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Tapscott Bros. Working Steady for Westvaco;

Cutting Systems Inc. Pull-Through Delimbers, Slashers Provide Smooth Operations at the Landing

By Diane Calabrese
Date Posted: 9/4/2001

SCOTTSVILLE, Va. — A livestock disease forces a dairy farm to destroy its milk cows. The economic results can be devastating. In 1983, ‘Binky’ Tapscott's father, Harvey Tapscott Sr., experienced such a loss. "He had to find work," said Binky. Harvey had always turned to logging during the farm’s off season, so he had plenty of experience. In a nutshell, that was how Harvey Sr. got into logging full-time.

He and his father "started with just a little cable skidder, one truck and one chain saw," Binky recalled. Things have changed a lot since then. In 1989, Tapscott Brothers Logging Inc. became fully mechanized. The company, which is owned by Binky, Harvey Sr. and Binky's brother, Guke, now has a substantial roster of equipment.

The trio owns two other businesses, Tapscott Brothers Trucking Inc. and Timber-Bought Farms. "The logging paid for the farm," explained Binky. Guke is responsible for the farm, which has 400 beef cattle.

Today, Tapscott Bros. Logging cuts exclusively for Westvaco Corp. on pine plantations that belong to the paper, packaging and specialty chemicals giant. Headquartered in New York, Westvaco owns 1.5 million acres of forest land in the U.S. and Brazil.

Most of the Westvaco timber that Tapscott harvests goes to pulp mills. "We haul some for posts and logs," said Binky. The company also harvests some hardwood, which is taken to sawmills.

Westvaco specifies the harvesting requirements on its lands, whether the jobs be thinning operations or clear-cuts. Tapscott Bros. normally keeps two clear-cut crews and one thinning crew running, although Binky has enough equipment to deploy four crews if there is enough work.

Binky's oldest brother, Harvey Tapscott Jr., heads the thinning crew and operates a John Deere 643 feller-buncher. Another brother, Tracey, leads one of the clear-cutting crews and operates a Barko 295 loader with delimber and slasher.

Each crew usually is equipped with a feller-buncher and two loaders. The loaders work in conjunction with either a delimber or a delimber and a slasher.

Binky replaces older equipment regularly. In the past 18 months he has bought several pieces of equipment from Cutting Systems Inc. (CSI) in Union Grove, N.C.

At the end of winter, Binky purchased a CSI model PTD-243 pull-through delimber. He was so pleased with it that he added another one at the beginning of summer. The company had previously bought four CSI model DL-4400 slashers.

The PTD-243 delimbers have four knives and a topping saw. Binky immediately noticed the difference in their performance when he first used one. The roller action worked very well and provided an even pull. The delimbing process was smooth, and there were no interruptions when a limb hit the knives.

Binky also was impressed with the performance of the CSI slashers. "The slashers cut faster than any I've ever used," he said. They also allow the loader operator to "get a good look at the grapple," he added, because they have a dog leg cut-out. Tapscott Bros. cuts trees that average 9 inches in diameter, and the new CSI slashers handle them easily.

Each CSI slasher is mounted with one of the company’s four Barko loaders; Tapscott Bros. has two Barko 295 models and two 225 loaders. The bigger Barko loaders also are equipped with a CSI pull-through delimber.

The CSI factory in Union Grove, N.C., mounted both delimbers for Tapscott Bros., and Tapscott Bros. attached the slashers. The CSI facility is about 250 miles from Scottsville, which is located about 60 miles west of Richmond.

CSI’s willingness to mount the delimbers was the kind of service that Binky expected from the company’s principals, whom he knew. He became acquainted with them when they owned CTR Mfg., which was sold to Blount Inc. in 1994, and was happy to learn that they were making logging equipment again as CSI.

In many ways, the recent purchases of pull-through delimbers and slashers from CSI reconnected Binky's company to its roots. When Tapscott Bros. was making the transition to mechanization, it bought delimbers and slashers from CTR.

When CTR was sold, its founders agreed to a five-year non-compete agreement with Blount. Consequently, the former CTR owners focused on another company they founded, Cutting Systems Inc. Until recently its focus was saws for metal fabrication.

Ralph Metcalf, one of the original owners of CTR who now works in marketing for CSI, said that the principals at CSI missed their connection with the logging business. So they returned to making equipment for loggers when their non-compete agreement expired.

CSI also makes the House-Kat, an all-in-one machine that one person can use to install a manufactured home. Radio remote control enables positioning of the structure, and the attachments available for the House-Kat, such as dozer blades, augers and a backhoe, can be used for site preparation.

The CSI equipment complements an array of machines that were already in use at Tapscott Bros. The company bought two Hydro Ax feller-bunchers, a 611E and a 711EX, in 1996. In 1997 it added a John Deere 643D feller-buncher and in 1999, a John Deere 849G feller-buncher. Binky is considering adding another feller-buncher. He is looking closely at Tigercat because "it has a real large pocket to handle a large number of multiple stems."

