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Maine Logger Keeps Focus on the Landowner

Atkinson Trucking & Logging – Stripper Pull-Through Delimber Helps Maine Logger

By Tim Cox
Date Posted: 5/1/2009


WINDHAM, Maine – Logging equipment is geared for speed, notes Bob Atkinson, owner of Atkinson Trucking & Logging.

            “I’ve done just the opposite. I’ve slowed everything down and focused on the markets that are available.”

            The reason for his approach is simple, and it’s directly related to his continued success: “I try to focus on the landowner getting the yield out of the woodlot they need.”

            “There are a lot of markets, and I use them all,” added Bob. “I’m not in a real hurry. I try to do the best I can for the landowner. Without the landowner, we wouldn’t have a job.”

            Bob, 53, has worked in logging for 29 years. He is a native of Maine and grew up in the Gorham area, which is in southern Maine, about 10-15 miles west of Portland; he now makes his home in Windham, only about 8-10 miles north.

            When he was in his 20s he began driving a truck for a logging company, and in less than a year he bought a truck and started his own trucking business, hauling for loggers.

            Although he only has one tractor-trailer, trucking represents about 50% of the business. Bob continues to haul wood for other loggers, and he also hauls some van trailers and low-boy trailers.

            After he had been in business about 10 years, Bob started buying timber and contracting with loggers to do the timber harvesting. Two years ago his son, Daniel, 22, decided he wanted to get into the wood business with his father, so they invested in equipment and hired some men and began doing the work themselves, although they contract for felling.

            The company, with four employees, is equipped with a 1998 Timberjack 460 grapple skidder, a 1980 Timberjack 350 cable skidder and a 2003 Caterpillar 525 grapple skidder. It also has a John Deere 160 excavator with a grapple that Bob is considering trading in on a Caterpillar 315 excavator with a grapple and thumb. The other pieces of equipment are a new Stripper pull-through delimber and a Case 450 track skid steer with a grapple.

            The company performs select cuts – thinning the forest to improve stand management. Felling is done by Wayne Fields of Central Maine Logging, who uses a new John Deere 753 feller-buncher to cut the trees and bunch the stems together for the skidders. “We get a lot of compliments on their work,” said Bob. They do a good job of felling, minimizing damage to residual trees, and laying out the cut trees in bunches for the skidders to pick up.

            The tree-length logs are skidded to a landing; two skidders are normally used. At the landing, another man operates the excavator with the Stripper delimber to remove the limbs. Daniel is on the ground with a Husqvarna chain saw, bucking the logs to the correct length, then sorting and piling them with the Case skid steer. The skidders pick up the slash and distribute it back of the skid trails in the woods. On steep ground they use the cable skidder.

            The emphasis is on yield. “We try to get everything we possibly can for the landowner,” said Bob. Most customers are small private landowners. Jobs range from 50 acres to 800 acres. He contracts to buy the timber by the ton or per thousand board feet.

            “I’m not in it for high speed,” he added, “and that’s the difference. We try to utilize each tree for its potential value.”

            “I have a lot of markets that I use,” said Bob. Pine saw logs are supplied to Irvin Forest Products, Limington Lumber and Lovell Lumber. Hardwood saw logs usually go to Kennebec Lumber. Pulp logs, softwood and hardwood, normally go about 25 miles to a satellite yard for the NewPage paper mill in West Paris; the satellite yard debarks the logs and chips them, and chips are hauled to the mill.

            Most of Bob’s woodlots are within 30 miles, although they go as far out as 80 miles. The forests in that part of Maine are predominantly softwood although Bob recently took a job for 700 acres of hardwood. A hundred miles to the north, Maine’s forests are dominated by hardwoods.

            Bob uses the services of a forester who uses GPS technology to mark the boundaries of the property to be cut. Contracts generally are negotiated directly with the landowner although the landowner has the option of using a forester to ‘cruise’ the timber.

            Before investing in a Stripper, delimbing had been done by hand with chainsaws. “We wanted to make the process more efficient,” said Bob.

            The Stripper is made and sold by Stripper Manufacturing in South Paris. In fact, when he delivers a load to the NewPage mill, Bob drives past the fabrication shop where they are built. New Strippers are displayed in the yard.

            Bob wanted a pull-through delimber that he could place directly on the ground in order to use with an excavator equipped with a Rotobec grapple.

            “I went in and talked to Sam Sessions about it,” recalled Bob, and also watched the Stripper being demonstrated on a video. He also considered other delimbers and a year ago tried a different pull-through delimber and slasher, but he was not satisfied with it.

            He asked Sam to build a slightly different version of the Stripper, and he accommodated him. The Stripper usually sits on a frame abut 6 feet above the ground; Bob wanted his lowered so it would only be about 4 feet off the ground to make it easier to use with the excavator. “He was very easy to work with,” said Bob.

