just finished was 60 percent hemlock and 40 percent Douglas fir,” he said when talking with TimberLine in December. “The job we’re on now is 90 percent Douglas fir, 10 percent hemlock.”

        The timber of the Pacific Northwest remains relatively large in comparison to the forests of the East, even those being thinned. “Right now we are on a U.S. Forest Service sale where nothing greater than 16 inches in diameter at breast height is being harvested,” said Ben. The tract of relatively small trees by Western standards is ideal for the Koller yarder paired with the ACME model 10 carriage, said Ben, although he also has used the Madill and the ACME model 22 carriage on the same site.

        The ACME model 22 and Madill yarder typically are used in second thins, with trees as large as 3-4 feet in diameter. The yarder and carriage handle the big logs smoothly, said Ben.

        ACME Mfg. makes an array of carriage and cable accessories, such as pear rings and toggles. The pear rings are designed to be flexible and strong. The ACME pear rings are patented and designed to resist bending; they are strong enough to be used for an extended period of time.

        “I’ve tried their ring chokers,” said Ben. “I really like them.” For now, however, he uses another supplier for chokers.

        Depending on the size of a job, Precision Thinning Services usually has one employee deployed as the yarder engineer, one to operate a shovel or loader, two choker setters, a ‘chaser’ at the landing who removes the chokes, and another worker at the landing, limbing the trees with a chainsaw. For removing limbs at the landing, Ben’s crew uses Husqvarna chainsaws.

        To describe Ben as someone who knows logging from many perspectives would be something of an understatement. He has been involved in research, including tests of synthetic rope in order to determine if it can be used like cables. Besides gaining experience from working for other logging contractors, Ben earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in forest engineering. He has worked as a forestry consultant in Canada and also directed the student logger training program at Oregon State University.

        Ben got his start in logging as a chaser at the landing. “I had never even run a chain saw,” he said. “Back in 1973, I was unemployed and someone said, ‘Do you want a job?’ ” Living in California at the time, Ben took the job and started along a path that kept him in logging and forestry.

        Eventually, Ben moved to the Beaver State. In Oregon, he attended the university and worked as a logger to support himself and his family during the years that he studied for both his undergraduate and graduate degrees at OSU.

        During his career, Ben has participated in the logging profession in many ways. His entry job in the Golden State in the early 1970s was on a chipping operation, which depended on portable chippers. “In 1979, I decided I wanted to fall timber,” he said, “I went strictly into contract timber falling until 1992. I always liked the ability to be my own boss.”

        Things changed, and in 1994 Ben began his stint as the head of the logger training program for students at OSU. During this time Ben met Wayne Van Damme, who, with his brother, Tim, owns ACME Mfg. “I had talked with Wayne and his father about using a carriage in the logging program,” he explained. It would not be until 2002, when he was looking for a carriage for Precision Thinning Services, that he would meet Wayne again.

        While a student and an instructor at OSU, Ben contributed to several research studies and publications about logging. One part of the synthetic rope study, which was conducted and co-authored with Stephen J. Pilkerton, John J. Garland and John Sessions, compared heart rates (as an exertion measure) for people carrying steel wire rope compared to subjects who carried lighter synthetic rope. In addition, Ben participated in a published study of logging planning and layout costs for thinning. He is also the co-author (with Loren D. Kellogg and Ginger V. Milota) of a chapter on timber harvesting to enhance multiple resources in a book titled, Forest and Stream Management, published by OSU Press.

        Through varied endeavors, Ben has had the opportunity to interact with many types of equipment. Consequently, he has a broad context of experience for evaluating what works well.

        The ACME carriages draw praise from Ben. “They’re extremely dependable pieces of equipment,” he said. “They always do what they’re intended to do. Maintenance is easy.”

        The simplicity of keeping the carriage running is what ACME strives to ensure. ACME makes a patented Pow’R Block® hydraulic slack pulling carriage. The hydraulic system helps to prevent interruptions in multiple ways. For instance, if enough slack does not come from the yarder, the carriage goes over a relief, which ensures the carriage engine does not stall and protects the integrity of the carriage components.

        As an authorized distributor for Johnson radio controlled choker bells, ACME Mfg. offers its customers the opportunity to coordinate purchases of carriages and chokers. The radio controlled choker system allows a yarder operator, working with a programming board, to send a signal to each choker, unhooking them at the landing. This eliminates the need for a landing man. The system represents quite an
advance over the norm of a century earlier, when the yarder operator — then often called a ‘donkey puncher’ — and the choker setters often communicated by whistle codes. (The steam power for the winch was also tapped to produce a whistle.)

        For cable loggers, steep slopes are a good thing. Because optimum deflection, or sag, in the cable means everything to the efficiency of operation, a steeper slope affords more wiggle room, literally. Positioning of yarders, support towers and cables is a combination of science and art that continues to be refined. The flexibility of a carriage like the ACME, which can be ordered to start, stop and scoot down to pick up another log or logs, is a welcome addition.

        The ACME carriages work well in all weather, according to Ben, including freezing temperatures. “Two weeks ago we had snow, freezing conditions,” he said. And that was on two jobs — one on the coast and one inland.

        One thing Ben likes about being a logging contractor is that his company creates jobs for people in his community. “You make some money, you employ some people,” he said, and it’s a good combination.

        “The satisfaction of doing something and seeing the results almost instantaneously” is satisfying, too, said Ben. “You see production and an end product in a very short time.” More than that, he explained, he appreciates that he earns his livelihood from a renewable natural resource.

        When he is not busy heading up Precision Thinning Services, Ben has some definite interests. “I just enjoy time with my wife and our dogs — and the kids when they come to visit,” he said. “We travel a little.”


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