A CTR 500 delimber and a CTR 50 Maxi slasher that were purchased in the mid-1990s are still in service. Both are mounted on the same Prentice 310E loader. Another Prentice 310E loader has a CTR 50 IP slasher mounted on it, and a Prentice 410 loader, which has been in use since 1994, has a 400 CTR delimber and a CTR 42 slasher mounted on it.

To keep up with the volume of wood, Tapscott Bros. employs a relay system of trailers. "We use set-out trucks in the woods," said Binky, "and bring logs to the main highway."

Tapscott Trucking Inc. works only for Tapscott Bros. "I just haul for myself," said Binky. The trucking business has 18 tractors, mostly Kenworth and Western Star, and has employed as many as 18 drivers. "Lately, we've been hiring a lot of trucks," said Binky. Tired of "trying to keep drivers," the trucking company now routinely operates only 11 of its tractors, supplementing them with as many as 20 hires at a time. "I like logging," said Binky, but he does not like dealing with truck logistics, so he is happy to contract for drivers and trucks when possible. The longest haul is about 235 miles one-way to West Virginia or Maryland. The closest is about 25 miles.

"We average 50 to 55 loads per day," said Binky. Combined production from the three crews may vary, however, from 40 loads to 70 loads. "It depends on the timber type, ground conditions," and so on, said Binky.

"We travel to get to the woods — up to 130 miles. When we go that far, we work four 10-hour days." With jobs closer to Scottsville, Tapscott Bros. cuts five days per week. "We don't work Saturday in the woods," said Binky, but Saturday is often an important interval for tending to equipment maintenance.

"We had four crews last year," said Binky. "Now, just three." The general slowdown in timber cutting over the winter precipitated the move to three crews. The extra feller-buncher is still in use, though; it goes to help "whoever is cutting the worst wood."

Each crew has six men. "Mainly we run two loaders on each crew," said Binky. "The first loader-delimber delimbs and sorts. The second loader slashes and loads."

The men generally do not switch from one piece of equipment to another. Staying with one machine allows them to develop consistent production. In addition, each man is responsible for maintaining the machine he runs, a method of operating that is more conducive to working on only one machine.

Westvaco reforests its land after harvesting although Tapscott Bros. does not perform that type of work. Westvaco entered into an agreement with The Nature Conservancy in 1999 to survey 1 million acres of the forests it owns. The company wants to find out if there are ways to enhance its already strong commitment to sustainable forestry.

The road building required to reach a work site is often part of the job that Tapscott Bros. tackles on Westvaco plantations. "Each tract is so different, " noted Binky, that flexibility is the key to the approach. "Westvaco points us in the right direction," and then leaves it to the discretion of Tapscott Bros. as to how exactly to build the logging roads.

Binky and Guke or Harvey Jr. are typically involved in building the roads. "A fellow who is half-way retired helps out," said Binky. "I run a loader on the job. Guke runs a Tigercat 635."

Binky has been real satisfied with the Tigercat 635 skidder, which Tapscott bought last year. "The Tigercat 635 has got a big, 25-square-foot grapple," he said. "It will do almost twice what other skidders will do. We are real pleased with that."

Tapscott Bros. also has a John Deere 748 skidder, purchased new in 1997, which provides "real good service." The company also has seven Ranger 67 skidders that were purchased in lots of two or three during the 1990s. The Rangers will be replaced eventually. "Ranger used to be the only thing we'd have," said Binky. When the nearby dealer went out of business, however, it became too difficult to get replacement parts.

For road building work the company also has three John Deere bulldozers and a New Holland backhoe.

With the fleet of trucks and the number of pieces of equipment for logging and road building, a fully staffed metal fabrication and maintenance shop is a must. Tapscott Bros. does all its own maintenance with the exception of warranty work. "We rebuild all our own engines, transmissions, everything," said Binky. There are six employees in the maintenance shop.

CSI draws great goodwill from Binky for its attention to the equipment it sells. Binky said, "I like the fact that if we have a little problem with it, CSI is there within hours. They're there to treat us fair."

The pairing of CSI and James River Equipment in Fishersville, Va., the local dealership where Binky bought the CSI machines, has been a good one, according to Binky. Mike Barton is the sales representative at James River from whom Tapscott Bros. bought the CSI equipment.

The James River dealer also sells John Deere and Timberjack, and Binky has purchased almost all his equipment there. James River has been "a good company to work with," said Binky. The dealership has been quick to loan machines when Tapscott Bros. has had one out of service.

Binky said he enjoys the mix of logging and farming. He finds farming "a little more relaxing." A native of Scottsville, a village along the James River of only about 240 residents, Binky takes off Sunday to attend church and spend time with his family. Only a business emergency could alter that commitment.

He likes to build and invent. He and his brothers constructed a road tractor, which is used at tractor pulls. And Binky has a patent pending on a delimber. "I built a chain flail delimber," he explained. "It works better in real small stuff. We're using three drums instead of two." Two of the drums are vertical and one is horizontal. "With three drums it cleans the trees a lot faster." It took about a year to perfect, and Tapscott Bros has been using it about five months.

Tapscott Bros. Logging is a member of the American Loggers Council and has supported Log-a-Load for Kids, the charitable campaign of the Forest Resources Association on behalf of children’s hospitals, and other charitable events.


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