            “Sam is the type of guy – you can take his word. If something is not going to work, he’ll tell you. He’s very honest that way.”

            On a job site, Bob’s crew butts the Stripper up against a stump and fastens it to the stump with a chain. “It’s a very efficient piece of equipment to operate,” he said. The Stripper has only three grease fittings, he noted, and the knives are easy to remove, easy to sharpen. “It’s a good, simple, economical delimber,” said Bob.

            Bob’s company began using the Stripper in January. “It’s excellent,” he said. “I couldn’t be more impressed with it…It’s doing everything I would expect it to do.”

            The Stripper can accept trees up to 15 inches in diameter and will close to 3-1/2 inches. It is designed for use with fir, spruce, hemlock, pine, cedar and similar species, but it also performs well on smaller limbed hardwood species, according to the manufacturer.

            “We stripped (delimbed) a lot of spruce and hemlock this winter,” said Bob. “That stuff is just nasty in winter. It’s frozen…It’s like trying to saw rebar off your wood. It did an excellent job.” They used it all winter and only sharpened the knives once.

            “The Stripper definitely has helped us,” added Bob.

            Business has held up well until the beginning of 2009, according to Bob. Three wood buyers for NewPage were paying the highest prices ever for pulp wood, he said. “They filled three chip plants full of wood,” then stopped buying wood. Within a matter of weeks, the pine sawmills were also filled with logs. Mills lowered prices for wood, put loggers on quotas or stopped buying wood. “It was just one phone call after another,” said Bob, “everybody getting plugged up.”

            Bob sent his employees home March 1 and told them he would start back up again in May. “There are times you don’t work,” Bob acknowledged. “Everybody’s full of wood.”

            He and his son will spend some time working on the equipment. Now, logging is at a virtual standstill, he said, and roads are posted, too, for mud season.

            Bob said he has heard reports that there is a lot of wood already cut, on the ground, but loggers will have to wait for their markets to open back up. They will have to wait for the mills to work through their inventory of logs. The spring will probably start slowly for loggers, but summer and fall should improve.

            “The thing that will help my operation is that we do not have to rely on the pulp mills,” said Bob. “They are kind of unpredictable.”

            In fact, he is thinking of adding another market for his hardwood pulp logs – firewood. He is considering investing in a firewood processor to produce cut, split firewood. He plans to finalize a buying decision with a supplier at the Northeastern Forest Products Equipment Exposition in Bangor May 1-2.

            Bob is optimistic about the future. “We have four years of work ahead of us right now,” he said.

            “When you come to work with good people, good things happen,” he added.

            Bob’s company does quite a bit of business with Kennebec Lumber, and he was generous with praise for them. “They’re very good people,” he said. The sawmill buys oak, rock maple, yellow birch, soft maple and other species.

            Kennebec Lumber operates a new sawmill, built in 2000, in Solon, and it has log yards in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York as well as a spruce sawmill in Milan, New Hampshire. It sells green and kiln-dried lumber products. About half of its lumber production is hard maple. The company specializes in custom grades and colors for the cabinet industry. The company began producing a line of hardwood flooring in 2003, unfinished and prefinished.

            Bob has one concern when he considers the future. “There are not a lot of young fellows coming into this anymore. It’s a fairly demanding business,” he said, and there appears to be less interest among the younger generation.

 


Stripper Pull-Through Delimber Is Simple, Fast; Patented Design Uses No Hydraulics

            The Stripper pull-through delimber from Stripper Mfg. is a simple, fast, dependable device to delimb softwood and hardwood trees. It features a patented design without hydraulics and only two moving parts.

            The Stripper sets up in minutes and can increase production and improve safety. Some customers have tripled production in softwood, according to the manufacturer.

            The hydraulic-free design provides fast, low maintenance delimbing. The reversible, bolt-in knives can be changed easily, and the light-weight head is easy on trailers. A Hultdins hydraulic topping saw is optional.

            The Stripper can be used to delimb trees from 3-1/2 inches to 15 inches in diameter. Designed primarily for fir, spruce, hemlock, pine, cedar, and similar softwoods, it is also effective on poplar and smaller limbed hardwoods.

            An adapter plate enables easy attachment to the gooseneck of a trailer when the loader is mounted on the trailer. For loaders mounted on a truck, the Stripper can be purchased with its own chassis, which features an extendable tongue; the Stripper chassis is easily towed with a 1-ton truck.

            The Stripper is available throughout the U.S. and Canada, and financing is available.

            Stripper Manufacturing will exhibit its delimber at the Northeastern Forest Products Equipment Exposition May 1-2 in Bangor, Maine.

            For more information, call Stripper Mfg. at (207) 890-6597 or visit www.stripperdelimber.com.




 






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