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Technology Improves Profits, Job Quality

Chambers Delimbinator Enables John O. Cook to Nearly Double Production in Pine Plantation Thinning

By Staff Writer
Date Posted: 11/1/2000

Chambers Delimbinator Enables John O. Cook to Nearly Double Production in Pine Plantation Thinning

By Jack Petree
Contributing Author

FITZGERALD, Ga. — Todd Cook knows that logging contractors have a tough row to hoe when it comes to making a living in the woods. Equipment costs are continually rising and fuel costs are soaring. Expectations about how the forest should be harvested put heavy financial burdens on the contractor. Meanwhile, pay rates for fiber delivered to the mill are about the same as they have been for years, he noted.

Todd has a partnership with his brother, Clay. One way they have managed to remain competitive and profitable has been to invest in up-to-date equipment. Although costly, machinery investments improve productivity levels more than enough to cover the price tag of the equipment.

Todd pointed to his company’s recent investment in a Chambers Delimbinator as an example of how an investment in equipment can contribute substantially to a company’s ability to operate successfully in an industry with increasingly tight profit margins.

Clay and Todd are in business as John O. Cook Inc. The company is based in Fitzgerald, Ga., a small town in the south-Central part of the state in the heart of Georgia’s wood belt.

John O. Cook was the grandfather of the two brothers. He started the business that was to become John O. Cook Inc. some 50 years ago. John W. Cook, their father, came into the business to help his father, stayed, and took it over in the late 1970s. Todd and his brother began working with their father in the early 1990s and later assumed ownership of the business.

Today the brothers are partners in the company, and each one runs a logging crew. Clay’s crew primarily concentrates on tree length harvesting of timber that is put on the market by a variety of landowners. Todd concentrates on thinning the pine plantations that have become a fixture in the Southern forest products industry.

Clay and Todd are in the logging business because they want to be, not because they have to be. Both attended Georgia Southern before deciding to make a career working in the woods; Clay majored in commercial recreation while Todd studied criminal justice.

"They didn’t teach either one of us much about logging in college," Todd said with a laugh. "But we wanted an education, and we did get that. There was never much doubt about coming back and going into the business, though. I knew I wanted to do this when I was in high school, so after college I came back and joined dad and Clay, who had already come home and begun to work in the woods."

Their progressive attitude toward mechanization goes back to the example set by their father. He took the company into mechanization ahead of many other logging contractors in the area, running a tracked machine equipped with a shear head in the early 1980s. He was also among the first contractors in the area to move into thinning with feller-bunchers. Having seen what their father was able to accomplish, Todd and Clay have continued that forward-looking approach when it comes to machinery. That was one reason behind their decision to purchase a Chambers Delimbinator, a chain flail delimbing machine.

Because the two crews focus on different kinds of logging, they are equipped accordingly. Clay’s crew, which harvests mixed hardwood and softwood forests, runs a Tigercat 720B feller-buncher in conjunction with two John Deere 648 skidders, one a G version and the other a G-2. The crew also is equipped with a Prentice 410 loader with a slasher saw and a pull-through delimber as well as a Prentice 210 E loader. A John Deere 650 G bulldozer is utilized around the landing.

Todd’s thinning crew runs a HydroAxe 321 feller-buncher supported by a John Deere 648 G-2 skidder. The crew also has a Prentice 210 D loader mounted with a CTR delimber mounted on the gooseneck that is used for a topping saw when needed.

The thinning crew added the Chambers Delimbinator about two years ago. The machine has allowed Todd and his crew to significantly increase the volume of wood they produce each day.

The thinning crew works in exactly the kind of wood for which the Chambers Delimbinator was designed to process: pine plantations about 12 to 15 years old that require thinning to maximize tree growth and health.

"Right now, with the equipment we have, we can do from 250 to 350 cords per week of production," said Todd. "Before the Delimbinator we had to be in some real good-sized wood to achieve that. Now it’s standard."

The thinning crew previously used a trailer-mounted device for delimbing. While the machinery performed well, essentially it is not designed for high-volume production of very small stems.

"We were going as hard as we could go with it, and it did the job for us for a long time," said Todd. "But we just couldn’t get the production out of it we needed. We were getting to be known for the high quality job we did in the plantations, so we were called on to do more and more work. We saw a future for the thinning, so we decided we had to move up if we could find something we thought would produce better for us."

Chambers sales representative Ron Dickerson brought one of the machines to a job two years ago so that Todd could see it run. "I’ll tell you what," said Todd. "The day they brought it out into the woods, I watched it working and told them they’d just better leave it here because I wasn’t going to let them take it away from me. It makes that much difference in our production levels."

Todd also has been pleased with the support he has received from Chambers. When the machine was delivered, Tom spent the entire day showing Todd and his crew how to set up the machine and maintain it.

Since then the Chambers Delimbinator has required only routine maintenance period replacement of chains. "This machine has worked beautifully for us," said Todd. "The wood is clean when it comes out, and especially when we’ve installed new chains, we don’t even have to top the wood. It will break off at the size we want."

In a business where maximizing production at the least possible cost is vital to profitability, equipment like the Chambers Delimbinator is the key to success, noted Todd. "It makes a big difference when you have the right equipment for the application. You’ve got to be able to go in and get the wood out fast, but it is just as important to do the job well. You have to have the right equipment to do all that."

As an example of the importance of doing a quality job, Todd noted a timber harvest across the road from where he was currently working. The 25-acre patch was harvested by a crew using conventional logging techniques. After the landowner saw the difference between his property and the site where Todd was working with his crew, he came over and asked Todd to clean up his land. "I don’t like doing that," said Todd, "but it looked so bad I thought someone might think I did it since it was next to a piece we’d done, so I agreed."

Todd’s equipment is suited well for the kind of jobs he does. In thinning pine plantations, his crew removes every fourth row of trees to provide a path for the harvesting machinery. They thin the remaining rows, which allows the residual stems to grow faster and produce better quality wood fiber. The HydroAxe 321 feller-buncher is a three-wheel machine. It is exceptionally maneuverable, said Todd, allowing him to harvest inferior trees without damaging "keep" trees.

As he moves down a row of trees, the feller-buncher’s loads are stacked, then skidded to a small landing area where the loader is utilized to separate the trees into "longs and shorts." The trees are then delimbed and loaded for transport.

Because some rows of trees are removed entirely, Todd pointed out, a fair amount of the fiber can be utilized for saw logs as well as pulp. Most of the trees thinned from the remaining rows are useful only for chipping.

The Chambers Delimbinator has enabled Todd to produce nearly twice as much wood per day with much the same harvesting equipment. Before investing in the Chambers Delimbinator, a day’s work usually produced between three and four loads of pulpwood, each load about nine to 12 cords. "Now we can easily get six loads and sometimes seven to eight loads in a day," said Todd.

Getting more out of less is vital to the profitable logging contractor. As Clay and Todd Cook are demonstrating in Georgia, modern equipment, well utilized, is the key to increased production and profitability. Their forward-looking approach to timber harvesting and technology means they will be successful while improving the quality of harvesting operations to the benefit of themselves and the landowners they serve.


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